Washington Nationals v Toronto Blue Jays

One very interesting service provided by Baseball Prospectus’ projection PECOTA is player comps. A list of names thrown together based on age, position, etc. Equal parts disheartening and wish-casting, the comps either confound or excite.

There are not many comparable season for what Bryce Harper did at age-19 last year. Fewer than 20 hitters earned 100 plate appearances in the big leagues while still teenagers since they raised the mound in 1969. Among them, Harper’s rookie campaign ranks first in, well, everything. Home runs, steals, wOBA, and Wins Above Replacement.

It was a season for the ages – not many players ever manage 5 fWAR years, Harper did it at 19. A season which was somewhat lost behind the once-in-a-lifetime exploits of 20-year old Mike Trout.

While Harper broke records and established new bench marks, Mike Trout put together one of the best years of anyone ever – rookie or otherwise. Trout and Harper are inexorably linked in baseball lore, now and forever. The Jersey kid and the Vegas-raised phenom, groomed for greatness his entire life.

Baseball Prospectus sees it this way, as well. Who is the number comparable player for Bryce Harper as he enters his age-20 season, accoriding to PECOTA? Mike Trout, of course.

The scientists behind PECTOA aren’t the only ones to make this comparison – it isn’t news to Harper that Trout set a new standard – one he intends to eclipse. In a Washington Post profile of Harper, Nats manager Davey Johnson reveals Harper’s not-so-secret motivation to improve in 2013. “You know what’s pushing Harper,” Johnson told Thomas Boswell, “Mike Trout.”

Earlier this winter Getting Blanked ran down some of the projections for Bryce Harper, many of which seem to favor his slightly lackluster minor league career in projecting modest output from the phenom in 2013.

As I said then, I’m bullish on Harper. Rough post-season performance notwithstanding, there are a million reasons to believe that, while he won’t quite equal Trout’s insane 2012, he can still go nuts in 2013. Here are a few:

  1. He already experienced his sophomore slump. He called it “July.” Baseball is a game of adjustments. Pitchers adjust to hitters, hitters must adjust their gameplan based on those adjustments. And so on and so forth.

    After his July swoon, Harper began focusing on doing more with the fastballs he saw, swinging less at soft stuff as teams tried to goad him into swinging at breaking balls out of the zone. He also hit the ball to all fields with far greater authority.

    Harper hit for more power and made himself a tougher out over the last two months of the season. Will those lessons learned stick? I’ll bet yes.

  2. Harper has unreal power. Most would agree Mike Trout‘s 30 home run outburst was a little bit surprising. Some might look at Bryce Harper‘s violent, powerful swing and believe his 22 homer season is only the beginning. Harper hit 13 of his 22 home runs in the final two months of the season.

    Though he fancies himself a number two hitter, there is no reason to believe the power surge Harper showed late in 2012 is anything if not legitimate. Scouts pegged Harper’s power as 80 potential years ago, before he even made his professional debut. His ability to drive the ball out to the opposite field demonstrates that tool might just earn the rare 80 grade.

    How will that translate in 2013? 30 homers? 40 homers? Does either of those totals seem unlikely when you watch Harper hit? Rather than unlikely, I tend to lean towards “inevitable.”

  3. He has a position now. Bryce Harper doesn’t strike many people as the kind of guy bothered by self-doubt. Or distracted by “learning.” None the less, Harper spent much of 2012 bouncing around between center, right, and left field. No longer.

    Harper is now the Nationals everyday left fielder. His “adventures” in the outfield will not only save his team runs but save his legs and mind from the extra strain of patrolling centerfield. While this certainly didn’t slow Trout, Harper seems to relish the opportunity to focus on what he does best.

    When asked about playing left field, Harper told USA Today:

    It’s just another spot. Hopefully, make some plays, throw some guys out and just hit. As long as I’m in the lineup, I’m hitting and doing whatever I can to help this team, that’s good enough for me.

    Just go out and hit. Harper’s defensive year in 2012 featured a few misplays but a tremendous throwing arm. His second year in the league, Harper doesn’t need to worry about learning the bounces and intricacies of each ballpark, he can focus on getting better each and every day.

  4. He’s really fast for a huge guy. Bryce Harper doesn’t look it but the Nationals list him at 205. This week, Harper told reporters he is closer to 230 right now, coming to Spring Training heavier than last year understanding he will drop “about ten pounds” over the next two months. Despite that size, Harper is incredibly quick, stealing the aforementioned 18 bases and running balls down in center field.

    Defensive metrics looked fondly at Harper’s play in center in 2012, all the more impressive considering his relative dearth of professional experience in the position. Same goes for his base running, where learning the “tricks of the trade” will only help him as he attempts to swipe bags and go first-to-third. Can he reach Trout’s level for 40-plus steals? Perhaps not, but 30 certainly seems

Maybe Harper won’t come out and do what Trout did, or what A-Rod did or what other great players did in their age-20 season. Baseball has a funny way of evening the score, so to speak. But Bryce Harper has so much talent and showed so much ability in 2012, there is little reason to believe he won’t leave his .287/.354/.469 with 23 home run PECTOA-projected line in the dust.

Determined to be the best and talented enough to be the best, while placed in a great position to succeed? Consider yourself warned: 2013 belongs to Bryce Harper.