Mike Trout over Bryce Harper?

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper came up this weekend. Mike Trout went oh-for-the-weekend. Bryce Harper had two hits, one a double, with an RBI to boot. Trout is on a crowded team at a crowded position. Bryce Harper plays center field for a team desperate for a center fielder. In keeper leagues, many will tell you — we’ve got all the premier scout-types on record in our FG+ article on the subject — that Harper’s power upside will be the more valuable tool going forward.

But, in redraft leagues, for just this year, I’m taking Mike Trout.

Much of the reasoning is laid out in my Friday piece on Bryce Harper. He’d be the best 19-year-old to play the game since 1980 if he hit .270 with 18 home runs, basically.

People ask why we do a search for comps in these situations, asking the question “What does Jose Oquendo have to do with Bryce Harper?” And it’s a viable thing to ask, since every baseball player (and human) is unique. But it is also valuable to consider his age so that you can say, by looking at the comps, something like “It’s really hard to be a 19-year-old big leaguer.” Only four guys have managed 200 plate appearances at that age since 1980 is another way to put it. Adrian Beltre‘s .215/.278/.369 in 214 PAs is the second-best season by a 19-year-old is just one more way of putting it.

So Harper is facing high odds against producing this season. And then there is his recent Minor League performance that is less than titillating. Bryce Harper hit .256/.329/.395 in 147 Double-A PAs, and followed that up with .250/.333/.375 in 82 Triple-A PAs to open this year. Mike Trout hit .326/.414/.544 in 412 Double-A PAs, and followed that up with .403/.467/.623 in 93 Triple-A PAs to open this year. If there were more PAs in both samples, you might start to wonder if the results alone would push Trout past Harper even if you demerit him for his two-year head start.

Trout is readier. But doesn’t his team situation make him worse off? Even with Bobby Abreu gone, the Angels have three Major League right-handed outfielders from left to right: Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos, and Torii Hunter. Despite what you think of some of those ballplayers, it’s a better list than the Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina standing between Harper and playing time.

But the Angels seem ready to play their outfielder. Perhaps it’s because they are, surprisingly, last in their division. It could just be two games, or it could be a sign that the team is looking to Trout for a spark. Vernon Wells‘ .221/.241/.429 is 19% worse than league average and he’s just about replacement level right now. It’s true that he’s under contract for two years and $42 million after this year, but those are the crimes of a previous administration. The new management in Anaheim is likely treating him as a sunk cost, and feels no need to save face by recovering any value whatsoever from that disastrous trade. Wells can pitch in against lefties, or push Trout to center when Bourjos’ hip (which will require surgery at some point) is acting up. And then there’s the fact that Bourjos’ high-strikeout game means he doesn’t get on base enough to be a great asset at the plate, and if the team needs offense, he could end up being used more for his defense as a late-inning replacement.

There’s plenty of opportunity for Trout to stake his claim to regular playing time. Turning 21 this year, he’s also two years more ready to take advantage of his prodigious tools. And those last two years of dominance at Triple-A suggest he’s ready to hit the ground running. In keeper leagues, the debate is still open, but for this year and this year alone, Mike Trout looks like the catch.

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24 Responses to “Mike Trout over Bryce Harper?”

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  1. Jayfan34 says:

    Who’ll be the first to point out that Trout doesn’t turn 21 till August?

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  2. tsteel says:

    How about for this week? Trout looked like he was eager to hit a 9 game deficit homerun this week to tie them up with the rangers while harper was also eager but came through with a couple of hits and a rbi. Maybe Harper was just waiting to play with the big boys…

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  3. batpig says:

    steals, steals, steals.

    if Harper doesn’t start dropping bombs right away he’s just not that valuable in fantasy this season. If he’s basically a .270ish hitter with 15-20 HR and 60-70 RBI and a handful of SB the rest of the way… well, that’s Brennan Boesch. At OF that just isn’t that valuable. There’s a lot of decent hitting OF.

    but even if Trout struggles with AVG he’s probably a 10 HR, 30 SB guy, which is more like Drew Stubbs as the floor. The list of guys with 30+ SB potential who AREN’T going to kill you in the power categories is pretty darn short.

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    • SKob says:

      Harper can’t run? Based on what we’ve seen so far in the minors, how do we not peg him for 10 SB’s for the rest of the season?

      Plus, you are assuming there’s more to like from Stubbs’ floor than a descent Boeasch season… interesting! How much are steals worth in your league?

      Plus, I have a real hard time believing Trout gets enough playing time to rack up 10 & 30, especially if he can’t get a single! Harper’s play in left field this weekend alone gives the Nats reason to play him everyday!

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      • batpig says:

        yes, clearly, after those 2 all-meaningful games, we are in a position to say that Trout will never get a hit, and that Harper will play full time whereas Trout will not.

        and, yes, a 10 HR / 30 SB guy is more valuable than a 20 HR / 10 SB guy. Obviously if Harper flashes 25-30 HR power that changes things, but that’s pretty unlikely and 20 HR OF are plentiful. Getting elite SB production from a guy who will also produce power numbers is *very* valuable in fantasy.

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    • Will says:

      Harper stole 27 bases in 534 plate appearances in the minors. Over a full season, that’s 30+ SB too. Sure, Trout will probably steal a few more than Harper, but it’s certainly not the difference maker, as you make it out to be.

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      • sirvlciv says:

        Stealing a base off a single-A pitcher is a lot easier than off a major-league pitcher.

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      • Will says:

        What’s your point?

        Neither Trout nor Harper has spent any meaningful time in the majors, so any projections about future success is going to be predicated on their play against non-major league pitchers.

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      • philosofool says:

        I’m with Will on this one. Harper’s speed grades out as plus or nearly plus in most reports I’ve seen, and several have commented that he has good base stealing instincts. If there’s a knock on his speed tool, it’s probably that it’s more like a 55 in the long run. He recorded a 4.0 to first this weekend, which is a 65.

        Talking about Trout as though he’s going to see 140 games through the rest of he season is misleading, and so is talking about his stat line in 160 game terms when 22 games have already been played.

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      • batpig says:

        @ Will – the point is that plenty of guys can flash good SB totals in the low minors, but that doesn’t always translate to the majors.

        Saying Trout will “probably steal a few more” bases is really underselling the difference in this category. Trout has elite speed, everyone projects Trout to be a 40+ SB guy, whereas I think Harper is more like a 15-20 SB guy at best.

        @ philosofool – I’m not talking about full season stats. In a full season Trout would project to more like 15 HR / 35-40+ SB (thus the Drew Stubbs comp).

        the overarching point is that, at this point in their careers, Trout’s advantage in SB is larger than Harper’s power advantage. For fantasy that’s gold, an elite SB threat hitting at the top of the lineup (lots of runs) who will also pop double digit homers is a rare commodity. Harper – again at THIS POINT in his career – has a skillset that appears to be more common among OF.

        obviously playing time will be a huge factor, but I think at this point Trout projects to a superior fantasy player for 2012.

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      • philosofool says:

        @batpig I think you’re helping your case out with a unrealistically high 160 game SB projection for Trout. Projection systems are saying more like 30 in that interval.

        In any event, ignore what they say about his SB, and consider this: Zips projects 134 1B + BB from him in 538 PA. To steal 45 in that span, he would need to steal successfully almost exactly one in three trips to the bases. But some of those (maybe 20%) will have a runner on second. So now we’re looking at a successful stolen base on 42% of PA *if* he’s got 538 PA, which is unlikely. At an 80% SB rate, that means 56 SB+CS. With approximately 107 opportunities (80% of 134), that means he attempts to steal 52% of time he reaches base.

        The total number of players whose CS+SB were greater than .52 of (1B+BB)*.8 last season was 0; three exceeded .45. Andrus, Stubbs, Eslbury, and Reyes attempted to steal less than 40% of those opportunities.

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      • batpig says:

        well, just to round off this discussion….

        I think you are more guilty of twisting the numbers, as you counter my argument about his 40+ SB potential by looking at his ZiPS ROS which is only for 123 G (as of today, yesterday you were probably looking at 124 G since the PA is now 535 vs the 538 you were quoting).

        So you are making the argument that he couldn’t steal 40+ in a full season based on numbers that are projected over a bit more than 3/4 of a season. Prorated to 160G that ZiPS ROS projection would be 39 SB.

        In his minor league career he stole 108 bases in 286 G. That’s a rate of 60 SB per 160 G. Even if you exclude the low minors (as per the point about Harper above) in AA/AAA he’s stolen 39 bases in only 111 G.

        Every scouting report you can find will grade him as having 80 speed, with great instincts to boot. I agree he won’t steal 45 bases in 538 PA, but I don’t think putting him in the Ellsbury / Andrus / Reyes class of stolen base threats is unrealistic.

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  4. kid says:

    Boesch is a good comp for Harper, at least in terms of the stick. The thing that boggles my mind is that don’t clubs observe how yanking guys between the minors and bigs really stunts their development? It has destroyed guys like Pedro Alvarez, Dom Brown and Travis Snider in recent years, with Belt threatening to join the list. Don’t bring a guy up until he’s “ready”, as in he’s shown very good numbers in several hundred AA or AAA at-bats. Then once he is up, leave him up and don’t micromanage 10 AB sample sizes. I’m disappointed that the Nats chose to bring up Bryce, seeing as how his pro career at the higher levels of competition has been pretty uninspiring. What are a few MLB at bats going to teach him? Doesn’t make any sense. At least Trout has shown the ability to play a high level in the high minors.

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    • philosofool says:

      Snider and Alvarez were flying read flags through the minors. Alvarez lacks something (pitch recognition or hand eye coordination or both, probably) that makes him unable to hit in the majors. Snider has conquered AAA but can’t hit MLB pitching. I’m less sure of Dom Brown, except to say that the first time I watched a scouting video of him, I though his swing sucked ass (I’m happy to admit that scouts know better than I do.) A better thing to say about Brown is that I’ve seen no real evidence that he’s not going to succeed once the Phillies have room in their OF and the back-and-forth doesn’t seemed to have changed a thing. He’s shown no power in AAA this year, but it’s cold in the IL right now.

      The only thing that Harper hasn’t done in the high minors is hit for power. His K and BB rates have been league average or better everywhere he’s played. In small samples, if I’m Mike Rizzo and scouts are telling me the power is there, I’m buying it and not worrying that we’re going to mess him up letting him play against the best competition possible. Comparing Harper’s talent to Travis Snider’s isn’t really going to create knowledge.

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  5. philosofool says:

    This is the most fun debate in fantasy right now. (It’s also a little ridiculous, since neither guys is unowned in a seriously competetive league, and it’s really unlikely that you own both so that you actually have to make this choice. SFW: it’s fun debate.)

    Cards on the table: I own Harper in a keeper league right now.

    I think a lot of this choice has to do with your team’s needs. If you have a few good base stealers plus Dee Gordon, I think Harper is the better pick. If you need SB, Trout seems better. Of course, if you don’t have holes in your OF, neither seems like an especially triumphant selection.

    Who will be better? There’s a strong chance that play time will be the determining factor. Once Morse and Zimmerman are healthy, Harper has to be better than Rick Ankiel or he’s headed back to AAA, and even if he’s better, he needs to show that he can at least handle MLB pitchers or they’re going to decide to get him some more work at lower levels. (I think most people are taking “over” on “Harper’s wOBA = Ankiel’s”, for what it’s worth.) Trout, on the other hand, confronts a crowded OF and needs to show that he’s decisively the right choice to be an everyday player; if he isn’t playing every day, the RBI and R totals will suffer too the point where you don’t really want him: a 40 RBI/50 R guy isn’t worth rostering for 20-25 SB. (That’s Eric Young territory.)

    In conclusion, both are high risk players that are probably 4 stories away from their high ceilings, and Libya is a land of contrast.

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  6. rdj3video says:

    It’s a debate, but really no need to pick. In real and fantasy the end result is that Trout/Harper are much more exciting than old guys who can’t move around on the field or hit.

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  7. Shaun Catron says:

    Ahhhhhhhhh prospects. I get older they stay the same age

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  8. Train says:

    SSS? Small sample size? How many 19 year old non-pitchers have played in the bigs (not counting the numerous guys with one pitch hit appearance, etc)? Is it robust to point out that no 19 year old has ever done better than hit .270 with 18 hrs?

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    • batpig says:

      just because it’s not statistically robust doesn’t mean it’s not compelling or informative. Even some of the greatest talents the game has ever know (of which Harper appears to be one) have not been great hitters at age 19. It’s really hard to hit in the majors and being an average OF would be quite an accomplishment.

      you aren’t going to find a statistically significant projection of Harper because he is essentially unique, that type of elite talent is going to be an outlier almost by definition.

      But when you look at other elite talent comps like Andruw Jones’ first full season (age 20, .745 OPS, 18 HR in 467 PA) or Ken Griffey Jr. (age 19, .748 OPS, 16 HR in 506 PA) it’s reasonable to temper the expectations a bit. If he can be as good as those two at age 19 it would bode pretty well for the future. But expecting anything better is a bit unrealistic, although it is possible.

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  9. longbeachyo says:

    I have both… :)
    But I can’t find a taker for either one of them… :(

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  10. batpig says:

    two weeks later….

    Trout: .306/.368/.531 with 2 HR, 2 SB, 8 R, 7 RBI
    Harper: .231/.317/.346 with 0 HR, 1 SB, 7 R, 3 RBI

    so…. I guess those first two games didn’t tell the whole story eh?

    PS – I know Trout has a .382 BABIP and 26.3% k-rate…. I expect the gap to be smaller when all is said and done but the league is clearly getting a better ‘book’ on Harper and Trout is demonstrating what many of us said — he is more ready NOW. Trout had a lot more success in the high minors and already had some MLB exposure in which he didn’t embarass himself at 19. He’s just more likely to be a fantasy asset THIS season.

    PPS – I nabbed Trout for $4 in my keeper league this preseason so I’m a bit biased :-p

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  11. philcastle says:

    Another two weeks …

    Trout: .296/.360/.500
    Harper: .281/.369/.500

    > SSS

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  12. SprayingMantis says:

    Stumbled upon this link. Good call!

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