This year at TFB Michael Baum and Justin Klein are going to breakdown the Average Draft Positions (or ADP) of several players and will debate how we value those players heading into draft season. Keep in mind that these are rankings based on basic 5×5 scoring in re-draft leagues.
First up we have the one and only Bryce Harper.
Michael Baum’s outlook on Harper:
Bryce Harper is being drafted in the first round or early second universally this season, therefore we can forget about him as a “value pick.” If you want to own Harper this year, you’re going to need to view him as a cornerstone of your team. That’s a scary proposition for many, especially those who advocate for picking “safe” players in the first round. But I’m here to tell you that Bryce Harper is nowhere near as risky as some make him out to be, and his enormous upside outweighs what little downside he has. After the consensus top 4-5 players (Trout, Cabrera, Goldschmidt, McCutchen, Gonzalez) are off the board, there’s no one I’d rather draft than Bryce Harper!
When people talk about the risk associated with Harper, they usually point to two things – his solid but unspectacular statistics to this point in his young career, and his injury risk.
Let’s start with the statistics first. Some look at Harper’s career averages of 84.5 Runs, 21 Homers, 58.5 RBI, 14.5 SB, and a .272 average and are underwhelmed, but those are spectacular numbers for a player Harper’s age and experience level. As a 19 year-old rookie, Harper scored 98 runs, smacked 22 homers, swiped 18 bags, and hit a respectable .270 in 138 games played (remember he wasn’t called up until April 29th that year). Last season, at the age of 20, Harper missed 44 games (including the entire month of June) and still scored 71 runs, hit 20 bombs, and stole 11 bases. He accomplished all this while raising his BB% (from 9.4% to 12.3%), lowering his K% (from 20.1% to 18.9%), and raising his OBP (from .340 to .368). Improvements in those key areas often hint at an impending breakout, and I’m convinced that were it not for a series of injuries, Harper would have already had his monster breakout year in 2013.
His injuries started on April 29th, when he injured his hip crashing into the outfield wall. A couple weeks later, on May 13th, he again crashed into a wall, this time injuring his left knee. He played through both of these injuries until May 25th, when a headfirst slide aggravated the knee injury. Before these injuries started piling up, Harper was terrorizing the National League, slashing .344/.430/.720 in April, with 9 homers and 18 RBI. Playing through injuries in May, he posted a meager .193/.319/.368 line. He got back on track once he returned in July, but never to the level he mashed in April. Many around the Nationals believe that Harper hid and played through injuries all season, which makes his .274/.368/.486 line even more impressive in hindsight. Last year established Harper’s floor: even while missing roughly ¼ of the season and dealing with nagging injuries throughout, he gave his owners 20 HRs and solid production across the board. Harper’s ceiling is harder to identify, since he’s yet to play a full season in the majors and he’s still just 21 years old, but there’s no doubt he has the ability to join Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera in fantasy baseball’s top tier. His power has never been in doubt – it’s a question of when, not if, he becomes a perennial 30+ homer slugger – and he has plenty of speed and is aggressive on the base paths. New Nationals manager Matt Williams has talked about slotting Harper 5th in their stacked lineup, which would increase his RBI opportunities and also give him more freedom to run. Wherever Harper ends up in the lineup, he will score and drive in plenty of runs.
And now, injury risk. First, it cannot be overstated that every player carries injury risk. It’s true that Harper’s all-out style of play, especially in the outfield, puts him at risk more than some, but it’s that style of play that makes him one of the most exciting players in the game today, with a rare blend of speed and power that tends to fill up the box score. Does the risk that Harper will suffer an injury outweigh the reward of him starting to realize his ridiculous potential? For me it does not. It would be foolish to bank on a full 162 game season from Harper (or anyone really), but he won’t need the full 162 to produce elite fantasy numbers. Superstars like Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Hanley Ramirez, and Troy Tulowitzki have all missed considerable time over the last few seasons, and red flags remain with each, but based on early ADP data, drafters remain undeterred. The same confidence should apply to Bryce Harper. Fantasy owners should be encouraged by Harper’s willingness to play through minor injuries, and hopefully he and the Nationals will have learned from last year that more serious ailments won’t get better without a little rest and recovery.
I am confident that this is the year Harper makes the jump from phenom to superstar, reaching new career highs in homers, RBI, and stolen bases. His ridiculous upside if he stays on the field (a caveat that applies to ALL players!) makes him much more enticing than so called “safer” picks like Robinson Cano, Adam Jones, or Ryan Braun. Remember that Harper is still just 21 years-old, but has 2 years of experience under his belt and has already shown flashes of dominance. It’s not much of a leap of faith to say that this will be the year he puts it altogether and joins the fantasy elite.
Projection: .282 average, 78 runs, 31 HR, 108 RBI, 22 SB.
Justin Klein’s outlook on Harper:
With an ADP of 9.9 there is thin value to be had, even if Harper takes a major step forward in his third professional year while 22. While you will get no argument from me in regards to his upside and talent, I prefer to draft solid floor early in drafts. Your first round pick won’t win you a title, but it could certainly cost you one. Harper is likely going to be a first round talent for years to come, but in terms of value, he just isn’t there yet. Steamer projects him at 76/22/70/13/.271 and ZiPS projects him at 95/28/77/15/.279. I expect him to fall right in between those two estimates. That is a solid line that will play well in any format, but I’d rather have Cargo (7), Braun (10.2), or Adam Jones (12.5). Cargo and Braun both project to pace Harper in every one of those categories. Runs and SB’s are close, but are favor the veterans’ slightly. Jones projects at a similar AVG and amount of SB, with a few less runs scored, and several more HR’s and RBI’s. All of these players besides Harper are in their prime years, but most importantly they’ve all done it before. Harper has never scored 99 runs, hit 23 HR’s, drove in 60 RBI’s, hit for a .275 AVG or stolen 19 bases. Granted Harper has posted 2 solid seasons, but expecting a large step forward at that price leaves too little room for value, and lots of room to take a net loss on your #1 pick. This is why I will be passing on Harper in the first round. It pains me to do it, because he’s so much fun to watch, and it’s hard not to root for him. Last year I drank the Kool-Aid and traded Pedroia for Harper a few weeks into the season because I thought Harper was ready to make the jump to the elite class of fake player, but it didn’t happen. While Harper is probably the best bet in the fake game to make that jump, I need to see it happen before I invest such a high pick. Throw in the fact that the guy plays the game with his hair on fire, and there is also a bit of injury risk involved and count me out! If you like Harper’s projected line, you can get a nearly identical projection from Shin Soo Choo roughly 34 picks later in your draft (43.8).
Look out for more of ADP debates all preseason!