Sophomore Stars? The Trout/Harper Debate
No two rookies received as much press last year as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Both rookies were highly touted young raw talents, who we’re going to make a big impact on the game, and when they both got called up, it was easy to make comparisons as to which would be the better performer. While Trout easily out shown Harper last year, and nearly every other baseball player for that matter, a new year is upon us and it seems impossible to start this season without speculating which will have the better 2013.
Trout arguably had the best baseball season last year with his .326 batting average, 49 stolen bases, and 30 homers. Not to mention he had a WAR of 10.8, highest in the Bigs since Barry Bonds had a 11.6 in 2002. While his five-tool talent and numerous web gems weren’t enough to get the Angels to the playoffs, they did earn the kid Rookie of the Year honors, and a second place finish in AL MVP. While the general conception is that Trout is going to come back down to Earth, he is still no doubt going to be an amazing athlete batting near .300 and stealing over 40. However, where 2012 was the breakout for Magic Mike, 2013 will be all about Harper.
In 2012, the kid (and yes I can call him a kid because he’s younger than me, and probably you too) ran into a bit of struggles midway during the season, which coincides to when pitchers discovered Harper’s kryptonite, the curveball. Over the course of the season, with two strikes (traditional junk ball pitch counts), Harper batted .180. Yet the kid still managed to bat .270 on the season by batting .382 in traditional hitters counts. In other words, he can crush the fastball. Yet once he becomes more disciplined at the plate, he’ll be able to work himself into hitters counts and up his walk rate, both which will respectively benefit his raw power and speed. It is also worth noting that while Harper’s worst two months were in July and August, he finished the year with a better offensive September than Mike Trout. Harper’s BA and SLG all topped that of Trout, while they both shared a .400 OBP.
I see Harper developing into more of a power hitter than Trout, who will regress into a more traditional leadoff batter (high avg, high steal, low slugging). While it’s difficult to compare a true power hitter to a true leadoff man, these two players will continue to be hybrids with a different emphasis on their game. However, what will set Harper apart this year will be a plus average for a power hitter, as evident from his .330 Sept/Oct.
Defensively, Harper will be slow to transition. He finds himself moving to left field, which will take some adjustment. But his WAR of 1.8 in his first year hints at his abilities. Harper has a cannon of an arm, which only got stronger when he bulked up 15 lbs in the offseason. As the season progresses, watch Harper become more of a threat in the outfield, especially over the limited space he’s responsible for.
Plus, let’s not forget about Harper’s hustle. This is the same hustle that allowed him to steal home on Cole Hamels when he tried to pick off the runner at first. This aspect of his game allows him to prove to be a vital asset on the base paths, where he can stretch singles to doubles and double to triples. This aspect of his game allows him and the Nats to capitalize on defensive mental errors, something few other players do as well as Harper.
2013 is going to be an exciting season and its going to be great to watch Trout and Harper duke it out again. But I give Round 2 to Harper; expect his 5.0 WAR to jump as his game continues to develop.
Oh and did I mention, the kid’s only 20.
That’s a clown article, bro.
With respect to my colleague, he’s just taking the party line on these rookies and not actually looking beyond the stats. Yes, Mike Trout is a candidate for regression, and he might even have a sophomore slump. That being said, he was the best player in baseball last year and should have been the MVP; even if he does regress, it is hard to imagine him falling far. Trout put up ridiculous numbers in his first full season, but unlike some rookies that have shone bright and faded, this young man’s numbers don’t actually suggest regression, but insanely, improvement.
Trout ended the season with a .326 BA, .399 OBP, .563 SLG with 27 doubles, 30 home runs, 83 RBIs, and 49 stolen bases (while only being caught stealing 5 times). These are fabulous numbers that bring you back to Barry Bonds pre-steroids or Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime. In some senses he actually beats these two out though thanks to his speed and defensive ability. However, though these are the sexy numbers that people like to tout, the most important numbers are the ones below the surface:
Trout grounded into 7 double plays in 2012, he had a .88/1 Ground ball to fly ball ratio, he drew only about 1 walk per 10 plate appearances and he saw about 4 pitches per at bat. These are not the numbers of a leadoff hitter, but those of a power hitter in his prime. Trout had to carry his team for a few months last season with Prince Albert was slumping, and being a rookie, he faced many fastballs from pitchers who didn’t know his weaknesses yet. And Trout did what any good hitter does with fastballs and hit them a long way, usually in the air. This likely inflated his home run totals, and brought his OBP down. While a .399 OBP is good for a leadoff hitter, it is due mostly to his high average, and ridiculous knowing that Trout only walked at a .105 bb/pa rate. It is likely that Trout in the offseason will work on taking more pitches and drawing more walks, especially since he is likely to see more off-speed and junk pitches in his second season. Trout will face a harder time in his second season, and his numbers will change, but not necessarily for the worse. I see him learning his trade more in his second season, lower power numbers, but higher peripherals.
My predictions for Trout’s second season:
118 R, 192 H, 30 2B, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 58 SB, .320 BA, .415 OBP, .500 SLG, 158 OPS +
Yes the power will be down, but the hits will be up. With Pujols and Hamilton hitting behind him, Trout will be able to do his job and see pitches and get on base. He won’t have to carry the team anymore, and can work on just being the best leadoff hitter in baseball.
Oh and did I mention he’s also the best defensive center fielder in the game?
Alright, on to Bryce Harper. Harper is a young hotshot and he probably gets more scrutiny than he deserves. He is a good player, but not great, and he is a prime candidate for regression, not improvement. Harper is a “hustle” player. He beats out infield singles, turns singles into doubles and makes spectacular plays in the outfield. However, his hustle actually makes up for some glaring problems that he will have to try and fix. Unlike Trout, Harper has not learned how to play the outfield. He gets bad jumps on balls and takes bad routes to get to them, but his hustle and grit often make up for it and he manages to make the catch. Case in point:
Harper’s swing is gorgeous. When he gets a ball where he is expecting to get it he can hit it as far as anyone and he can fly on the basepaths. That being said, he still hasn’t learned how to hit a curve ball. It’s the prototypical problem for young stars that are rushed through the minors, the inability to hit major league off speed. Harper will definitely improve some parts of his game, but he won’t be able to take it to the next level until he learns to hit offspeed pitches and hit them well.
Currently, the advantage lies with the pitcher, since they can nibble and throw junk until Harper bites and strikes or grounds out. And he does, as evidenced by his .09 bb/pa. Harper still needs to learn how to hit. And he will, but I don’t think he puts it together right away this season. Harper will put up decent numbers and will help his team contend through his hustle and raw talent. And he is raw. He may just be the best #2 hitter in baseball, but he is not much more than that. Until he gets some more seasoning, Harper will continue to be a positive player in the big leagues, but he is still a year or so away from taking the jump and becoming elite.