Throughout the first half of the 2012 MLB regular season, one of the hottest topics has been the rookies. Phenoms Bryce Harper and Mike Trout were both called up in late April, and neither has disappointed.
We all know that Mike Trout’s numbers are nearly unheard of from anyone, let alone a rookie. He deserves all the credit in the world, and I think he’ll continue to be in the limelight with the continued success he’ll undoubtedly have.
Come September, Trout will win the AL Rookie of the Year award (barring injury). Heck, if the Angels are able to make a comeback and win the AL West, he could even win the MVP award.
But today I’m here to talk about the other star rookie: Bryce Harper.
Mike Trout (left) & Bryce Harper (right) enjoying the All Star Game festivities (Chicago Tribune)
Harper has gotten tons of attention since he was a teenager. Oh wait, he’s still a teenager.
At 19 years old, he’s already been in the spotlight for a handful of years now. And after getting called up and starting his first MLB game on April 28th, Harper has proven to worth the hype by compiling a .282 average with 8 home runs and 25 runs driven in.
No, he has not been quite the run producer Trout (who is a year older) has been. But let’s keep in mind how young Harper still is and the fact that he amassed those numbers in a first half during which he missed the first few weeks and had to adjust to a new position (outfield) while learning about major league pitching.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a tough transition period to me.
Comparing Harper to Trout and other big leaguers, I’d rate his first few months at around a B+ or so, as we’ve at least seen that he can handle big league pitching and put a charge into the ball. Considering his age, that is pretty remarkable.
Let’s say Harper keeps pace with his numbers of the first half. That would give him a final line around .285 AVG/18 HR/70 RBI. Obviously I was a bit more generous than just multiplying his statistics by two, but you have to remember that he’ll play about 20 more games than he did in the first half and most likely have a better idea or mental scouting report, if you will, on most pitchers around the league.
Note Tom Verducci’s comment on the left side of the cover
So what better to do than put those numbers in the context of recent MLB history. Taking a look at the last 15 years, there have only been a few ROY winners (hitters) that had great numbers.
- Nomar Garciaparra (1997): BA: .306, HR: 30, RBI: 98
- Carlos Beltran (1999): BA: .293, HR: 22, RBI: 108
- Albert Pujols (2000): BA: .329, HR: 37, RBI: 130
- Ichiro Suzuki (2000): BA: .350, HR: 8, RBI: 69
- Ryan Braun (2007): BA: .324, HR: 34, RBI: 97
We should be able to add Mike Trout to that list after this year. But as far as rookie hitters go, you can see that it’s not smart to expect MVP-caliber numbers from rookies; it just doesn’t happen very often.
So when it comes to Bryce Harper and his rookie year, (which, again, we’ve estimated to end around .270/18 HR/70 RBI) we should not in any way be disappointed. Harper has lived up to the elite-level hype, and this is shaping up to be an encouraging season that should lead us to believe he’ll only get better and fulfill his potential.
Take last season for example, when a couple of rookies were called up and struggled mightily:
- Mike Trout: 40 GP, .220 AVG, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB
- Anthony Rizzo: 49 GP, .141 AVG, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Despite those woeful numbers, they’ve both been able to bounce back in triumphant fashion this season. Trout is leading the American League in batting average (.341) and stolen bases (26) through 64 games played. Rizzo, while his stint is still in the early stages, has clubbed four homers and driven in 9 runs in his first 12 games played. So you get the idea.
Sometimes, it just takes youngsters time to get acclimated. When you consider how bad those two rookies were in their time last year compared to their success so far this season, there’s reason to believe that Bryce Harper will only continue to get better…and he hasn’t even had the rough adjustment period that Trout and Rizzo went through.
When you look at ROY winners in the past 15 years other than those previously mentioned, you see more down to earth numbers. Here are some of those guys that have gone on to have continued success in the big leagues:
- Buster Posey (2010): BA: .305, HR: 18, RBI: 67
- Evan Longoria (2008): BA: .272, HR: 27, RBI: 85
- Dustin Pedroia (2007): BA: .317, HR: 8, RBI: 50
- Hanley Ramirez (2006): BA: .292, HR: 17, RBI: 59
- Ryan Howard (2005): BA: .288, HR: 22, RBI: 63
- Jason Bay (2004): BA: .282, HR: 26, RBI: 82
- Eric Hinske (2002): BA: .279, HR: 24, RBI: 84
- Rafael Furcal (2000): BA: .295, HR: 4, RBI: 37
- Derek Jeter (1996): BA: .314, HR: 10, RBI: 78
Overall, I’d say you could classify those numbers as “good, not great.” But for rookies, they are actually very good numbers. Hitting major league pitching is the hardest task in all of sports. Don’t underestimate how hard it is to get acclimated.
So while Bryce Harper, amazingly enough, has been overshadowed by Trout, the 19 year-old phenom should not be put on the back burner.
The numbers we can assume he’ll finish the season with will be on par with the likes of Jeter, Furcal, Howard, Hanley, Pedroia, Longoria, and Posey, all perennial All-Stars and franchise players (at least at one point in time) who were years older than Harper when they broke into the bigs.
Considering Harper is already playing a vital role on a first place team, you have to take a step back and realize that the rookie All Star has not been disappointing in any way to this point. It’s not his fault Mike Trout has stolen the show.
Harper has been good to this point, and will likely continue to get better at a pretty quick rate. While Mike Trout deserves credit for already putting up superstar numbers, Bryce Harper could easily join those ranks in the very near future.
We’re in a time where the next wave of superstars are coming up and rising through the ranks quickly. And in the case of Bryce Harper, like Mike Trout, the emergence may happen in the blink of an eye.
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