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  1. There are two other issues as well: First, there are serious questions about whether Harper will ever be good enough defensively to stick at catcher. Second, if you try to make him a catcher, he’s going to have to spend much more time in the minors learning the job–time which will be causing the wear and tear mentioned in the article.

    As a right fielder, he can make it to the majors much more quickly and start providing value with his bat within, say, 1-2 years, instead of 3-4 years. Value now is important when you have a club which is a few pieces away from contending, like Washington’s.

    Comment by OremLK — June 7, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

  2. Great article, Mr. Cameron. Question: why the outfield? I accept that catching takes too much out of you and for an advanced bat like Harper, he’d be better focusing on offense, but aren’t all moves down the defensive spectrum from catcher? Why not make him a third baseman or first baseman? Just wondering. Thanks as always for the brilliant commentary.

    Comment by mattymatty2000 — June 7, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  3. Thank you. I have talked to people recently that have acted like I was crazy when I said I’ll take the under on number of games played in MLB at catcher by Bryce Harper if the over/under is .5 games. He’ll play as many games at catcher in MLB as Justin Upton has played at shortstop.

    Comment by Richie Abernathy — June 7, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

  4. Ultimately, this is not a very convincing article. Boras himself has said he doesn’t want Harper to catch, because he’s cognizant that the high value that a hitting catcher provides is unlikely to be properly quantified fiscally, especially given the path that Mauer took w/ the Twins. Fact is,… good hitting OFers, unless they’re HOFers, are far easier to find than catchers who can hit at a league average level. Just this fact means that Harper is a more valuable commodity catching than in the OF, even if he ends up hitting more like 09-10 Brian McCann than Mike Piazza.

    Now,… a good counter argument might take a look at Harper’s defensive ability behind the plate, or how his supposed attitude problems (albeit a teenager’s) would manifest themselves through the high-on-responsibility catching position. Even a consideration of his injury history would be more convincing.

    It’s obviously tough to do this, and we all know WAR has its shortcomings, especially with quantifying the C position, but the question of how value can be translated between different positions is really at the crux of the matter here. How big is the gap in value between an above average hitting catcher and top 10 OFer?

    Comment by delv — June 7, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

  5. But is it possible that since he does have such an amazing bat that he ends up an every day RF and maybe spend enough time as a backup catcher (why waste an excellent bat on just one position when he’s naturally a player at a higher value position?) to retain the position for fantasy purposes? I see nothing to lose by letting him play 20 – 40 games behind the plate every year to give your starting catcher a break and keep your best bats in the line up.

    Comment by Chris — June 7, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

  6. The Nationals have Ryan Zimmerman locked up at third base through 2013. First base has lower positional value than corner outfield, and doesn’t make as good use of Harper’s athleticism.

    Comment by OremLK — June 7, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  7. I think the article misses the point in the modern baseball world. By drafting and signing Harper, the Nats will have bought (with extra for arbitration years) the first six years of his career. If those years are more valuable as a catcher, then it would make the most sense to the Nats to keep him as a catcher. The longevity of his career should not logically matter to the Nats, as after six years they have to pay market price for him, or somebody else.

    There are good reasons to convert him as others have mentioned: the possibility that he wouldn’t make it as a catcher is the most obvious. The other main one would be that his bat would not be as good, even with longevity issues aside, if he had to work on major-league hitting and major-league catching when he is called up.

    To answer MattyMatty2000: it seems obvious to move him to OF if he is moved. He is too big to play a MI slot. Third base is locked down for a long time in Washington. First base is probably the least of the defensive positions. Finally, the Nats have a big hole in the outfield.

    Comment by Adam — June 7, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  8. It seems to me that the argument that keeping Harper (or any other player) at catcher may shorten his playing career should be irrelevant to this discussion. The investment that the Nationals are making in Harper only covers the years under team control. After that, they have to pay market value to keep him – assuming he sticks that long. What should they care if they beat him down and he ends up with a prodcutive 10-ten carreer as a catcher instead of a productive 15-year career as a right fielder? They shouldn’t, because that’s not the investment decision before them right now.

    Now relevant questions still remain. In particular, if offensive performance suffers under the team controlled years as a result of playing catcher, that’s relevant. Also, any playing time differences resulting from playing the more taxing position of catcher are relevant. Maybe it is still worth the move to right field. I just don’t believe the Nationals should be considering what’s best for Harper’s career longevity when their objective ought to be to extract as much value as possible out of him while he is under their control.

    Comment by badenjr — June 7, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

  9. Whether or not Harper could stick at catcher is a separate issue, but there are two counterpoints I’d like to make:
    1) It is probably not coincidental that the advent of modern sports medicine and training practices has coincided with MLB catchers like Posada, Piazza & IRod being able to remain effective offensive players after so many years behind the dish.
    2) Even so, it can very reasonably be argued that Harper’s career would be shortened if he were to remain at catcher. But my response would have to be, so what? Are the Nationals really trying to project what Harper’s career numbers would be at C vs OF. Because what are the chances that he will actually remain in a Nats uniform for his entire career?

    The question the Nats should be asking is: how best can we get maximum value out of this asset before he is eligible for free agency.

    Comment by Alex T. — June 7, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

  10. I agree, an uncommonly poor article from Mr. Cameron.

    You reasonably point out that his career will be extended by playing the outfield (or some other non-catcher position). But that is irrelevant for the purposes of the Nationals organization. They only care about the early portion of his career. Yes, they may eventually get something of hometown discount when free agency hits, but I doubt that this will represent much surplus value.

    By the time his body gives up on him, the Nationals will likely have already captured much of his economic profit.

    If he is an Adam Dunn-esque fielder at the C position, there is a fine argument for moving him elsewhere. But the argument presented here is weak at best.

    Alternatively, if Boras was willing to accept a cheaper contract now for the guarantee of moving Harper from catcher (thereby extending his career), that would also sort of make sense from a Nats point of view

    Comment by fanofdefenseagain — June 7, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  11. Don’t you think you’re making a wildly inappropriate supposition here: that all players are equally able to play catcher and OF, and that the talent pools are equal going into the careers of these players?

    You wouldn’t agree that there are far more good-hitting OF than catchers, mostly, for the following reasons:

    (1) Good-hitting, bad fielding players are often put in the OF (hello Ted Williams!)
    (2) Good-fielding players with strong arms can often make it to the majors as a C but would never make it as an OF?

    I mean, if you’re saying that playing C is a meat grinder equal on the joints of all players, wouldn’t the Twins be making an ENORMOUS mistake wasting the career of the best pure hitter in the league? Woudn’t the Yankees have been COMPLETELY INSANE to waste a great hitter like Jorge Posada at C rather than plugging him at 1B?

    Comment by Scott — June 7, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

  12. I feel that moving Harper to the outfield will be done for one main reason: lower the percentage that Harper busts. He is about to be paid a bonus between $10-15+ million and the Nationals have no insurance at all that he will ever contribute to their major league team. When a “once in a generation” type prospect comes along like Harper he will ultimately be judged by his offensive contributions, no matter where he plays. By moving him to a much easier position the Nationals optimize their chances that Harper will one day (and sooner rather than later) be an impact bat for their team

    Comment by Patrick M — June 7, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

  13. I mean, if the positional adjustment between C and RF is equal to 20 runs per year on your scale, wouldn’t that mean that if Harper was a 5 win player, he would only have to play about 8 years at catcher to be worth 11 years in RF, meaning a shorter career could actually be worth MORE?

    Comment by Scott — June 7, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

  14. But the fact remains getting to even McCann isn’t a given, defensively at least, and look at the time McCann has spent on the sidelines with injuries and normal rest. Both bring a premium bat for their position, so is it better to have McCann for say 120 game behind the plate, or Heyward for 150 in RF? Joe Mauer and Piazza are pretty special, can Harper still hit like he’s capable taking the wear and tear both mentally and obviously physically of catching? It’s a valid argument that takes into account more than just saying it’s more valuable to have his bat catching than in the OF, because that presupposes the inaccurate conclusion that his bat will perform the same at C than OF.

    And while “good hitting OFers, unless they’re HOFers, are far easier to find than catchers who can hit at a league average level”, that doesn’t mean they are easy to find. I’m sure the Giants, among others, would love it if a good hitting OF were so easy to find. Ryan Braun might be more valuable if he could play 3B, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value in the OF. If the Nats feel Harper can succeed at RF easier than C, I wouldn’t disagree. Between the injuries of the position, its difficulty defensively, and the ability to focus more on being an impact hitter as well as a quicker path to the bigs, I think it’s probably a good move. If he was a McCann, Pudge, Mauer defensively, I might agree. Or if he were a complete stiff that couldn’t move or field well enough to go elsewhere, ala Piazza, I might agree. But this seems like a good idea to me, and for the reasons stated in the article.

    Comment by Mr. Sanchez — June 7, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

  15. I don’t think it’s the “Nationals are moving him to the outfield”. I think it’s more along the lines of Harper and Boras are telling the Nationals he’s playing the outfield.

    Instead of looking at “career WAR”, Bryc and Scott are looking at “career earnings”. That’s their job, and the nationals are going to have to live with it.

    Since it’s doubtful that he’s going to be a Gutierrez in the field, almost all of his value is going to be with his bat. As a catcher, he was a sure thing, because even if he couldn;t field, he could “Piazza” his way into valuable. As an outfielder, the numerical expectations are likely ridiculous.

    Joe Mauer just settled for being JD Drew (to exaggerate for effect). That’s assuming Harper will be as good as either of those, and I’m not convinced he will be.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — June 7, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

  16. Plus, he’s a right handed thrower, so moving him to first base is not the idea move. I thought about third base as well, bu the Nationals are surely hoping that they’ll still have Ryan Zimmerman manning the position by the time Harper becomes relevant, whether it’s true or not.

    Comment by Bronnt — June 7, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

  17. “so is it better to have McCann for say 120 game behind the plate, or Heyward for 150 in RF?”

    And that would be a single season. Going deeper, would there be better value in McCann for say 1,000-1,250 games over a career, or Heyward for 1,500-2,000+? The exra 2-10 seasons you could get from his bat if he is in RF/LF opposed to C have to be included in the equation (that is if you are among those inclined to boil baseball down to algebraic equations as so many advanced stat advocates seem to do).

    Comment by Mr. Sanchez — June 7, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

  18. To me, that is being short sighted on your investment, and presupposing you lose a kid to free agency. The Nats, at least until otherwise indicated, are not the Marlins or other franchises willing to dump a kid before they get too expensive in arbitration. If their recent willingness to spend is an indication, then you need to look at the possibility of Harper being around for the bulk of his career, not just the first 4-6 years.

    Comment by Mr. Sanchez — June 7, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

  19. “Harper can be plenty valuable as a power hitting athletic outfielder, and he can play until he’s 40 out there. ”

    And the Nats care about that…why, precisely?

    Harper and Boras might WANT him to move to the outfield…but it is NOT in the Nats interest to do so unless necessary.

    Comment by George — June 7, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  20. In terms of moving Mauer away from C, haven’t the Twins been wringing their hands over that decision for a couple of years now? The emergence of Wilson Ramos and a boat load of guaranteed money should make that decision much easier to make. At this point, Mauer could be one knee or ankle injury away from beginning the Mickey Tettleton defensive diet.

    Also, I have seen Posada take infield at 1B. The man is a turtle. That chest protector he wears is actually the plastron section of his tortoise shell and includes portions of his backbone and ribs.

    Comment by Choo — June 7, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

  21. You might see nothing to lose, but I’m sure all Scott Boras/the Nats would see is a foul tip breaking their meal-ticket/star outfielder’s throwing hand.

    Comment by Jamie — June 7, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

  22. Jayson Werth is a great example of how this can work. He started in the Orioles’ system, but it quickly became apparent he was going to physically out-grow the job. A stupid trade by the O’s, a position change and a few more teams later, and he’s an All-Star with the Phillies.

    Comment by Bill — June 7, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

  23. But the Nationals don’t, or shouldn’t (from a business point of view) care whether Harper makes it to 10,000 plate appearances, or indeed makes it beyond age 30 as a productive major league player.

    They’re drafting and paying for his first 6 seasons in the major leagues, at which point he’ll probably still be in his mid-20s. If he has more value in those years as a catcher, that’s where he should be (albeit depending on the quality of players they have in the two positions, although right now there’s no great young catcher in the Nats system).

    If they need to move him to the outfield later, fine. If catching now negatively impacts on the latter part of his career, who cares. He’s not even guaranteed to be playing for the Nationals then, and beyond his late 20s (even if he is extended beyond arby years) they’ll be paying free agent money for him anyhow, so he’ll be being paid more or less what he’s worth (i.e. how good he is doesn’t really matter at that point, to the Nats now).

    The ONLY arguments I can see for moving Harper to the OF now is if it’s absolutely certain there’s no way he can catch competently at the MLB level (which I’m not sure it is), if his body type can’t cope with playing 130+ games behind the plate per year (again, that’s not determined yet), or if the Nationals are keen to move him as quickly as possible to the major leagues so he can play with Zimmermann (x2) and Strasburg, taking the route of least resistance through the outfield in order to “hit” their window of best competitiveness. That last argument is about the only sensible one I can think of for this move.

    To all intents and purposes, what happens to Harper later on in his career is of absolutely no interest to the Nats in the medium term, and I think it’s slightly muddled logic to argue that it is.

    Comment by Felonius_Monk — June 7, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

  24. Also, doesn’t a talented corner OF come on the free agency market EVERY offseason, like Jayson Werth this year? When was the last time a good-hitting catcher was available other than by trade or internal development?

    I think you can make the argument that hitting catchers are even MORE rare than they appear because it’s impossible to acquire one externally without paying a huge premium in terms of either money or prospects.

    Comment by Scott — June 7, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  25. If good hitting OFers are so easy to find, how does Randy Winn keep finding work?

    Comment by joser — June 7, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

  26. To those saying the Nats should only care about the first few years of Harper’s career: that’s normally right when dealing with ordinary prospects. But Harper is, by all accounts, a generational prospect and a future franchise player. It’s possible that he will walk as soon as he’s eligible for free agency, but that doesn’t mean the Nationals should bet on it. They need to be concerned with more than just his short-term value if they want to retain his services into the future. If they do end up re-signing him, keeping him at catcher for the duration of his first contract would only delay his transition to a new position and possibly cost him a couple hundred plate appearances in production.

    Comment by Sean — June 7, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

  27. It should also be noted that it’s not like Harper is an established catcher or anything. I think his ability to play catcher right now is being over-exaggerated a bit.

    The kid’s only 17. He’s played a total of one season above high school. So far, he’s been a catcher basically because he’s athletic enough to play anywhere at the level of league he’s been in, so why not catcher?

    From what little I’ve read, he’s got a good enough arm to be a good defensive catcher, but he’s essentially too big to last there (though he’s actually shorter than Mauer). But it’s really all projections at this point; he just doesn’t have enough experience to really tell whether how well he could catch.

    I think the fact that he’s a “catcher” so far is basically an accident of his athleticism and youth, and is being considered far too heavily. Developing him as a catcher would certainly take longer, and it’s not remotely certain that he’d end up being any good with the glove. You could always hope he’ll just Piazza his way through it, but if it were that easy to just plug in a slugger at catcher, more teams would try it.

    The Nats will make this decision based on how likely they think it is that Harper could develop into a ML-worthy catcher, how long that would take, and how quickly he could do it (is Harper at catcher in 4 years worth more than Harper at OF in 2?). I doubt the possible last 5 years of his maybe-career will really affect the decision too much (and it should also be considered that even if he starts as a catcher, he’ll inevitably be moved elsewhere before his career ends. So it’s not like his career will just end once he’s done catching; he’ll have plenty of time to rack up more WAR once he’s moved to 1B or OF in his 30s).

    Comment by Rex Manning Day — June 7, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

  28. Very poor article. In addition to the concerns that others have raised, I just don’t buy the argument that catching is just inherently damaging to a player’s offensive production. Only 1 shortstop has a career OPS over .900 and 12 have a career OPS over .800–no one considers that convincing evidence that shortstop takes such a great physical toll that it leaves the player offensively handicapped.

    Comment by Ron A. — June 7, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

  29. I don’t believe the Twins have ever spent more than a few minutes in the last four years thinking about moving Mauer off of C, nor should they. I think all of that comes from the media and fans. I’m unconvinced on Harper, but there’s no doubt at all about Mauer. He should absolutely be a catcher for as long as he can physically handle the position.

    Comment by Bill@TDS — June 7, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

  30. This is a great point. The relative paucity of good-hitting catchers tells you how hard the position is to play (and thus how hard it is to find someone who can do it AND hit well at the MLB level); it isn’t necessarily evidence that catching actually damages one’s offensive ability.

    Comment by Bill@TDS — June 7, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

  31. I think you hit on the real reason for the change. The Nationals know they can’t win by trying to outspend teams. Instead they have to take the Rays route and build internally while hoping everything falls in place for one big run. If they can expedite that run, then they would be foolish not to do so.

    Comment by Sam — June 7, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

  32. In addition the Nats already have a decent catching prospect in Derek Norris. While he probably will not be as good a hitter as Harper, he should be fairly competent at the position to provide a reasonable alternative.

    Comment by Sam — June 7, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  33. But the Nationals may not care if his Bryce Harper’s long-term future is jeopardized or career cut short since he may only wear the Nats uniform for a few years. (at least 6, I presume, before free agency) They may just want to milk him for what he’s worth.

    Comment by d — June 7, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

  34. If Harper turns into the great hitter people think he is, then he is more valuable as an outfielder. Because he’ll be out there every day, where catchers are only going to play 80% of the games.

    This is assuming that he can be an average defensive outfielder or an average defensive catcher. And that the catching position takes a toll on his offense, so a +50 bat in the outfield would only be a +40 bat at catcher.

    Comment by Rally — June 7, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  35. Why would the Nationals even care about years 30+ when I find highly unlikely Harper would stay upon hitting free agency….I’d say extract the most value over the next 5-10 years as possible and then either trade away or let walk. And in doing so let’s him stay at catcher.

    Comment by bballer319 — June 7, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

  36. Even if you consider only his first 6 years, which I believe is short-sighted. (You don’t draft a number 1, can’t miss prospect to lose him. You draft him to be a franchise player). You seem to forget how many young stars have missed free agency by signing long-term deals in recent years.

    But… even at the first 6 years, if OF is a quicker path to the bigs and leads to more production in the beginning of his career, the move to OF still makes sense. You’re also assuming that it takes at least 6 years to wear down a catcher. Catchers wear down more over a season, so it is a relevant argument.

    Comment by Big E — June 7, 2010 @ 3:11 pm

  37. Except you expect a SS to be out there nearly every day while catchers get considerably less ABs each season and they tend to have shorter careers. If under your proposal, Harper is the same offensive player at C as he is in the OF, you still get more of it out of the outfield. You get more ABs each season and you get more years on the career.

    Comment by Big E — June 7, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

  38. I don’t get why they can’t split the difference with the kid and put him at another premium defensive position. The read is that he has excellent foot speed for his size and he has played SS and 3B. I get that he won’t be at third, but why not see if he can play at short or pull a Dale Murphy and play CF. If he can learn to read fly balls, his arm strength and athleticism could lead to him being an above average defender in CF. He then has premium value and much less wear.

    Comment by I Alivandi — June 7, 2010 @ 3:17 pm


    Delgado and Piazza, offensively, were very similar players, with Delgado ringing up an extra season’s worth of PA. But look at the #s:

    Piazza OBP/SLG — .377/.545
    Delgado OBP/SLG — .383/.546

    So when you check out the WAR graphs above, you’d want to see them be even — but they aren’t. Piazza runs away with it.

    Now, the argument put forth is that Delgado wouldn’t have lasted as long had he been a catcher, which is likely true, but I’m not sure that it’s enough to make up for it. Had Piazza retired at age 30 (due to catching-induced injuries), he’d still have as good of a career, WAR-wise, as Delgado.

    On the other hand?

    Comment by Dan Lewis — June 7, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

  40. Adam has it mostly right. For the Nats, only the first few years of his career matter in this calculation.

    One other thought, playing him in the OF might get him and his bat to the majors faster.

    Comment by Matt — June 7, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

  41. An average defensive catcher playing 80% of the games may be worth more than an average defensive corner outfielder playing 100% of the games.

    2 wins is a lot to just give up.

    Comment by Rich — June 7, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

  42. The Nationals won’t care about Harper having a long productive career, they will care about him smashing the shit out of the ball in his first few seasons with the team. While playing catcher certainly has a toll on the body in the long run, Harper likely won’t see any major effects in his early 20’s, and he is *much* more valuable as a catcher.

    Comment by vivaelpujols — June 7, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

  43. Forgive me for being blunt, but why should the nationals care about Harper’s career? Their goal should be to squeeze as much value out of him as possible in those six years, I don’t see him signing longterm with them, so his career 20 years from now isn’t their concern (as callous as that may sound).

    Comment by Bender — June 7, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

  44. It’s not a given that he can even handle the catcher position in the pros, so it’s probably a bit early to be debating this.

    And while I agree that the Nats don’t need to worry about his career past 5-6 seasons, catching full time will impact his bat even in that time frame. How much? Impossible to say for sure, but certainly as a catcher he’ll get more days off (without the ability to DH as Mauer often does), he’ll likely be out with injury more, and his bat will likely be less productive when he does play.

    Would you rather have 100% of his hitting potential in RF for 155 games a year, or 75-90% of his hitting potential for 130 games a year? Especially if doesn’t want to play catcher, which would increase the chances he doesn’t even develop into an average defensive catcher.

    Comment by Mark — June 7, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

  45. I disagree (and I beat badenjr to the point by three minutes). Even if you expect a #1 pick to be a franchise player (which is a questionable bet; some are, but more than half aren’t if history is a guide), after the team controlled years, you are paying market value. As long as you are careful and don’t pay for years after any burnout, your team results won’t change whether you pay $20 million per year to “your” franchise player (Harper in this scenario) or $20 million per year to a free agent franchise player.

    Comment by Adam — June 7, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  46. if by modern medicine, you mean HGH, I might agree with your first point.

    even if it was possible to say that his offensive production wouldn’t suffer by playing catcher, i certainly wouldnt want a 18 or 19 year old kid (with a possible superiority complex) catching for and interacting with my young pitching staff.

    Harper to the OF, end of story.

    Comment by brandon — June 7, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

  47. I disagree completely, moving him off of the C position DEFINITELY diminishes his value to the Nationals if he can play at least average defense there. Your article makes perfect sense in the eyes of an agent, but it doesn’t make sense to the Nationals.

    I agree with the premise that Harper will probably have a longer career if he’s an outfielder rather than a catcher, but why do the Nationals care about that? Bryce Harper is a big name Scott Boras client, so I’m sure the Nationals are aware that he’s probably going to test free agency when his service time is up.

    Since the Nationals know what will happen when Harper reaches FA, why would they give a flying crap how long his career is going to be? He’s not going to be a National his entire career, so why not use him at the position he is most valuable for his first ~4,000 PA and then let Harper and his agent worry about the rest of his career and how to make it longer.

    Comment by Magnus Hanso — June 7, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

  48. That’s not the point. I think we agree that even with the fewer ABs per season he’d still be more valuable in any given season as a catcher, certainly assuming equal offensive production. It’s being suggested, and is often assumed, that the “day-to-day grind” has a non-trivial effect on day-to-day hitting performance. I just haven’t seen any convincing evidence that it does.

    The whole thing just cries out selection bias. For example, big, slow, unathletic guys gravitate towards the catcher position because it’s accomodating of big, slow, unathletic guys. Big, slow, unathletic guys also tend to age poorly. If you have a guy who can play catcher that doesn’t fit the traditional mold then I don’t think there is good evidence that he’ll follow the familiar patterns. Unfortunately, those guys are usually moved to other positions, just as is happening here.

    Comment by Ron A. — June 7, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

  49. This is the best post on here, Ron. I hadn’t thought of that. The notion that catchers age poorly does become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy when all of the players at that position are big, slow, and unathletic. Those guys age poorly wherever they are on the field. Perhaps Haprer finally gives the counterpoint to that argument, since he doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a typical catcher.

    Comment by Sean — June 7, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

  50. Can you guys please read each other’s comments before posting? Half of the comments on here say the same thing: the Nationals shouldn’t care about Harper’s long-term future because he’s probably only going to be with the team for a few years. We get it.

    Comment by Sean — June 7, 2010 @ 5:33 pm

  51. You can’t use the Nationals willingness to pay him free agent dollars in this question, though. Because anyone has the option to eventually pay him a salary via free agency, not just the Nationals. I know it feels counter-intuitive, but you can really only use Bryce Harper’s team-controlled years in the judgement of his value to the team.

    And from that perspective, he’s still more valuable as a catcher. His body likely won’t break down in his first six years of pro ball behind the plate.

    Comment by Matt Harms — June 7, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

  52. Logical Fallacy: Hasty Generalization.

    The path that Werth took means nothing about the path that Harper might take.

    Comment by Matt Harms — June 7, 2010 @ 5:49 pm

  53. Almost every major leaguer plays some SS in high school. I think that if they thought he could do that at the major league level, they’d be all over that. Similarly with CF — if it turns out that he’s really good at this outfield thing, that’s where he’ll end up.

    Comment by Bill@TDS — June 7, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

  54. I think age is a big thing here too, since he’s younger than a normal draftee it gives him more of a window to catch before the wear and tear really affect him (no concrete evidence, just based off general knowledge around younger people healing quicker type stuff). I don’t see any drawback to him catching for the first year or two and seeing if he can handle the position and go from there. and i don’t see how a catch til he’s 25 and then move him off the position is a bad thing. and i don’t see why the nationals would care too much about whether it takes him 2 or 4 years to get to the majors, what’s the real difference when his service clock doesn’t start.

    some of this is repeats sean, sorry.

    Comment by john — June 7, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  55. You make a valid point, but do you really think the Nats will be holding onto harper into his 40’s? Why not play him at the position more valuable to them, catcher?

    Comment by Zmac — June 7, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  56. So Ron, you haven’t seen any evidence to prove that catching hurts offensive production but don’t have any evidence to back up your selection bias hypothesis? You can’t call foul for lack of evidence by providing an unsubstantiated claim of your own.

    Comment by Harpooned — June 7, 2010 @ 10:28 pm

  57. Can you tell me who is Bryce Harper’s agent? I think that person always follow the dollar sign once Harper is eligible for free agency.

    Comment by JonnyBS — June 7, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

  58. Does Wieter’s offer a cautionary tale at all for this? Wieters was a can’t miss Joe Mauer kind of bat who seems to have been derailed offensively to this point in the majors. Is the adjustment to catching a big league staff retarding his development offensively?

    I heard somwhere that catchers have less responsibility calling their own games at the college level than they do at the major league level. He shot through the Orioles system pretty quickly and I wonder if his desire to catch well hinders his ability to make the adjustment to pitchers who are scouting him much more heavily at the plate.

    Comment by Souldrummer — June 8, 2010 @ 12:36 am

  59. Is that desirable, though? If we’re assuming that the Nats get him for roughly six years and four months, I don’t think Mike Rizzo and company would necessarily want to push him up at 19 or 20. I understand he’s got a transcendent bat, but it’s still likely to get significantly better as he pushes into his mid-twenties, and the Nats should want to capture as much of that peak as they can. I understand the converse to that being the present value arguments, but are they realistically competing any time soon?

    Comment by Kevin S. — June 8, 2010 @ 2:57 am

  60. No, I don’t think I need to prove that it’s a bad idea to assume that correlation equals causation. It’s quite obviously true that the sample of major league catchers differs systematically from the larger population of major league players–to what extent the specific example I gave accounts for the observed difference in longevity is questionable. Attempting to answer that question would require a great deal more time than I’m willing to spend and is, anyway, beside the point.

    Comment by Ron A. — June 8, 2010 @ 6:06 am

  61. There was another teenager a while back who they decided was too valuable with the bat to keep behind the plate. They switched him to pitcher, where he had some serous success, but he, too, ended up in right field, where he ended up having a pretty good career. Guy by the name of Ruth.

    Yeah, I just compared Bryce Harper with Babe Ruth. So sue me.

    Comment by Bernie Gilbert — June 8, 2010 @ 8:58 am

  62. Is anybody going to bring up the fact that he isn’t done growing yet? I think a lot of people are afraid he is going to grow another 3 inches and add a lot of weight which could also take him out of the catcher discussion. The kid is only 17 and everybody is acting like he is a 10 year veteran at catcher. He has never called a game, he didn’t even spend the whole year in JUCO this year playing catcher. He would have to completely learn the position in the minors and would take a lot longer to make it to the majors if they tried to put him at catcher for his career.

    Comment by PDowdy83 — June 8, 2010 @ 9:31 am

  63. Guys, you all understand the Nationals did not move Harper to the outfield, right? Harper and agent decided he’s not a catcher. That’s the end of the story.

    Now, the debate could be whether Harper is worth more money over his career as a catcher or outfielder, but we all know the likely outcome of that … and so does the player and his agent.

    It really doesn’t matter which players would be more valuable as a catcher, if there are not willing to catch.

    All these comments about a situation that is not a possibility. At this point if the Nats told Harper to catch, he’d likely respond “No”.

    I don’t think there’s any debate on whether a big hitter, good defensive catcher is more valuable than a corner OF, we all know it is. We also know that such a catcher could be worth mroe WAR than the same OF even with the OF getting more PA’s. But, who cares? Harper ain’t gonna catch.

    Catching shortens careers (in the non-steroid eras) for most players (how much might be debatable), and it takes longer to get to the majors.

    My personal opinion is that Harper will make an MLB appearance in 2011. They will need to get as much out of Strasburg and Harper as possible before FA hits. Having said that, they also cannot runs players into the ground and they might also be in a position to resign them when FA does arrive.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — June 8, 2010 @ 9:44 am

  64. How do you know he isn’t done growing yet?

    Seems to me he’s more likely to be one of those guys that hit puberty very early and is basically a “17 year old in a 24 yo’s body”. In other words, done growing (like LeBron in HS). X-Rays and examination of growth plates could answer this question.

    I doubt he’s going to “David Robinson” in the minor leagues.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — June 8, 2010 @ 9:47 am

  65. >>> Forgive me for being blunt, but why should the nationals care about Harper’s career? <<<

    They won't be able to sign him if they don't.

    Comment by Griggs — June 8, 2010 @ 10:28 am

  66. I-Rod stopped being an effective offensive player quite some time ago (SSS of the first six weeks of this season not withstanding).

    Comment by Jason B — June 8, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

  67. Haven’t we made that point/asked that question 467 times now? Does anyone read the other comments before posting their own?

    Comment by Jason B — June 8, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  68. Don’t give me that, Joser, you are one of the elite who has fawned over Winn’s ‘lack of respect’ considering all of the phony ‘values’ the Saber community has been trumpeting over the last few years..

    Comment by CaR — June 8, 2010 @ 10:43 pm

  69. How long are you by using this style? I used to be trying to find similar to that pertaining to my own weblog.

    Comment by Stanford Pastorino — October 26, 2011 @ 10:33 am

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