Waiting until Bryce Harper does something

Rob Carr

That seems like a good way to miss a lot of Bryce Harper.

Bryce Harper is a baseball fixture, a thing we're used to by now. He's the young, brash, productive outfielder on the Washington Nationals. I'm not going to suggest we're taking him for granted, but it's possible that we're just a little too comfortable with how good he's become before turning 21.

Again, he's 20. Bryce Harper is 20.

Someone who certainly isn't taking Harper for granted: the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. Follow that link to find a fantastic multimedia-based breakdown of Harper. His swing? Like Babe Ruth at the point of contact, but substantially different from Ken Griffey, Jr.'s swing. His approach? Aggressive, and the article has the numbers to prove it.

It's always worth a reminder that 20-year-olds aren't supposed to hit like this. A list of 20-year-olds in major-league history who posted a higher adjusted OPS than Bryce Harper's current 173 mark:

Or, if you want the 10 seasons directly under Harper's current mark, this will do nicely:

Player OPS+ Year Age
Mike Trout 171 2012 20
Ty Cobb 167 1907 20
Mel Ott 165 1929 20
Al Kaline 162 1955 20
Mickey Mantle 162 1952 20
Alex Rodriguez 161 1996 20
Ted Williams 160 1939 20
Rogers Hornsby 151 1916 20
Jimmie Foxx 148 1928 20
Frank Robinson 143 1956 20

That list is basically Mike Trout and nine of the first names you give on a 1,000-answer Sporcle quiz asking for the best baseball players ever. So, yes, what Harper is doing is a big deal. He might not sustain this pace, of course. He might fall into a gutter slump. It's probably even likely that he won't sustain this pace, regardless of his natural talent. But we're about a fifth of the way through the season, and Harper is hinting that he can do some historic things.

Alas, some of the Washington Post commenters didn't see it like that. Most of the comments were positive (because it really was a fine piece of work), but a few were skeptical. Why is Bryce Harper getting all this adulation? Shouldn't we wait until the kid does something?

Let's see if we can help some of the peanut gallery out with some responses to their concerns:

"I'm no baseball expert by far, but I'm pretty sure that I could swing a baseball club in the same manner as that shown in the graphic of his swing that caused me to click on this story." - KooleyTwoKeys0(nlogn)

I can see how you would think that! But it's actually very hard to swing a baseball club in the same precise way, time and time again, at a variety of different speeds and pitches. This is why most players Harper's age are in the South Atlantic League or maybe -- if they're advanced enough -- in the California League. Harper swings a baseball club really, really well.

He's got an advanced club, as they say.

"Harper is hitting below .300 (again) this season. He ranks 18th in the National League in batting average, and 20th in RBIs. His batting average is the same as that of Jordan Schafer, the sometime reserve outfielder for the Braves. He has fewer than half the number of home runs as the league leader. He does make contact; he has one of the lowest strikeout totals so far this year. But if his swing is so remarkable, with all of that contact, why isn't he producing more?" - globalvillage

If you want to find ways to pick on Harper, you can. They're bizarre ways, but they exist. If you ignore the extra-base hits and the walks, Harper suddenly doesn't look so good, just like if you ignore all of the wins of a first-place team, they probably seem like a last-place team because of all the losses.

Also, that comment was almost certainly left by your dad. You should probably go get your dad.

"PLEASE! Let him do something first. JEEEZ! There are many players I'd take over him. Posey, Pujols, Mauer and Matt Kemp to name a few. Plus, you'd put him over Willie Mays???" - da_rabb

The best way to explain why Bryce Harper is a big deal right now has to do with players like Buster Posey, Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, and Matt Kemp, actually. Because he doesn't look silly in comparison to those players. That's the point.

Imagine if Harper were in Double-A right now, hitting for the same raw numbers. Here are some things that would follow:

  • A feature in Baseball America about Bryce Harper, the best prospect in baseball
  • Other, assorted articles about the coming reign of Bryce Harper
  • Incredible amounts of Bryce Harper hype

Now imagine instead that Harper wasn't a 20-year-old second-year player, but a 24-year-old rookie. Here's what you would have to look forward to

  • A feature in Sports Illustrated about Bryce Harper, the best rookie in baseball
  • Other, assorted articles about the coming reign of Bryce Harper.
  • Incredible amounts of Bryce Harper hype.

In five years, Harper will be as old as Brandon Belt and Dustin Ackley are now, and those two are relative enigmas whose teams still hope for continued success. Harper is currently as old as the #1 prospect in baseball, Jurickson Profar, who is doing merely okay in Triple-A so far, which doesn't concern anyone, seeing as Profar is still so danged young for his league.

Instead, Harper is in the conversation with the best hitters in baseball, regardless of age. When 19- and 20-year-olds can do that, they're almost always special hitters for a decade or two.

This article has the trapping of why Tebow can not be starter in a NFL time despite the fact he made the playoff twice in college and once with Denver. Then you have two Heisman runner ups in the same class not doing well but they have a job....Irrelevant...." - Beeker25

That's a good point, Beeker25, and ... wait, what?

Long point short: There are people who don't see what the big deal is about Bryce Harper. What Harper is doing is special. And in five or 10 years, maybe his hip or knee or shoulder or elbow prevents him from heading to Cooperstown. It's early, yet. But if you look at baseball history -- or, like Kilgore and the Post, just his swing -- 20-year-old players as advanced as Harper are freaky-rare. Maybe you're not taking him for granted, but some people are. If he keeps this up, but people keep taking him for granted, we'll have to get a grassroots organization together and go door-to-door to spread the word.

(People will not keep taking him for granted.)

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