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Thursday, February 20, 2014

2014 FANTASY BASEBALL ISSUES: HOW WILL BATTING FIFTH AFFECT BRYCE HARPER'S VALUE?

                                                     Bryce Harper

He is still just 21.  An incredibly young number for anyone, especially a multi-talented outfielder who already has two MLB seasons under his belt and who has had stardom attached to his name even before he graduated high school.  After a 2012 rookie season when Harper hit 22 home runs and stole 18 bases while batting .270 in only 533 at-bats at the age of 19, the sky was literally the limit for Harper who instantly graduated to as high as a late first round pick for 2013 in fantasy baseball.  Harper had it all and visions of 30/30 monster campaigns danced in all of his prospective owners' heads.  Of course like almost all young players no matter how talented, there were some detours to the road to stardom for Harper in 2013 as he battled a persistent knee injury that robbed him of speed and hurt his power swing.  The result was the following set of numbers in only 424 at-bats:

.274 AVG.
20 HR
11 SB
71 R
58 RBI

For a guy who went as early as a late first round pick and in the second round in almost all other setups, the numbers were very disappointing to say the least.  The knee injury was a major problem for Harper and clearly had a significant impact in a bad way on his numbers.  As evidence consider the fact that Harper was right there as the most productive player in all of fantasy baseball last April as he cracked a monstrous 9 home runs and 18 RBI while batting .344.  In a word "wow."  However Harper hurt the knee crashing into the outfield wall early in May and which led to a horrific .193 month with only 3 home runs and 5 RBI as he went on the DL for a time.  Harper never hit more than 3 home runs in any month from that point on throughout the rest of the 2013 season and the final results were underwhelming. 

2014 brought renewed optimism however and really when you break things down the issue with Harper is not whether or not his bat is worthy of all the expectations heaped upon him.  Harper is absolutely the real deal when it comes to his hitting and ability to even contribute some steals.  Hitting .214 against lefties last season is somewhat of a concern if we were to look at the whole picture.  Also Harper continues to strike out at a very high clips which means he won't sniff .300 unless he makes inroads there.  However the main problem with Harper is his health and his all-out style leading to injury.  Harper has maintained that he will not change his ways going forward as that is who he is as a player and that tidbit right there makes us a bit nervous that he will get hurt again.  Obviously time spent on the DL is time not collecting stats and that truly has to be weighed heavily when deciding whether to make Harper a late first round pick or second round choice this season.  Harper's name is so big that his draft stock did not drop one bit despite the off year in 2013.  Thus he has quite a sizable amount of his risk attached to his name.

In looking at the overall picture and what numbers Harper could provide this season, we already touched on the average which will likely stay in the .270-.280 range due to his high K rate.  Harper is a bit to aggressive at times and does have some holes in his swing such as a stark weakness against offspeed stuff.  However the rest of the package could be immense if he stays in one piece.  For one Harper is destined to hit 30 home runs and maybe even one day 40 so great is his power.  With the home runs go the RBI and 90 is a strong possibility again if he stays healthy to go along with 90-plus runs.  Finally Harper has some underrated speed with 18 and 11 steals his first two seasons and something in between those two numbers is likely as well as long as his legs check out. 

Last but not least we have to discuss the news that Harper could be batting fifth this season.  Not the most optimal bit of news as hitting fifth would rob Harper of some at-bats after he batted third last season and thus hurt his counting stats a bit.  It would take a chunk of his runs but the offshoot would be a rise in RBI with the 3-4 guys getting on base in front of him.  Also the steals chances may not be there as much hitting lower in the order.  While Harper is destined to be an everyday number 3 hitter, that is not looking like it will happen right out of the gate this season which is a bit of a bummer.


2014 PROJECTION:  .279 27 HR 93 RBI 86 R 17 SB

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