Sunday, June 06, 2010

Bryce Harper: Superstar or Bust

Sometime tomorrow, Mike Rizzo or someone's going to stand at a podium and announce that the Nats have drafted Bryce Harper -- barring a 6-state murder spree tonight, that is.

The Nats have to draft Harper.  He's got the highest ceiling in what lots of people are saying is a pretty 'meh' draft.  But I don't have to like it.

I dunno.  He's got all the talent in the world, and his potential is undoubtedly incredible.  But my gut (ample as it is) doesn't like it.

We know the good stuff: youth, beating the bejesus out of older players, strong wood bat swing, etc.

But it's the bad that worries me.  If you read scouting reports (in general), they polish turds so hard, you could go blind from the gleam.  Even mediocre players and prospects have comments that minimize their weaknesses and maximize their strengths.  If you look at some of the Nats' previous drafts, you'd have think we'd be full of 23-year old All-Stars on the MLB level.  Look at Chris Marrero, and wonder why he's not yet the next Pat Burrell yet, as some with the team said he'd be.

So it's with that in mind that I worry about some of the negative things we've seen and heard.

First, the glaring one, is the attitude.  There are all sorts of caveats with this, of course.  17 year old athletes are usually jerks.  17 year olds who've been on SI most likely are.  (Anyone heard from Felipe Lopez lately -- no, not that one)  And there's probably something from the hidebound traditional baseball men who're pissed at the JuCo/GED stunt.

But at the same time...  The drawing-the-line-in-the-dirt incident was pretty classless.  And saying that 17 year olds are arrogant admits that there MIGHT be a problem, right?  What if he turns out to have the personality of Ryan Leaf?  What if he thinks that he (and his dad) know the best way to train and prepare?  What if he's not willing to listen to instruction and work on the things the Nats need him to?   What will his hypercompetitive streak (not that that's a bad thing) do when he struggles in pro ball?  Will he channel his frustrations internally?  externally?  will he work harder?  will he work harder on the right things?

Those questions are true of all prospects, really.  But I just hear some of the whispers, and wonder if, since we almost never hear true negative comments about prospects like this, if there's a vein of coal burning underground, since we can see all this smoke.

The other thing I've read is concerns with his type of swing.  Some have wondered whether his longer swing will run into some difficulty against quality breaking pitches in the minors.  Certainly the Nevada Penal League -- or wherever the hell he's playing -- doesn't have the world's greatest assortment of sliders.  He's got the jaw-dropping raw talent, but don't get seduced by that.  (translation: don't be a Bodes)   But could the swing, overall, be a problem?

And if it is, will that attitude/arrogance let him work on it?

And this is all excluding the possibility (probability) of him having to move behind the plate.   That won't make him a bust, but he's likely going to be a RFer, not a C when he makes the majors.

I dunno.  Like I said, the Nats HAVE to draft him.  But I just don't see him as a sure thing.

The history of #1 overall hitters is a great one: Griffey, Chipper, ARod, Baines, Strawberry, etc.  If you draft a hitter, you've probably drafted, at a minimum, a major league regular.  Excluding recent draftees, you've gotta go back to Al Chambers in 1979 to find a hitter taken #1 who was a bust.

So signs point to Harper being a useful player.

But...  I dunno.  I just don't feel it with him.  If I had to guess, this is how I'd break it out:
5% -- HOFer
10% All-Star type
25% MLB Regular
15% Bench regular or short-career regular
45% Coffee/Bust

That's not based on anything, really.  Just my hunches.  And I guess a 40% chance of being at worst a MLB regular isn't a bad thing.

But I think Strasburg's spoiling me (and perhaps us).  Strasburg was so clearly the best player in the draft last year.  And so clearly without any faults or concerns.  He was dominating at a much higher level than Harper is.  And he was doing it with scouts and raw talent that NOBODY was questioning.  And nobody doubted his work ethic either.

He was a no-doubter.  Harper isn't.  But we still gotta take him.  'cause he just might work out.


  • But I think Strasburg's spoiling me (and perhaps us). Strasburg was so clearly the best player in the draft last year. And so clearly without any faults or concerns. He was dominating at a much higher level than Harper is. And he was doing it with scouts and raw talent that NOBODY was questioning. And nobody doubted his work ethic either.

    When Strasburg was 17, he was fatter and lazier than you are and they called him Stephen Slothburg. He grew up. Why can't Bryce?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/07/2010 8:28 AM  

  • This is a very strange post, and I say that usually enjoying your snarky cynicism.

    First, I haven't heard a single person question his work ethic, which is pretty amazing for a 17-year old (how hard were YOU working when you were that age?). He chose to be, and claims to WANT to be, a catcher, which is basically the toughest job on the field, and a job usually taken by sub-par hitters who desperately want to play.

    Second, a long swing or below average ability to make contact is meaningful only as one point of data. If a hitter has excellent game power and plate discipline, does it matter that much if you strike out "too often"? Has Adam Dunn been a bad hitter? Was Mark Mcgwire a bad hitter for most of his career (until he started hitting for average late in his career)? Does it matter if Bryce Harper is a .260 hitter if he draws 90 walks a year and has .300 ISO ability?

    Third, that call was bogus, and while Harper shouldn't have drawn a line, it's something guys like Johnny Damon and Ichiro Suzuki have done. Should he have done it? Of course not, but let's not pretend like he sucker punched the umpire or anything.

    If you take a step back for a moment, think about the level of effort this kid has put in. He studied to earn his GED two years early so he could go play against kids 4 years older than he is, getting ridiculed and taunted by opposing teams, just to play professional baseball a couple years early. I'd say that shows a will and determination that hopefully indicates he will have the drive and work ethic necessary to adjust to professional baseball.

    Maybe not, but most things are a crapshoot with non-Strasburg related prospects.

    Also, character issues are overrated. It's ludicrous to impugn a 17-year old for caring too much about baseball when guys like Clay Buchholz have stolen computers from a middle school and seem to have turned out just fine in the end (at least as a baseball player).

    By Blogger Scott, at 6/07/2010 8:44 AM  

  • All fair points. I don't think I've argued that they shouldn't take him. I just see a decent chance he's a bust, and that he's not on Strasburg's level. I don't think this is overly negative. And it's surely not unfair or for the hell of it.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 6/07/2010 8:56 AM  

  • Obviously there's a chance that he could be a bust (as there is with every prospect).

    But look at the number one overall pick position players going back to 1980: Tim Beckham, Justin Upton, Matt Bush, Delmon Young, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton, Pat Burrell, Darin Erstad, Alex Rodriguez, Phil Nevin, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Jeff King, B.J. Surhoff, Shawn Abner, Shawon Dunston, Darryl Strawberry.

    That's 18 players.

    Of which, only 2 were busts (Bush and Abner, and Beckham still has a chance).

    Griffey, A-Rod, Chipper Jones and Mauer (4) are hall of fame level players.

    Strawberry, Gonzalez, Upton, Hamilton, Burrell, Erstad, Nevin, Surhoff, and Dunston (9) have all been all-star level players or garnered MVP consideration.

    Jeff King was a solid regular at a middle infield position for 1,200 games.

    That's 2/3 busts, 4 hall of famers, 9 all stars, and one solid regular.

    Then you take a kid who hit 31 home runs and .400, playing 40% of the time at CATCHER, against kids 4 YEARS older than him, and say that despite the history of the past 30 years, which tells us he is 4 times more likely to be at least a major league all-star than a bust, that he has a 40% chance in your opinion of completely flaming out.

    And you don't think that's overly negative?

    By Blogger Scott, at 6/07/2010 9:31 AM  

  • Did you read the post? I acknowledged the success of number one picks, and said he's likely going to be a regular. That doesn't strike me as overly negative.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 6/07/2010 9:45 AM  

  • Well, you said he has a 5% chance of being a HOF when 30 years of history says 22% (4/18); a 15% total chance of all-star or better, when history says 72% (13/18) and a 45% total chance of being a regular or better, when history says an 83% chance (15/18, sorry, I missed Delmon Young in my previous comment to go with Jeff King).

    Look I love your posts and I was really happy you started up again, don't get me wrong.

    But yes, when you say a 17-year old kid who scouts are describing as one of the best, if not the best, power prospect they've ever seen (including rabid Nats hater KLaw!) has a far lower chance that every other overall number one pick to pan out, at every level of "panning out", and a much higher risk of complete failure than every other number one pick...based on nothing other than the amorphous "makeup issues" and a "long swing" than yes, I'd say that's overly negative.

    By Blogger Scott, at 6/07/2010 9:54 AM  

  • Keith Law also said "“ It would still be a huge upset if (Delmon Young) doesn't become a big star, hitting for average and power with good defense.” These types of prospect pushes are almost always hyperbole. Everyone is awesome and the next one is always awesomer.

    It's not right to look at all #1 picks and try to get a feel of how Bryce will do because that's a tiny sample. If we go back and look at #2 picks (who may have been #1s in a different year - just like how Bryce might have been a #2 last year) you see plenty o' failure and busting.

    This post is actually too positive - he won't even call Shawn Abner a bust. Sunshine Needham over here.

    By Blogger Harper, at 6/07/2010 10:10 AM  

  • 2nd overall picks that were position players since 1980, excluding Ackley, Alvarez and Moustakas who are still coming up: Alex Gordon, Rickie Weeks, B.J. Upton, J.D. Drew, Travis Lee, Ben Davis, Ben Grieve, Mike Kelly, Tony Clark, Tyler Houston, Mark Lewis, Mark Merchant, Will Clark, Kurt Stillwell, Augie Schmidt, Joe Carter, Garry Harris.

    17 players, of which:

    Upton, W. Clark, T. Clark, J. Carter, and Drew were all-stars (5/17);

    Gordon, Weeks, Lee, Grieve, Lewis and Stillwell, were regulars with lengthy careers (6/17);

    Harris, Schmidt, Merchant, Houston, Kelly and Davis were relative busts (6/17).

    So even among 2nd picks, including all the signability picks that shouldn't really be lumped in with Bryce Harper, you're twice as likely to be a regular or better than a bust, and almost as likely to be an all-star as a bust.

    If you did a study of the prospects receiving the highest signing bonuses by year (a more analogous pool to Bryce Harper) I bet the likelihood to success would be even higher.

    Either way, all I'm saying is that Chris' estimate is far lower than history would indicate it should be, that he is admitting it's based on his gut feeling, and that such a projection based on feeling rather than evidence is a negative outlook.

    By Blogger Scott, at 6/07/2010 10:27 AM  

  • I don't know. With only 15-30 players to look at over the course of a couple decades, I have a hard time saying any single opinion on the kid is better than another.

    By Blogger Harper, at 6/07/2010 11:05 AM  

  • This is kind of stupid since you seem just not to want to believe anyone could possibly be right about anything, but I'm having fun today, so here's some more:

    66 players have been drafted as position players in the TOP FIVE since 1980, with the following careers:

    Likely HOF: A-Rod, Griffey, Chipper Jones, Larkin, Joe Mauer (6)

    All-Stars or MVP consideration: Will Clark, J.D. Drew, Matt Williams, Darryl Strawberry, B.J. Surhoff, Troy Glaus, Mark Teixeira, Darin Erstad, Vernon Wells, Joe Carter, Adrian Gonzalez, Mike Lieberthal, Phil Nevin, Pat Burrell, Ryan Zimmerman, Tony Clark, Dmitri Young, Evan Longoria, Shawon Dunston, Jeffrey Hammonds (yes, he WAS an all-star!), Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton (22)

    Career Regular: Jose Cruz, Dick Schofield, Jeff King, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton, Ben Grieve, Corey Patterson, Travis Lee, Rickie Weeks, Alex Gordon, Kurt Stillwell, Cory Snyder, Mark Lewis, Delmon Young (14)

    And I think I'm being generous since there are likely some HOF players in the all-star ranks and at least one future all-star in Justin Upton listed as a regular.

    That indicates that even in the TOP FIVE, there is historically a 9% chance of being a HOF player, a 42% chance of being a all-star or better, and a 64% chance of being a regular or better, all numbers far in excess of Chris' estimates for Bryce Harper, who is widely thought to be one of the best prospects for his age of all time.

    Ergo, overly negative, which is all I was trying to say.

    But again, this is all for fun, there's no reason to try to convince someone of the relevance of information they clearly want to ignore.

    By Blogger Scott, at 6/07/2010 12:11 PM  

  • And my point is that I think there's reason to be concerned that there should be concerns that he's not going to develop on what the historical average says.

    I gave reasons for why I said that. you may disagree with them. and I'm not completely sure I agree with all the reasons I listed.

    but you can't just wave them away either, and say that because ARod and Griffey were awesome, Harper's going to be awesome.

    He's in a different place than some of those guys were, on any number of levels.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 6/07/2010 12:56 PM  

  • It's a good sign when the arguments you are having about your team is

    "I think our first round draft pick has a 40% chance of being a regular!"

    "No stupid! I think it should be 65%!"

    By Blogger Harper, at 6/07/2010 1:12 PM  

  • What exactly am I "waving away"?

    Is it the "whispers"?
    Your "gut"?
    The baseless supposition that he "might" have the personality of Ryan Leaf?
    Or maybe I'm waving away the "wonderings" of some about his swing?

    And no, I'm not comparing him to Griffey or A-Rod. I'm saying that based on an entire mature industry of professional scouting over the past 30 years years, the chances of him achieving any of the individual level of success seem to be far higher than you estimate.

    We're not talking about disagreements between scouts here, we're talking about consensus among generally all national scouting services that he is not only a clear number 1 pick, but also one of the best power prospects in recent memory. Why exactly would historical averages not apply to him in that case? Or why wouldn't he have a better chance than the historical averages?

    Because "something about him doesn't feel right to you?"

    By Blogger Scott, at 6/07/2010 1:25 PM  

  • It's difficult to call 66 disparate players drafted over 30 years convincing evidence. It's not that it's wrong to point to that to give us an idea of how Bryce will do, but that's not enough to say "this is the way it is". Individual player analysis is so unique that it's almost impossible to predict a single players career with any degree of certainty based on no playing time in college or the minors. That's why it's hard to call Chris' prediction overly negative. We're trying to guess the picutre in a 100 piece puzzle with 3 pieces right now.

    By Blogger Harper, at 6/07/2010 2:11 PM  

  • Chris -- love your blog and I'm happy you re-started, too.

    But I'm with Scott on this one. I think 66 players drafted over 30 years is pretty good evidence. Further, he's more like a #1 or #2 pick, not a "top 5" pick -- heck, we know that because even before Strasburg was picked they were talking about Harper as a #1 pick for 2010.

    And, finally, like Scott, I've never heard anybody criticize his work ethic, which is part of what your post seems to be based on.

    And, Scott, it'd be interesting to re-do all your hard work, limiting it to just high school position players taken #1 or #2.

    And if those odds are good, then we're trying to guess a 100-piece puzzle with a whole lot more than 3 pieces, imho.

    By Anonymous A DC Wonk, at 6/07/2010 3:05 PM  

  • Chris, have you ever been inside a baseball clubhouse and talked to some of the syncophants, idiots and just plain weirdos who comprise a major league roster? You want choir boys, go to St. Alban's. You want big league talent, you take the scumbags who have the hand-eye coordination to detect the spin of a slider from a 96 mph fastball with 45,000 people calling your mother names. Take the kid Harper, try to get it inside his skull that he can make more money on the field than in jail, and you take your chances.

    From all reports, Wil Nieves is a prince of a guy. 'Nuf said.

    By Anonymous Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me, at 6/07/2010 9:00 PM  

  • Did anyone read the reports of what Harper's team did the game after the suspension? They all painted his number on their uniform, and did other things to support Harper. Frankly, I think that's kinda telling. If the kid was a spoiled bratty jerk, they wouldn't have done that.

    By Anonymous A DC Wonk, at 6/07/2010 10:33 PM  

  • Nothing serious to add, except to note that Chris Marrero is the next Pat Burrell... if you mean the current version of Pat Burrell. He just skipped the part where he was good and went straight to the part where he can't get on base enough to justify his real but still somewhat disappointing power.

    By Anonymous Joltin Joe Orsulak, at 6/07/2010 11:24 PM  

  • nice blog.. have a view of my blog when free.. .. do leave me some comment / guide if can.. if interested can follow my blog...

    By Blogger Happy walker, at 6/08/2010 3:40 AM  

  • I too was struck by the point Wonk makes re his teammates.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 6/08/2010 9:21 AM  

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