Oct 12, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) reacts after teammate Ryan Zimmerman (not shown) hit a two run home run in the first inning of game five of the 2012 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper: How Good Can He Be In 2013?


I subscribe to Joe Sheehan’s awesome newsletter (and now he is introducing trial memberships if you are interested) and he recently said that he is more sure of his prediction of National League Most Valuable Player than any other award. And his pick for that award? Bryce Harper.

We’re not talking enough about Bryce Harper and how good he can be this year. Maybe it’s burnout after the attention he got a year ago, maybe it’s that we were overwhelmed by Mike Trout‘s performance last year, maybe it’s the haircut. There’s certainly an expectation that Harper is going to be a superstar, maybe eventually a Hall of Famer, but it’s not clear to me that there’s an understanding of how good Harper could be in 2013. The above isn’t hyperbole: Harper is my pick for NL MVP in 2013, maybe the single prediction I feel most strongly about.
Harper’s terrific performance at age 19 is the best reason to project him as a superstar at 20. His season was, by baseball-reference WAR, the best ever by a 19-year-old, worth five wins. Allow for the fact that some of that is defense and we can’t measure defense that well across generations, and Harper’s 2012 performance at the plate is on a short list with Mel Ott‘s 1928, Tony Conigliaro‘s 1964 and Ty Cobb‘s 1906 for greatest 19-year-old campaigns ever.
There was a lot of debate about Mike Trout and Bryce Harper on both top prospects lists last year and when it came to their Major League performances, but when it comes down to it, there is an age gap and not any age gap but arguably the biggest one that exists: 19 vs 20. At 19, Harper won National League Rookie of the Year. At 19, Trout put up big numbers (.326/.414/.544) in the Texas League (AA) and struggled (.220/.281/.390) in his 135 plate appearances at the Major League level.

At age 20, he was arguably the best player in baseball. It’s not out of the question for Harper to do the same thing. Do I expect Harper to have as good a season as Trout last year? No. Mostly because of the defense that Trout brings and that raises is WAR. However, with the bat, Harper can easily beat the season he had last year and come close to the one that Trout had as well.

A lot of people who are pessimistic towards the Nationals and see the Atlanta Braves coming up behind them and passing them see struggles or regression from Adam LaRoche and others. But this team is more than just the addition of Denard Span. They have a more experienced Harper who may be good enough to offset any negative regression the Nationals offense would be this year.

Back to Sheehan:

[At] 19, Trout was dominating the Texas League and failing in the majors; at 19, Harper was one of the best players on a division winner. Those two things are not comparable, and if Trout’s 10-WAR 2012 season is a high bar to clear — goosed by a 49/5 SB/CS and defensive performance Harper won’t match — Harper is the kind of player who will be clearing high bars for the next 20 years.

It sounds crazy, but right now, Bryce Harper might be underrated. He’s my pick for 2013 NL MVP.
Between Harper and Stephen Strasburg, it’s hard to understand just how good and rare the two talents are. Having both of them on the same team is an amazing treat. Potentially having both of them for a full season makes the Nationals a better team without even accounting for Rafael Soriano, Denard Span and Dan Haren. One more week until (pretend) games begin.

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