What’s Next For Bryce Harper?

Bryce Harper arrived much earlier than anyone expected. When the Nationals called up their 19-year-old uber-prospect, it was simply because injuries forced them into the situation. The initial word was that Harper would only play in the majors until the rest of the team was healthy. But Harper’s performance forced the Nationals to keep him around for the rest of the season. And by September, Harper had emerged as one of the team’s best offensive players. Had it not been for Mike Trout, Harper would have received even more accolades for his accomplishments at such a young age. Harper was as good as anyone could have expected last season. So, the big question is: what the heck is he going to do for an encore?

What Harper was able to do last season was basically unprecedented. His 4.9 WAR was the highest ever for a 19-year-old player. That figure includes his defense, which, as we know, is not a factor in fantasy leagues. Still, Harper’s offensive performance was pretty impressive.

Mel Ott Giants 124 499 0.322 0.397 0.524 0.418 4.6
Tony Conigliaro Red Sox 111 444 0.290 0.354 0.530 0.388 2.8
Ty Cobb Tigers 98 394 0.316 0.355 0.394 0.364 3.0
Mickey Mantle Yankees 96 386 0.267 0.349 0.443 0.363 1.8
Jimmy Sheckard Bridegrooms 105 459 0.277 0.349 0.392 0.359 1.3
Bryce Harper Nationals 139 597 0.270 0.340 0.477 0.352 4.9
Cesar Cedeno Astros 90 377 0.310 0.340 0.451 0.350 1.7
Buddy Lewis Senators 143 657 0.291 0.347 0.399 0.346 2.9

Harper’s .352 wOBA ranked as the sixth best offensive performance by a 19-year-old player. And it also puts him among some great company. But just because Harper is ranked among some of the best players to ever take part in the game, it doesn’t tell us much about how Harper will perform next year. It is positive, however, that almost every player on that list managed to improve their offensive performance the following season.

Name Rookie wOBA Age-20 wOBA Difference
Mel Ott 0.418 0.475 +0.57
Tony Conigliaro 0.388 0.372 -0.16
Ty Cobb 0.364 0.411 +0.47
Mickey Mantle 0.363 0.421 +0.58
Jimmy Sheckard 0.359 0.373 +0.14
Bryce Harper 0.352 ??? ???
Cesar Cedeno 0.350 0.308 -0.42
Buddy Lewis 0.346 0.365 +0.19

The only player to suffer a significant decline the next year was Cesar Cedeno, who lost 0.42 points off his wOBA. Tony Conigliaro also declined, but only by 0.16 points of wOBA. Overall, the players in the same class as Harper managed to improve their wOBAs by an average of 0.27 points during their age-20 seasons. If Harper manages to increase his wOBA by the average next season, he would finish with a .379 wOBA, which, as a guideline, would have ranked as one of the top 15 offensive performances in the league last season.

While the first thing anyone mentions about Harper is his light-tower power, he also proved that he’s capable of becoming a strong base stealer. Harper showed aggressiveness on the base paths, not only taking the extra base when possible, but also taking advantage of teams that don’t pay attention to him once he gets on base. A 30 home run, 20 steal season is not out of the question next year. On top of that, he walked at an adequate rate, and didn’t strike out at an extreme level, especially considering his age.

The ceiling is exceptionally high with Harper. He managed to produce at a pace that would put him among the game’s best players, and history shows that he’s got a great chance to improve on that performance next year. Harper’s rookie performance will likely push him up fantasy rankings next season, making him one of the most coveted outfielders in fantasy leagues. There’s a good chance he’ll be well worth the investment.

Print This Post

Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Will H.
Will H.

He’s made me a believer in his ability to adjust. His hot start last year included (I think… all of this is not looking at numbers, just remembering the games, so I could be wrong — too bad you can’t search using multiple split criteria) doing quite well against lefties. That seemed hard to believe, and sure enough he started having massive troubles with them once he started slumping. He also (again, just memory) started swinging (and missing) at all sorts of breaking ball junk outside of the zone during that time. Now, five months is of course too little to be confident in painting a narrative based on it, but he then really did seem to adjust to both challenges towards the end of the season. I was actually pretty dismissive of his reputed powers to adjust so quickly, as he had done at his short stints in JuCo and A and AA his first year as a pro, when it came to the big leagues. But just with my eyes he seemed a different player at the end of the season than when he was really struggling in the middle, so if he really is capable of such impressive adjustments, he may be this good this fast after all (not least because his off-season plan is “to get as big as possible” which bodes well for more dingers).