Bryce Harper: Has the Washington Nationals' Phenom Been a Disappointment so Far?

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIAugust 31, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 20:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals walks to the dugout after striking out to end the eleventh inning during the Nationals 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on August 20, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Just when I thought it was safe to write a Bryce Harper is a disappointment article, he gets hot on me, belting two home runs Wednesday night and another Thursday—but I'm sticking to my guns.

Harper's two-homer game, along with being ejected for throwing his helmet, highlighted his up and down first season. His rookie year has given us a glimpse of his glittering potential along with a touch of disappointment.

With the hype that preceded him, you would expect more, even though he's only 19-years-old.

He made the All-Star team because of that hype—even though it was undeserved.

Going into Wednesday's game, his numbers were pedestrian. He had a .248 average, with 12 homers and 37 RBI in 407 at-bats. Using new-school numbers, his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) came out to .730, or still disappointing.

His start after being called up near the end of April portended better things to come. May was his best month with an .860 OPS, four homers, 10 RBI and 21 runs scored.

It was a good beginning that brought heightened expectations. His June was fairly consistent with May, but he really dropped off in July and August until of late.

He batted .222 in July with an anemic .619 OPS, and before his Wednesday night barrage, his August figures were a .213 average along with a .625 OPS. That included only four homers and 15 RBI—not exactly the stuff of myth and legends.

Coming into the season, Harper and Mike Trout were touted as the best up-and-coming players in the game. Trout had a terrible first year at the same tender age of 19 in a limited tryout with the Angels.

What a difference a year makes. Trout is the toast of baseball and a likely MVP finalist. His line of a .336 average with 25 homers, 74 RBI and a .984 OPS rivals the best year any 20-year-old has ever had. Factor in 103 runs scored and 41 steals in 45 attempts and you can see what all of the excitement is about.

Harper was the most anticipated young slugger to arrive on the scene since Alex Rodriguez in the mid-'90s. Rodriguez first appeared at 18, and then batted 149 times at 19 with a .232 average and .264 OBP. He had five homers, 19 RBI and a .672 OPS.

Like Trout, he excelled at 20, but that word doesn't even do it justice.

For those raving about Trout, look at these numbers: Rodriguez batted .358 with 36 homers, 123 RBI, 141 runs scored, 54 doubles and an OPS of .1045 in 601 at-bats.

Before A-Rod, you had Ken Griffey Jr. playing the part of the 19-year-old phenom. He batted .264 with 16 homers and 61 RBI to go along with a .748 OPS in 455 at-bats. Good, but not great.

Mickey Mantle burst onto the scene with the New York Yankees in 1951 at the age of 19 to begin a legendary career. In 341 at-bats, he batted .267 with 13 homers, 65 RBI and a .792 OPS.

Former Detroit Tiger great Al Kaline is another player who came up as a teenager. He had an average rookie campaign, but at 20, he led the American League in hitting with a .340 average, to go along with 27 homers, 102 RBI and a .967 OPS.

Looking at the stats, you can see some of the greatest players to step onto a baseball field weren't yet great as teenagers.

Harper is currently No. 4 on the all-time home run list for teenagers with 15, trailing only Griffey Jr, Mel Ott, and Tony Conigliaro. When the year is done, he should pass Griffey who had 16, and has a shot at Ott with 19. Conigliaro is probably out of reach at 24 unless he really gets hot.

When you look at Trout, Rodriguez and Kaline at 20, Harper has a long way to go to match the numbers they put up.

The ability is there along with the desire. He wants to be the best.

Of the players mentioned, everyone is in the Hall of Fame outside of Trout, Griffey Jr. (eligible in 2016) and Conigliaro (who likely would have been if he wasn't hit in the face with a pitch early in his career that ruined his vision).

The only player I can think of who failed to live up to expectations was Cesar Cedeno, who came up with the Houston Astros in 1970 and was pegged as the next Willie Mays. He had a good career, but fell far short of the Hall of Fame.

As you can see, Harper is in good company, and based on his contemporaries and what they accomplished, he likely won't be a disappointment for long.

It just takes a little time.


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