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Behind the Numbers: Is Bryce Harper Overrated?

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

First, a mea culpa: In my keeper piece last week, I made the unfortunate mistake of leaving Bryce Harper off my top-100 keeper rankings. Perhaps it's because he's frustrated me with his litany of injuries, as I'm a heavy investor in his talent in multiple leagues, but to me, he's a top-10 talent. That's the upside at least, though I'd probably in reality slot him in the 15-20 range. In addition, now that I've had time to ponder the feedback, Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey also belong on the list despite their injuries. If it were labrum tears that had sidelined them, they'd be left off, but with the high degree of success we've seen related to Tommy John surgeries, I won't argue in the least if you keep this duo over the likes of Eric Hosmer and Michael Cuddyer.

A few things on my mind this week ...

Can Rubby De La Rosa stick in the Boston rotation?

Full disclosure here: I'm an LA Dodgers fan. When the Dodgers dealt De La Rosa, Allen Webster and James Loney in 2012's blockbuster involving Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, the organization was roundly mocked for not only taking on more than $250 million in salary commitments, but also dealing a pair of top (and cheap) pitching prospects. In De La Rosa, the Red Sox got a pitcher coming off 2011 Tommy John surgery who was struggling to find the strike zone. In 80.1 innings last year for Triple-A Pawtucket, De La Rosa posted a 5.4 BB/9 and 1.41 WHIP. He got the walk rate down to 3.9 this year in Triple-A before getting called up and putting on a show against the Rays. De La Rosa tossed seven four-hit shutout innings, walking none and striking out eight en route to his first big league win since 2011. I watched the game, and as a Dodgers fan, it was painful, as he looked spectacular, averaging 95 mph with his fastball and hitting triple digits at times. His command and control were top notch, but does he have a chance to stick as a starter this year?

What does the Boston depth chart look like? Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholtz are on the disabled list with mid-June projected returns, so De La Rosa is no lock to stick around. Buchholtz appears to be a lock to return to the rotation instead of the bullpen, so that seems to leave one slot for Doubront, Brandon Workman and De La Rosa. Buchholz should be back first, so it seems likely that De La Rosa and Workman will be pitching for their jobs in their next two starts. Another start like De La Rosa's last one and the Red Sox will have to find room for him, but it's possible he'll have to soon bide his time in Triple-A once again.

What are the expectations for Gregory Polanco?

Um, sky-high? I'm getting a ton of Polanco questions lately, mainly around when is he coming up and whether I should drop this guy or that guy to make room. Well, the answer to the first question is "any day." I would expect this weekend at the latest. Polanco is batting .353/.412/.552 in Triple-A with 14 stolen bases and almost one XBH every other game. Collectively, thanks to Josh Harrison, the team's right fielders have improved, but they are still batting just .262/.317/.356 with four home runs and two stolen bases. Polanco would be a massive upgrade over this bunch and allow Harrison to slot in as a fourth outfielder, a better fit for his skill set.
Polanco is likely to slot in as the team's leadoff man, as Starling Marte has already moved down in the order, and Harrison isn't going to be an everyday player any longer. I'm pretty optimistic that Polanco will have immediate success, as though his walk rate has dipped from 12.6 to 9 percent year over year, part of that is because he's seeing the ball well enough to bat .353. I'd rather a guy hit .353 with a .412 OBP than .323 with the same OBP but a higher walk rate. More balls in play equate to more runs, no? Polanco also strikes out in a very reasonable 16.3 percent of his plate appearances, so while minor leaguers with Triple-A success and holes in their swings struggle at the big league level, those concerns aren't there with Polanco. He should already be owned in 100 percent of fantasy leagues with the callup imminent.

Is Bryce Harper overrated?

It's easy to overlook the fact that Harper is only 21, which is amazing given he already has nearly 1,200 big-league plate appearances. I consider him a top-10 keeper talent, but the various injuries are probably leaving me slotting him a bit lower. For his career, Harper is batting .273/.353/.476, which is a fine slash line, but not the slash line of a top-10 talent. This one, however, is all about projection. No hitting prospect in recent memory received the scouting reports that Harper received prior to being drafted as a 17-year-old in 2010. Most 19-year-olds spend most of the year in A-ball, but Harper had 597 big-league plate appearances that year and batted .270/.340/.477. That set our expectations for a 35-homer season this year, but like last season, Harper's true breakout year was pushed out due to injuries.



Harper was off to a slow start with the power this year pre-injury with just one home run and a .133 ISO in 91 PA, but the OBP remained solid at .352, and the power is only a matter of time given his 5-percent HR/FB rate. So while it is true that Harper has failed to live up to our lofty expectations and I can see some calling him overrated, I own Harper in more than half my too many leagues, and I don't see that changing any time soon. You may think he's cocky and overrated, but I think he's supremely talented and a good buy.

What fantasy owner wins this deal - Stephen Strasburg for Evan Longoria?

This is an open offer to me in a dynasty league, where I would be getting the Longoria end of the deal. I'm hurting at third base, though my pickup of Lonnie Chisenhall is paying dividends, at least for now. Losing Strasburg would be a blow to my rotation, but Longoria has to be the safer bet to remain healthy long term, right?

As I write this, through 58 games, Longoria is batting just .264/.324/.370, with that .106 ISO being not even half his .229 career mark. The lack of power is what's really holding me back, as I think I can absorb the Strasburg loss. It's not like Longoria is hitting a bunch of doubles that are just missing being home runs, as of his 60 hits, 47 are singles and just seven are doubles. Compare that to previous seasons in which he has lined 44, 46 and (last year) 39 doubles, and this is a real power outage. Longoria's 2014 HR/FB rate sits at 9.1 percent, which is a little low compared to his 16 percent career mark, so that will likely start to trend up, but the spike in his groundball rate from his usual 37-38 to 45.2 percent this year is a bit concerning. In addition, his line-drive rate is a full four points above his career mark, so he's hitting the ball hard and on the ground, but not nearly enough in the air.

Overall, this is probably just a prolonged slump. We may not see 30-plus homers this year, but Longoria can be counted on to go on a tear. Not having a productive Wil Myers (wrist) in the lineup isn't going to help, but this is still a deal I'm leaning toward making. Strasburg is a big name with big potential, but he's still a pitcher with the associated risks that go with his profession.

How many home runs will Robinson Cano hit this year?

After averaging 29 long balls from 2010-2013, we had to figure that the change in venues would impact Cano's 2014 total, but it's June 3 and Cano has managed just two homers. With a .327/.376/.418 slash line, he's still the same guy in terms of average and OBP ability, but Cano's five-year ISO trend is rather startling: .214, .231, .238, .202 and this year, .091. He's hitting the ball in the air with far less frequency, as his GB% has spiked from last year's 44.3 percent to a whopping 53 percent this year. Cano also hits a lot of line drives, so combine far fewer fly balls with a FB/HR rate of 4.4 percent (13.8 percent career), and you get two home runs. The 4.4 percent should trend up over the year, but given that he has just four career home runs in 244 at-bats in Safeco Field, expecting 30-plus homers again may be wishful thinking. I do think he'll finish with more than six home runs (current pace), but Cano may top out at 15 long balls this year.

Can Dee Gordon steal 100 bases?

When I predicted April 16 that Gordon would hit .300 and steal 65 bases, I encountered some resistance to what seemed like an outlandish prediction. Funny now that 65 appears a bit light. I thought I built in that Gordon was going to regress quite a bit and he has, as at the time I wrote that blurb, Gordon's OBP was .457. Entering Tuesday's action, it's now just .331 after he put up a .311 mark in May. Even with that OBP, Gordon still swiped 21 bases in May, including three games of three steals each. He's been successful in 34 of 37 opportunities and hasn't been caught since May 4. That sort of efficiency and a lack of fear of stealing third base makes Gordon in line for at least 75 steals. That would only be around 10 per month the rest of the way.

What can stop him is simple - himself. The 26-year-old has never shown enough of a bat to play a full big league season. At .280/.331/.372, that line alone is good enough to keep him in the lineup, but what if he continues to get on base at May's .311 clip? Is that enough to hold off the eventual charge of Alex Guerrero once his ear heals after Miguel Olivo went Mike Tyson on him? Because Gordon's defense at second has been at least average and appears to be improving, combined with manager Don Mattingly's professed love for Gordon's disruptive ways, I have to say Gordon has a good shot of reaching 600 at-bats. Even if he winds up hitting eighth in the order at some point, Gordon is still going to get his steals. I can't predict 100 of them, but I'd set the over/under at the aforementioned 75.

Who'd you rather have in 2016, Jurickson Profar or Rougned Odor?

If you go by hype, Profar is the guy.

If you adopt the "what have you done for me lately?" mentality, it's Odor.

Comparing the performance of the two in the minors is about the best we can do. Profar spent nearly all of his age 19 season in Double-A while Odor played 64 games at that level in 2013-2014 (his age 19 and 20 seasons). Here's what each did at the same level:

Profar: .281/.368/.452, 16 steals, 126 games

Odor: .293/.335/.490, 6 steals, 62 games

On a per-game basis, Profar ran a little more and he showed a better eye at the plate. Odor hit for a higher average and showed advanced power, particularly for his age. Both are about the same size physically. Profar has always been ranked among the league's elite prospects, with Odor really bursting onto the scene more recently. Profar has shown flashes at the big-league level, but he may now be done for the year with a shoulder injury and his career slash line in 303 at-bats is a modest .231/.301/.343. Odor is batting .281/.288/.456, and in 57 at-bats, he's yet to draw a walk and he's been caught all three times he's attempted a stolen base. Odor has shown good power with his .175 ISO, but we'd certainly love to see more discipline at the plate, as big-league hurlers are going to exploit his propensity for swinging at anything that moves. Odor was in the 5-6 percent BB% range in the minors as well, a mark that you'd prefer to see closer to 10 percent, but bear in mind that he's going play all 2014 as a 20 year-old. History has proven that players can learn (see Yasiel Puig) to be more disciplined at the plate.

Bottom line: I actually like Odor a bit better. Profar is the "name" guy, but while maybe it was because I saw the game in which Odor went 4-for-5 with a double and two triples, but I like what I've seen this year. With Profar possibly done for the year, Odor could have second base all to himself the rest of the way. It may not always be pretty, but this is a guy who can at least be an average offensive second baseman this year while developing into an All-Star in future seasons.

What prospect(s) deserves more fantasy love?

We'll quickly hit on a few guys who, while they are prospects and I'm sure a lot of you have at least heard of some of these guys, they aren't exactly as well known as the Byron Buxton's of the world.

Atlanta's Jose Peraza could be the Braves' second baseman of the future. He's yet to show any power, but as a 20-year-old in High-A, Peraza has a .347 OBP and 27 stolen bases. He had 64 steals in the Sally League last year. ... Despite the lack of an upper-90s fastball, the Reds' Ben Lively has a 1.03 ERA and sparkling 73:9 k:BB in 61 High-A innings. At 22, he could debut as early as next year. ... The latest Cardinals pitching prospect to rise up everyone's list is Marco Gonzales. Gonzales took just six starts (1.43 ERA) to get promoted to Double-A where he has a 19:4 K:BB in 16 innings. ... The Padres have a pair of intriguing outfield prospects in Rymer Liriano and Hunter Renfroe. A HR tear has Renfroe with 15 on the year and probably on the verge of a promotion to Double-A. Liriano is already at that level with 10 home runs and he's stolen nine bases. Liriano swiped 66 back in 2011. ... Luke Jackson should see time with the struggling Rangers this year. The 22-year-old has a 2.80 ERA, 9.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in Double-A. ... Final side note: Can Mark Appel be officially considered a bust? Appel allowed 10 runs while retiring just four batters in his last start and now has an 11.93 ERA in 14.1 innings thanks to five home runs. To think, the Astros could have selected Kris Bryant instead of Appel and had Jon Singleton and Bryant at the corners, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve up the middle, with the likes of George Springer in the outfield. Too bad. It's probably a bit early to call Appel a bust, but I'm pretty certain most guys projected as No. 1 starters in the draft did not have a start to their pro careers this bad.