FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Addresses Those Marlins

Episode 563
Dave Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio, during which edition he addresses — among other important matters — how the Marlins are a little bit of a huge, giant bummer.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 38 min play time.)

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Shelby Miller, the Cutter, and Quality of Opposition

The past year has been a mixed bag for Shelby Miller. In these digital pages during 2014, Dave discussed him being broken during April, Eno postulated on whether he was fixed following the regular season, and then he was traded by the Cardinals in November for Jason Heyward. Now, fresh off a two-hit shutout that is the culmination of a fine early season run, he’s sitting on a microscopic ERA (1.33) and WHIP (0.83). Have the Braves really fixed Miller?

Let’s start with a statistic: .183. That’s Miller’s current BABIP. No other qualified starter in the major leagues has a figure under .215. Case closed, right? His FIP is 3.28 largely because of that BABIP, his high LOB%, and low HR/FB rate, and the regression is coming for him. Yes and no: even if we can expect less absurd batted ball numbers moving forward, there are still a few interesting changes Miller has made that warrant a closer look.

Miller’s turnaround from his general malaise in 2013 and 2014 (when his strikeout rate cratered and walk rate rose by almost 60%) started in September of last year, when his overall command improved, helping to reverse the trends in those strikeout and walk rates. He never had bad command in the minors, so perhaps there was always the potential for a return to better times with his ability to limit free passes.

Eno mentioned that he also started locating his fastball a little bit higher, leading to more whiffs, something Miller may or may not have been consciously doing. That, along with his curveball regaining some of its effectiveness, drove a small return to form at the end of last year.

This year, we’re seeing something entirely different out of Miller. His pitch usage has changed, moving directly to his cutter and sinker over his four-seamer. Take a look:
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Contact Quality: Just a Part of the Puzzle, 2014 AL Hitters

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve discussed many of the various aspects of the emerging granular batted-ball velocity/exit angle data that is all the rage today. In the next few articles, we’re going to bring it all together, and review the best and worst contact-makers (and allowers) in both leagues in 2014. Today, we’ll cover the AL offensive contact-quality leaders and laggards. You will notice that contact quality, while extremely important, is far from the singular defining characteristic of a hitter.

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TV Ratings Up, But Teams Still Dependent on Cable Providers

Major League Baseball seems to be in a constant public fight about its popularity and importance in society. To some it is in decline, to others it is boring, and to those who point to attendance and revenue, the sport is vibrant and successful and contradicts the nonsense of those who believe baseball is dying. The sport can always do more to keep the game entertaining, but early signs this season indicate that baseball is still relevant and popular, as both attendance and television ratings are higher — the latter despite an overall decline in cable ratings. Increased ratings mean more people are watching the games but don’t provide any more revenue for the teams. When it comes to the lucrative local television deals, ratings do not drive revenue. Local television revenue is still tied to the health of the major cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner.

Before getting to baseball’s dependence on the health of major cable companies, here is a brief look at some early season numbers. The first month of the season has seen big increases in viewership for national games on Fox Sports 1 and MLB Network, including double the amount of viewers aged 18 to 34 watching game on Fox Sports 1. The Chicago Cubs have doubled their ratings after their increased commitment in the offseason as well as the arrival of Kris Bryant. The Kansas City Royals have done the same coming off their World Series appearance. The Houston Astros have seen an increase in viewership after finally resolving their local disputes, at least as far as getting their games on all the local cable packages. The Arizona Diamondbacks have seen their highest ratings in a decade while the games of the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Diego Padres rank first in their broadcast territories among all shows. A recent article by Maury Brown at Forbes showed that baseball games beat playoff games from the NHL and NBA in many markets across the country.

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The Marlins, Managers, and the Changing Game

On Sunday, the Marlins fired manager Mike Redmond. It’s what teams do when they find themselves performing worse than expected, even if expectations of contention were probably less realistic than the hype would have suggested. The manager is the fall guy when things go badly, though, and things are going badly in Miami, so Redmond was shown the door. It’s how baseball works, especially baseball in Miami, and Redmond certainly knew what he was signing up for when he took the job.

On Monday, though, things took a turn away from the norm. Instead of promoting a minor league manager, or one of the team’s remaining coaches, or even turning to a former player who was being groomed as a manager-of-the-future, the Marlins just put their General Manager in charge of the clubhouse. Dan Jennings, the guy who built this roster, is now tasked with trying to turn it into a winner on the field. After years of ranting that analytical GMs were undermining the value of the manager’s role, it turns out to be an old-school scout who is going to try to run everything all at once. The irony is delicious.

But while I’m no big fan of the Marlins organization, I’m also hesitant to cast too many aspersions against this decision. The narrative is really quite easy and lends itself to scorn and ridicule, but I remain convinced that we, as outsiders, have very little to evaluate the quality of a manager even after we’ve seen them perform at the job, so when it comes to evaluating managerial prospects, I just don’t know that we can say anything with any kind of credibility.

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Carson Fulmer, Time Horizons, and the Aim of Prospect Lists

I scouted Vanderbilt righty Carson Fulmer (video) last Thursday and walked away from that game with more thoughts about prospect lists than about Fulmer himself.

First some background on Fulmer: he’s listed at 6’0/195, but scouts and I estimate he’s actually 5’11/205. He’s pitched at 93-95 mph with an above-average to plus curveball and above-average changeup for all three years at Vanderbilt and all the way back to his high school days, as well. His delivery in high school included a significant head whack, which is much less pronounced now, along with a more up-tempo delivery. Fulmer has never been hurt, even after shifting midseason in 2014 from the bullpen to the rotation, regularly going over 100 pitches in his starts (126 last weekend) and throwing last summer for Team USA.

While some scouts question his delivery and command, he has 132 strikeouts and 37 walks along with 61 hits allowed in 95.2 innings this year, en route to setting school records in multiple categories. He’s a physical and possibly genetic freak, as this delivery, stuff, usage and velocity would’ve broken most other pitchers already, but he’s never been hurt.

Now that you have some background on Fulmer, you’ve probably figured out that he is one of “my guys” in this draft and I’ll be writing more about him before the draft. I’m higher on him than the many in the industry and I will write an extended pre-draft scouting report/rant wondering why this is the case. For reference, here’s what I wrote about last year’s case, 35th overall pick last summer, Rockies 2B Forrest Wall.

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Kiley McDaniel Prospects Chat – 5/19/15

Kiley McDaniel: I’ll be back in 20 minutes to answer your questions

Kiley McDaniel: Okay I’m back let’s get started

Comment From Matt
When are you going to Greenville to see Moncada, Devers, etc?

Kiley McDaniel: Working out the days, maybe this weekend

Comment From David
I’m baffled by this Difo promotion. Can you try to explain why they would promote him this early and what should we expect out of him?

Kiley McDaniel: Sounds like they were short on 40-man hitters to call up and he’s an early-count contact guy that is less likely to be embarassed than other guys. He’s also 23 and was a late bloomer, so you can see what they’re thinking, don’t think this is helpful for his development, though.

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The Week That Was in MLB Antitrust Litigation

Last week was relatively eventful for two pending antitrust lawsuits against Major League Baseball. On Thursday, the district court issued an important decision in the Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball suit challenging several of MLB’s television broadcasting practices under the Sherman Antitrust Act. Then later that same day, MLB officially asked the district court to dismiss the Miranda v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball case, a suit contending that MLB’s minor league pay practices violate federal antitrust law.

Let’s start with the Garber case. As both Wendy Thurm and I have previously discussed on several occasions, the Garber suit involves allegations that several of MLB’s television policies violate the Sherman Act. First, the plaintiffs contend that MLB and its regional sports network partners impose unreasonable blackout policies on fans, preventing individual RSNs from competing with one another in each team’s assigned geographic territory. Absent these anticompetitive restrictions, the plaintiffs allege, a Red Sox fan living in California would, for instance, have the option of subscribing to the New England Sports Network (NESN) to watch all of Boston’s game. The resulting competition would, in theory, drive down the cost of sports programming for all baseball fans.

Relatedly, the Garber plaintiffs also accuse MLB of violating antitrust law by selling only league-wide, pay-per-view subscription packages (MLB Extra Innings and, rather than allowing individual teams to offer their own competing out-of-market plans. This restriction on competition also allegedly increases the cost that out-of-market fans pay to watch baseball.

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NERD Game Scores: Climax for a Carlos Frias Story

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Los Angeles NL at San Francisco | 22:15 ET
Frias (18.2 IP, 83 xFIP-) vs. Hudson (45.1 IP, 102 xFIP-)
In the foreword to his anthology of fantastic literature Black Water, editor Alberto Manguel suggests that the definitive and also most appealing characteristic of that genre is its capacity for surprise — the capacity for surprise one finds, for example, in I. A. Ireland’s Climax for a Ghost Story, which brief story not only appears in Manguel’s anthology but also right here in its entirety:

“How eerie!” said the girl, advancing cautiously. “–And what a heavy door!” She touched it as she spoke and it suddenly swung to with a click.

“Good Lord!” said the man. “I don’t believe there’s a handle inside. Why, you’ve locked us both in!”

“Not both of us. Only one of us,” said the girl, and before his eyes she passed straight through the door, and vanished.

Ireland’s brief work not only illustrates the best of fantastic literature, but also serves as a means by which to better understand Dodgers right-hander Carlos Frias. Because Frias is the man in the story, is why. But in addition to the man, he’s also the girl. And in addition to those two, he’s also — and this is most unnerving — he’s also the door.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: San Francisco Radio or Television.

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Nationals Promote Wilmer Difo for Some Reason

A few weeks ago, the Padres promoted one of their best remaining prospects, Austin Hedges, to join the Major League club to serve as Derek Norris‘ backup. It was a bit of an odd move, given that Hedges might have just been figuring out how to hit professional pitching, but the Padres wanted to upgrade their roster and saw more short-term value in having Hedges catch a couple of times per week in the big leagues.

Well, apparently, the Washington Nationals are going to try a similar trick, as Ken Rosenthal reports that the team is promoting infield prospect Wilmer Difo, with outfielder Jayson Werth potentially heading to the DL.

Difo spent all of last year in low-A ball, started this year in high-A, and was promoted to Double-A a few weeks ago. He’s consistently hit well, showing both contact and some power, but he has a grand total of 33 games above low-A ball in his career — even though he just turned 23 — so to say it’s been a quick rise would be an understatement. But now the question is what the Nationals are going to do with him?

Shortstop is blocked by Ian Desmond, who while struggling at the moment remains one of the best players at the position in the game. Yunel Escobar has hit well while playing both second and third base, but has primarily settled in at third in Anthony Rendon‘s absence, leaving second base to Danny Espinosa, who is also hitting far better this year than he has in prior years. Neither Escobar nor Espinosa need replacing, so Difo is apparently coming up to serve as a utility infielder until Rendon returns, at which point the team won’t even need him in that role.

Difo is an interesting player, and could potentially be a starter for the Nationals as soon as next year, but he doesn’t have a clear role on the 2015 Nationals, and having him sit on the bench in the big leagues isn’t going to help speed up his development. I’m not entirely sure why promoting a prospect to sit on the bench is becoming a trend, but it probably shouldn’t be. In the end, this likely won’t matter much at all, but it’s a little weird to see another prospect promoted at a time when the big league team doesn’t need him to actually play.

Adam Jones Is Up to Something

Monday afternoon, I participated in an Orioles-centric podcast, where one of the things I was supposed to talk about was Manny Machado. I wrote about Machado a couple of weeks ago, and more specifically, I wrote about him suddenly exercising a lot more patience at the plate. From what we understand about plate-discipline statistics, they find themselves pretty fast. It’s unusual when they move around, so Machado’s change was unusual and worth some attention. He seems to be doing the thing we all want prospects to do, but that they only infrequently pull off.

In advance of the podcast, I thought it would be smart to do a little Orioles research. I know some things about them, but I do not know everything about them, since I’m supposed to keep aware of 30 teams until the passing of the deadline renders a few of them irrelevant. Nobody wants to sound unprepared. I checked in on Machado, to make sure things were still keeping up. I checked in on Steve Pearce, out of offensive and defensive curiosity. And it was while scrolling through pages I noticed something about Adam Jones. Machado, as noted, is showing some weird changes in his plate discipline. Jones is, too, in a different way.

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Stan Boroski on the Rays’ PITCHf/x Usage

Like most teams, the Tampa Bay Rays utilize PITCHf/x data. Stan Boroski, the club’s bullpen coach, looks at it every morning and, along with pitching coach Jim Hickey, uses the findings as an assessment tool. From time to time, what he sees elicits a call to action regarding a member of the pitching staff..

Boroski, currently in his sixth season with the Rays, and fourth in his current job, discussed Tampa Bay’s use of PITCHf/x on a recent visit to Fenway Park.


Stan Boroski: “I look at everybody who pitched the night before and go to Jim with what I saw. If everything is within normal parameters, it’s usually just ‘So and so was good last night.’ Nothing is specifically dealt with unless something comes up that needs to be addressed.

“I usually don’t go to Kevin (Cash) unless it’s going to prompt doing something different with a pitcher, something he might need to change. That’s a pitching thing and something we normally don’t need to bother him with. But Kevin understands exactly what’s going on with our PITCHf/x stuff. It’s part of the process of how we evaluate, how we attack, and how we build our pitching. Being the manager, he’s obviously involved in all of that, and being a former catcher, he understands it very well. We’re always on the same page when we talk about it. Read the rest of this entry »

Winning and Losing the Strike Zone Game

I don’t need to explain pitch-framing to you. Some catchers are better at catching pitches than others. Everything under human control has people who are better at it than others. Some of you are thankful that pitch-framing is a skill. Some of you wish that it didn’t exist. It’s an interesting and complicated conversation, getting into whether the strike zone is something to be earned, or an absolute right. It’s also an important conversation, but for the moment, it’s known that some teams get different zones than others do. Been this way for ages.

When we talk about pitch-framing, or pitch-receiving — there still isn’t a consensus term — we’re almost always talking about the backstops. Those are the players, after all, who are doing the catching part. So the natural process is to generate data and see which catchers are the best and which catchers are the worst. Only infrequently do you see steps back. Less is said about the pitchers doing the throwing. Less still is said about the hitters being thrown to. We understand that the strike zone is a little different for everybody. So which teams get the greatest and smallest overall benefit?

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JABO: When Kershaw Isn’t Exactly Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw is in unfamiliar territory. The three-time Cy Young award winner and consensus best pitcher in baseball finds himself sporting a 4.24 ERA in mid-May, prompting questions about what might be wrong. As we’ll see, luck has largely been unkind to Kershaw, and he’s due for a big regression toward better numbers; however, he hasn’t been the Kershaw we’ve seen for the past two years in one important part of his game, and that has led to some poor results.

Pitchers can’t control everything on the baseball field. After the ball leaves their hand, control is ceded to the batter, the defense, and luck. Also chief among the factors pitchers have little control over: the rate of men they leave on base, the rate of balls in play that go for hits, and the rate of fly balls that go for home runs. Metrics like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP try to take out a lot of the variability in a pitcher’s stat line influenced by things outside of their control, attempting to measure only what the pitcher is responsible for.

Kershaw has been a victim of some of those factors in 2015. First of all, there’s the rate of balls in play that have actually gone for hits. Here’s a chart of Kershaw’s batting average on balls in play against him over the course of his career compared to league average:


This year batted balls have been finding holes in the infield and gaps in the outfield, something Kershaw doesn’t have much control over. Once those batted balls start finding gloves, they’ll start getting turned into outs more often.

Kershaw’s rate of runners left on base in 2015 has been unlike years past as well. Here’s a chart of the rate at which he’s stranded runners on base over his career compared to league average:


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Jose Iglesias on the Comeback Trail

Most players make it to Major League Baseball without a fully refined skillset. Some players make it to the majors with a particular skill so great it outweighs a lack of skills normally required to function at the major-league level. Sometimes, it is an electric fastball despite a lack of command or secondary pitches. For Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton, it was elite speed. For players like Yadier Molina and Jose Iglesias, their defensive skills so outweighed their offensive ineptitude that they were brought to the major leagues without the ability to hit anywhere near a major-league level.

Jose Iglesias never hit well in the minor leagues, but his glove has earned him repeated promotions and a starting shortstop job. Iglesias’s development as a hitter was slowed further by losing 2014 due to stress fractures in both legs, but he’s been very successful putting the ball in play this season, capped by a recent extra-inning single that knocked in the winning run in Detroit’s 4-3 10-inning win against the Cardinals on Saturday. At just 25 years old, he has a hitting profile similar to current BABIP sensation Dee Gordon, and while Iglesias could still develop as a hitter like Yadier Molina or other defensive-first shortstops like Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel, his hot start is not likely to last.

Iglesias was called up for a week in 2011 as a 21-year-old for the Boston Red Sox when he was hitting .259 with just two walks and no extra-base hits in the early part of the season. He received just four plate appearances before returning to the minors. He was called up again in September to receive a couple more trips to the plate, after hitting just .235/.285/.269 in close to a full season in the minors. In 2012, during the Red Sox lost season, Iglesias again earned a callup, this time after hitting .266/.318/.306 in his final full Triple-A season. He notched just eight hits in 77 plate appearances at the big-league level, but already received comparisons to Omar Vizquel. He began 2013 in Triple-A and hit just .202/.262/.319 before making the big leagues for good.

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Mat Latos Throws a Pitch That Nobody Else Has Thrown

Mat Latos throws a pitch that nobody in the big leagues throws. For good reason, too. He has no idea where it’s going.

“I was told in high school that it would never be a realistic pitch in the big leagues,” Latos said when I asked him about the pitch that he gripped like a knuckle curve but released like a changeup and was neither his breaking ball nor his changeup. Yeah, I said, sure, but what is this pitch?

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Astros Throw Lance McCullers into the Fire

Three years later, the Houston Astros’ 2012 draft is looking pretty good. Carlos Correa, their first overall pick in that year’s draft, absolutely annihilated Double-A pitching in the season’s first month. Unsurprisingly, his performance culminated in a promotion to Triple-A last week. Lance McCullers, Houston’s 41st overall pick that year, also earned a promotion with an outstanding start in Double-A. However, the Astros didn’t send McCullers to Triple-A, but straight to the majors. He’ll make his big-league debut tonight against the Oakland Athletics.

Heading into the season, McCullers looked like he was at least a year or two away from breaking into the majors. He was coming off of a rough 2014 campaign, where he pitched to a disappointing 5.47 ERA and an equally disappointing 5.73 FIP in High-A Lancaster. The biggest culprit for his struggles was his spotty command, which manifested itself in a 13% walk rate and 4% home-run rate (1.7 HR/9).

But things have been much different for the 21-year-old this year. He was nearly unhittable in his 29 innings with Double-A Corpus Christi. He struck out 37% of the batters he faced, and allowed just one homer. The hard-throwing righty posted a laughable 0.62 ERA, and his 2.26 FIP suggests his performance wasn’t entirely a fluke.

Here’s a look at one of his many strikeouts. This clip features McCullers’ curveball, which received 55/65 present/future grades from Kiley McDaniel over the off-season. The victim is fellow top-200 prospect Renato Nunez of the Oakland system.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 5/18/15

Dan Szymborski: Live from Szymborskiville, SZ, it’s the Dan Szymborski News Hour! Sitting in for Dan Szymborski is Dan Szymborski, featuring Dan Szymborski and on sports, Dan Szymborski. Also maybe a cat.
Dan Szymborski: But first off, we start off with an unrelated brawl between presidents.
Comment From hscer
6’4″ 210 vs. 5’10” 172, how is that even a contest

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Giancarlo Stanton and the At-Bat After

Did you see Giancarlo Stanton’s homer that went out of Dodger Stadium? Stanton hit and the Dodger fans went “OOOOHHH!” and then 467 feet later, when they saw it go out, they went “OOOOHHH!” again. The Marlins color guy punctuated the moment by saying, “You don’t see that every night!” which indeed is true but maybe undersells it a bit. I mean I’d go so far as to say you don’t see that even every other night! In 4,000 lifetimes you and I could never do that, but Stanton did it in this one. Amazing.

Less amazing but more pertinent to this article is what kind of effect that has on the pitcher. As a former high-school pitcher (second-team all district, baby!) I’ve given up a homer or two and, in my very limited experience, when you face that guy again one of two things happens. The first is you challenge him again because he can’t hit your best stuff and also you’re an idiot. The second is you stay the heck away from throwing him the pitch he crushed in the first at-bat and probably stay the heck away from throwing him anything hittable in general. But that’s me in high school. Are major-league pitchers like that? At least one is!

Mike Bolsinger was the starting pitcher for the Dodgers last Tuesday. It was his 86 mph cutter at the top of the strike zone that Stanton hit so hard it briefly turned the fans of Dodger Stadium from Dodger fans into Marlins fans. An inspection of the relevant at-bat reveals that Bolsinger missed his location on both pitches he threw Stanton. The first cutter was supposed to be low and away but was up at the top of the strike zone. He was lucky Stanton missed it. The next one was supposed to be belt-high inside (there was nobody on base so I’m going by where the catcher set up). Bolsinger got the height right but left the pitch just a bit further over the plate than he probably wanted, a few inches which wound up endangering the well-being of anyone walking outside the left field area of Dodger Stadium.

So how did Bolsinger react to facing Stanton a second time? So this is interesting! Bolsinger threw Stanton six straight curveballs! Common perception is that you don’t want to throw too many of the same kind of pitch consecutively for fear the batter will hone in on the specific movement of the pitch. Mike Bolsinger may have many fears — groundhogs and people who don’t use coasters potentially among them — but what he definitely isn’t afraid of is throwing the same pitch twice.

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Bryce Harper and Miguel Cabrera, at 22

Bryce Harper continued terrorizing Major League pitching yesterday, coming a double short of the cycle against the Padres. For the season, he’s now hitting .338/.476/.729, good for a 215 wRC+, and it seems pretty clear that we’re seeing the breakout season of a truly elite hitter. As Jeff Sullivan noted a couple of weeks ago, Harper has made some significant changes this year, and now that he’s pulling the ball and getting it into the air with regularity, he has turned his raw power into high-level production.

He won’t keep this up all year, of course, and will eventually return to human levels of production. But it’s worth noting that even when he does, Harper will have essentially replicated the first couple of years of Miguel Cabrera‘s career. Here are their career numbers through age-22.

Bryce Harper 1659 12% 22% 0.212 0.324 0.278 0.364 0.490 0.369 134
Miguel Cabrera 1716 9% 21% 0.223 0.343 0.300 0.366 0.523 0.377 131

Miggy’s age 20-22 seasons came from 2003 to 2005, so while his unadjusted numbers are slightly better, Harper actually has been more productive at the plate when you add in today’s pitcher-friendly run environment. And, of course, Harper’s line is still predominantly made up of his data from ages 19, 20, and 21, with only six weeks of his age-22 performance mixed in.

If we add in the Depth Charts rest-of-season forecast for Harper — which calls for him to hit .287/.382/.524 for the rest of 2015 — in order to create an expected line through his complete age-22 season, Harper’s career numbers would be .280/.368/.497, with a .373 wOBA and a 136 wRC+. The full list of hitters in baseball history that stepped to the plate 2,000 times by the end of their age-22 season and put up a 136 wRC+ or better? Mike Trout (165), Ty Cobb (159), Mickey Mantle (149), and Mel Ott (147). Ken Griffey Jr was at 134. Alex Rodriguez was at 130. As noted, Cabrera was at 131, and in fewer plate appearances, which skewed his numbers more towards his more developed years.

Bryce Harper is pretty, pretty good.