Saturday, March 17, 2012

Great Teenage Hitters

UPDATE: Just hours after publishing this post, the Nationals optioned Harper to Triple-A. We'll see if he comes back up this season as predicted below.

If Bryce Harper makes the Nationals club this year, what can fans expect? If you go by history, not much. Very few 19-year-old position players have made much of an impact in the majors. Here are the best seasons by teenage hitters in baseball history:

Mel Ott - 1928
.921 OPS, 3.5 WAR*

Edgar Renteria - 1996
.757 OPS, 3.0 WAR

Ken Griffey Jr. - 1989
.748 OPS, 2.8 WAR

Ty Cobb - 1906
.749 OPS, 2.6 WAR

Travis Jackson - 1923
.712 OPS, 2.3 WAR

The news gets a lot more encouraging when we expand our search to 20-year-old players. There are too many good seasons to list, but the top 5 by WAR are:

Alex Rodriguez - 1996
1.045 OPS, 9.4 WAR

Al Kaline - 1955
.967 OPS, 9.0 WAR

Ty Cobb - 1907
.848 OPS, 8.4 WAR

Mel Ott - 1929
1.084 OPS, 8.0 WAR

Ted Williams - 1939
1.045 OPS, 6.8 WAR

So should the Nationals hold Harper back a year and wait till he's 20? Only if they have someone better on the roster. You'll see that Cobb and Ott appear on both lists, so the year of seasoning in the majors actually helped them get better. That's how it could play out for Harper too.

Of course, financial considerations play into the decision. They don't want to start the clock on his arbitration eligibility too soon, so what they're probably going to do is the same as what the Giants did with Buster Posey: Wait until late May or June so that this year won't count against his service time and they'll get the rest of this season plus two more pre-arbitration years.

*WAR = Wins Above Replacement provided by

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