Results tagged ‘ Bryce Harper ’

2013 Predictions. The World Series Winner Is….

Anybody who tells you they can accurately forecast the World Series in April is lying to you.

Bob Costas once said he was coming around to the expanded (now re-expanded) post-1994 playoff formula. “Just so long as the World Series doesn’t become ‘The MLB Finals.'” Of course it has. Of course it has actually become something a little less exalted, because you could conceivably get there after playing the artificial and utterly unfair Wild Card Play-In Game.

The Play-In Game was hurriedly designed to try to force-replicate the drama of the inadvertent Play-In-Night that ended the 2011 regular season. What could not be replicated was the fact that the 2011 games were the results of weeks of what was left of the regular season pennant race while the 2012 games featured at least two teams that had all but secured the slots weeks earlier.

You remember Robert Andino and the Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria homers from 2011. What – unless one of them happens to be your team – do you remember of either 2012 Play-In Game?

Right. A vexing invoking of The Infield Fly Rule.

If that isn’t symbolic of those two games I don’t know what is. Don’t get me wrong: I’m at peace with the wild card, even with two wild cards. I’m at peace with pitting them against each other, Gladiator Style. But the randomness of one game just erases the remaining fairness of the thing. Make it three, but throw in a little torture. Make it best-of-three, and play a day/night doubleheader in one city. If one team wins both games, they go in. If not, everybody has to travel to the other city for a night game, the next night. You retain a little of the dice roll of the compressed time frame without the strong possibility that the better team will just happen to lose the only playoff game it gets after eight months of spring training and the 247-game regular season.

I mean, there are unfair weighted variables that you aren’t going to be able to control. To my knowledge nobody’s done the research but I would suggest an unusually high percentage of playoff teams since 1997 have been the ones with the softer inter-league schedule, and inter-league has gone from a set rotating division-versus-division plan to games assigned either for maximum tv ratings or for geographical convenience.

Worse yet is the advantage teams in divisions with extremely weak clubs have for home field advantage in the first round, and especially Wild Card eligibility. The American League East contenders used to have the doormat Devil Rays to fatten up against. Now (presumably) the National League East and American League West clubs will gain immeasurably by getting 19 opportunities to beat up the Marlins and Mets, and Astros respectively. There is no such dead wood in the A.L. East and N.L. Central, for example.

So those are the caveats – and the potential fixes – for anybody trying to forecast the playoffs (not that I’m saying they should be fixed to make forecasting easier; they should be fixed because theoretically you don’t want the true best team in the game wiped out by avoidable biases).

I’ve already picked the Rays, Indians, and Athletics to win the A.L. Divisions. I’m guessing Tampa Bay will still have the best record in the league and draw the wild card winner (which I’m thinking will come one each from the East and West, and the more I look at them the more I like Baltimore again – and L.A.). In lieu of flipping a coin I’m thinking the Orioles will be the better team by then and prevail again (I know; it’s a quaint notion that the ‘better team’ would win a one-game playoff). That would set up Tampa Bay-Baltimore and Cleveland-Oakland in the ALDS. An A’s pick is an easy one; I think the Rays-Orioles would be the full seven thriller and Tampa would finally prevail. So in the ALCS two great pitching staffs meet. Tampa’s is a little greater and they get a clutch home run from – who knows? Wil Myers? – to decide Game Seven. That puts them in the World Series.

In the National I already took the Nationals (waaay out on a limb there, I know), Cardinals, and Giants. The runners-up, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Los Angeles, will all be very good teams (although the Dodgers could easily have switched managers by mid-season). I’m forecasting kaboom-style disasters in Texas and for both L.A. teams so I might as well go whole-hog and say the Dodgers don’t even get the Card. So that’d be Braves-Reds and I’m assuming the Braves can survive their second such game in two years. That’d set up Washington-Atlanta and Cards-Giants and I’m afraid the obvious is true in both cases: Washington and San Francisco pretty easily. And as much as I like the Giants’ team I have already suggested the Nationals are going to have one of those triple-digit years so while I suspect San Francisco could give them a seven-game series I just can’t pick against this amazingly deep team from DC.

The World Series: two great pitching staffs, two great managers, two dynasties that were built quickly. But the Washington bats will overwhelm even the Rays’ rotation, and you-know-who will be the star. This will be Bryce Harper’s year (one assumes the first of many) as the star of …your World Champion Washington Nationals.

2013 Previews. NL East: Bryce Yourselves.

Having yesterday picked the Giants to surpass the more-talent/less-knowhow Dodgers in the West, we look ahead at the N.L. East:

Atlanta: And now, one of the great personnel questions in baseball history: If you put two underachieving brothers on the same team, in their home region of the country, for the first time in their lives, will they blossom? Can the purely personal premise of sibling rivalry (“Uptons Lead Braves To…”) overcome the undeniably statistical (27-year old B.J. Upton peaked at 22; his younger brother Justin has never been more than an average player when not inside the comfortable dome in Phoenix)?

The Uptons aren’t the only critical new couple in Atlanta. After years of tantalizing spring trainings, winter seasons, and MLB mini-hot streaks, Juan Francisco gets his shot to put up – and the Upton trade brought the Braves a useful righthander to platoon with him in Chris Johnson. Neither of them will make you think of Chipper Jones at his defensive peak, but nor did last year’s version of Mr. Chips. That they will not provide a speck of his leadership is a given.

Pitching is intriguing. Julio Teheran’s almost unhittable spring – climaxing in last Saturday’s six innings of being literally such – could combine with a full-season of Kris Medlen’s nearly unhittable 2012 finish. If so, the Braves could match the Nats arm-for-arm, especially if Mike Minor fulfills his promise. But if Fredi Gonzalez gets three lemons there, the Braves are finished, no matter how well the Uptons do, or Chipper’s successors do, or the bullpen does.

Plus there’s no Brian McCann. It’ll be at least May 1 before his shoulder quiets down and his travails this spring have the ring of one of those season-long things. Even though they let his perennial caddy David Ross walk over the winter, the Braves might have an intriguing Plan B in behemothian rookie Evan Gattis, who can catch, more or less, and lose a lot of baseballs because he seems to hit them into the clouds.

Nevertheless, there are too many “ifs” here. I hope the Uptons prove me wrong – even many of the people who let them leave Florida and Arizona last off-season speak nothing but praise for them as people – but as of today the record gives no reason to suspect they aren’t going to be busts in Atlanta, too.

Miami: Don’t get me wrong – the Marlins, Version Negative 2.0, aren’t going to win very much. But they might not be quite as repulsively bad as we all thought when the State of Florida’s bad bet on Jeffrey Loria’s business acumen predictably came up snake eyes – they might be better than the Mets. This will presumably turn on Miami’s willingness to promote the next great star who will eventually leave the team, Christian Yellich, who hit five homers and drove in 14 in 44 spring training AB’s. If the Marlins try to go cheap and keep Yellich in the minors not until May but until 2014, Miami’s huge holes could sink them completely. If they let Yellich up to join some combo of Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Ruggiano, Juan Pierre and Chris Coghlan, they will suddenly have an outfield nearly on par with Washington and the Phillies. The rest of the team is basically promising catcher Rob Brantly, and Other People’s Pitchers. Literally, outside of Ricky Nolasco, all the starting pitching candidates were underachieving pitching prospects obtained by trade (Alvarez, Eovaldi, LeBlanc, Slowey, Turner).

Far more interesting than the numbers put up by the team, will be those produced by the fans. I argued here last year that there was no chance Miami would suddenly turn into a 35,000-per-night city. Sadly I was right, and now we get to see how many will come to see these Dead Fish, and whether that spectacular new building might see an average as low as 3,500 a night.

New York: It has been postulated that the Yankees have let themselves go to hell because they saw a way to monetize the reality that the Mets just keep getting further away from respectability. One site specializing in such things suggested that New York’s opening day line-up could feature Marlon Byrd playing right and batting third. Last season, Marlon Byrd hit .070 in Chicago and then rocketed to a .320 slugging percentage in Boston and tested positive for a performance enhancing drug. Byrd said he wasn’t using it for that purpose. Man, I hope so.

If David Wright’s injury recurs, the Met infield could be Ike Davis, Justin Turner, Ruben Tejada, and Zach Lutz. The outfield could easily be Byrd (or Mike Baxter) and Collin Cowgill next to Lucas Duda. The latest rebuilt bullpen might be worse than last year’s and the rotation could be the worst since Tom Seaver was a rookie (and could provide similar contrasts for young right-handers who may be all Mets fans have to root for this season: Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler).

New York knows the Mets are bad; it does not seem evident here that it’s very possible that they’re Worse-Than-The-Marlins-Kinda-Bad. Making things worse, the team’s first five series are against the Padres, Marlins, Rockies, Phillies, and Twins. Thus the Mets could easily be an utterly deceptive 10-6 or even 11-5 before – as the worn-out joke goes – the older kids get out of school.

Philadelphia: If you’re my age, or even close to it, you know the drill. Every morning some part is going to hurt, you just don’t know which one and how badly. Sadly the Phillies remind me way too much of me. Carlos Ruiz’s renaissance turned out to be an adderall-fueled illusion. Ryan Howard still doesn’t look 100%. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are 34. Michael Young is 36. Roy Halladay had frightening moments of deadarmism this spring and it seems impossible to believe that it was only three years ago when we were assured he was the last puzzle piece to the greatest starting rotation in the history of mankind.

In a vast irony, perennial prospect Domonic Brown finally appears to be ready.

Don’t get me wrong: the Phillies could contend for second place here. I mean there are days when I creak less at noon than I did at 9 AM. Of course these only happen once or twice a month.

Washington: I thought this was the best overall team in baseball last year, and after its achilles heel was revealed in the decisive game against the Cardinals, management didn’t just lick its wounds – it invested even more in the squad. I am surely not the first to suggest that when you upgrade your fourth starter to Dan Haren, your first three starters are probably Cy Young candidates. The Nats surely did not need to sign Rafael Soriano as closer; clearly one of the internal candidates would’ve stepped up. But the mantra here appears to be don’t just try to beat everybody else – make sure you kill them.

That ‘don’t just try to beat them, make sure you kill them’ front office scheme? It mirrors words to that effect that Bryce Harper said to me after his first MLB exhibition game in 2011. It is a bit much to ask Harper to be the National League’s MVP, but it isn’t too much to put a bet down on him even at some very short odds. He debuted with all the technical skills, then had his moment of zen against the Phillies on May 6. Cole Hamels tried to put the veteran of seven big league games in his place by hitting him in the back. Moments later, Harper put Hamels in his place by stealing home on him.

Harper gave me his view of life way back in 2011! That is the remarkable thing about Harper that gets lost in the reality that he seems to have been around forever as prospect and mega-prospect and cover boy: he turns 21 next October. He’s fourteen months younger than Mike Trout. From 22/59/.270/.340/.477 – as a teenager – what kind of improvement can we expect this year? Is there a reasonable prediction for how high you go off that launch pad?

And it’s not as if he’s all Washington has. The infield is airtight, and power-packed at every position, and has rookie third baseman Anthony Rendon banging on the door. A healthier Jayson Werth is joined by Denard Span and Harper in the outfield. Catching are the unglamorous but highly-skilled Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos, and as referenced earlier the pitching staff is impossibly deep. Of course for the Nationals, there actually is a hole. The next power arm scheduled to join the Nationals’ bullpen is a fellow named Christian Garcia. He just partially tore a tendon in his pitching arm.

Other than that I don’t see anything missing here. And for those who think the Braves are going to keep pace with them, I disagree. It might be a race for awhile but it’ll probably end with Washington winning 100 games and lapping the field by 10 or more. Take the Phillies for somewhere around .500, and the Marlins and Mets amazingly out of contention.

So: What Does Bryce Harper’s Hitting Coach DO?

Hadn’t visited with my friend Rick Eckstein since he worked with the kids on the anachronistically named Vermont Expos of the New York-Penn League in 2006. Tonight, as for all this year and in spring training of 2011,  Eckstein now works with Bryce Harper with the Washington Nationals.

Well what exactly can you DO with Bryce Harper?

“His swing gets a little big sometimes. I point that out to him,” Rick said with a smile, not long after Harper hit a seemingly low line drive that appeared to just clear the batting practice pitcher and then wound up around 440 feet away, and 30 feet up, on Shea Bridge in right-center here at CitiField. “He’s great about it. He constantly asks. He constantly wants to know if I’m seeing any little things he’s not.

“And of course I work with him with his prep for each night’s pitcher. Talking knuckle balls in advance of R.A. Dickey tonight, for instance,” added Eckstein, who is whipsaw smart and has a kind of directed version of his brother David’s frenetic energy. “But your implication is correct. I don’t have to fix a lot with him. And,” he interrupted himself with a chuckle, “obviously I don’t have to motivate him.”

There is, however, one fascinating component to The Care And Feeding Of Bryce Harper that figures to keep Eckstein busy, at least as long as the Nats continue to rank somewhere near their current fifth in NL team slugging and fourth in NL team OPS and he remains content to be their hitting guru: “People forget he’s still growing. I mean, he’s nineteen. He’s likely to grow another inch at least, and with that he’ll fill out and when he fills out he’ll add power. There will be adjustments to make.”

Which leaves Rick Eckstein trying to come to grasp with the intimidating realization that the 19-year old who has opened his career with 75 games of 9 homers, 29 RBI, and a .272/.343/.449 and as fast a pair of hands as anybody in the bigs is actually just the compact version of Bryce Harper.

More On Mickey, Vinnie, And The Bryce

Told you Saturday that, although the Maestro himself can’t specifically recall it with certainty one way or the other, it appears that Vin Scully did more than just broadcast Bryce Harper’s first Major League game ever, at Dodger Stadium, on Saturday night. He appears to have also broadcast Mickey Mantle’s first (exhibition) game ever in New York, and his first appearance ever inside an actual big league ballpark.

In the late ’40s and early ’50s the Yankees and Dodgers would open up with a three-game series, right before Opening Day. In 1951, they began it on Friday, April 13, at Yankee Stadium. Mantle was flying back from Kansas City after a visit to a draft board, and missed that game. But he played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on the 14th and 15th.

The Dodger announcers in 1951 were Red Barber, Connie Desmond – and Vin Scully. There was no reason Vin should’ve been off the broadcasts that weekend, and now there is more evidence that he would’ve been very much needed in the both. In those days, those three men handled all of the radio and television for the Dodgers, switching from one to the other every few innings.

Sure enough, the impeccable Bill Francis of The Baseball Hall of Fame has dug up what I could not: Confirmation that the Dodgers-Yankees exhibition of April 14, 1951 – Mantle’s unofficial debut – was televised. Check out the entry for 1:30 PM on Channel 9, from The New York Times weekly tv listings, published on April 8, 1951:Channel 9 was WOR-TV, and they carried the Dodger broadcasts (the Yankees and Giants were on WPIX-TV, Channel 11).

Meaning that the odds that Vin Scully wasn’t at both Harper’s debut, and Mantle’s New York debut, have shrunk to just about nothing.

The Opportunistic Genius Of The Bryce Harper Call-Up

In my pre-season notebook, where I scribble all the useless data and hot tips for the year ahead (and occasionally jot something down like what I did in 2007: “Manto sez watch Bautista. Could hit 40″) I made this little note on my Washington Nationals page:

It was not the most outlandish forecast of all time. Predicting in March that Bryce Harper would be called up on April 25 was a less than even-money wager (and it was wrong, by two days). But when Harper looked ordinary in the spring, and anything but dominant in AAA this month, I nearly crossed out the note in order to write “September” instead.

In short, all of us who thought Harper would have played so well that he’d be “up” by April 25 were wrong.

Upcoming 2012 Topps Harper "Rookie" Card

That’s why the move to bring Harper up because of the injury to Ryan Zimmerman is, as the title of this post suggests, opportunistic genius. It’s a controlled experiment with a time limit, and that’s the variable none of us (maybe not even GM Mike Rizzo foresaw). Let me quote from my post here early last month:

…the most amazing question of the spring isn’t about whether or not Harper is going to open the season with the Nationals, nor the one that goes “are the Nats seriously considering it?” The answer is: what happens if it doesn’t work?

(19-year old Mickey) Mantle was sent down to AAA Kansas City after the game of July 13 (1951)…American League pitchers had begun to deny him fastballs late in May, and in his last six weeks before the demotion Mantle had hit just .211…

But Mantle’s demotion came 61 years ago. There was no internet, no cable, no tv sports news to think of, no radio call-ins, no blogs. The Yankees who didn’t get sent to the minors that season included Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat, coach Bill Dickey, and manager Casey Stengel. They were the two-time defending World Champions and, frankly, it is possible that a lot of Yankee fans had no idea for days or weeks that Mantle had even been sent back to the minors.

That will most assuredly not happen if Bryce Harper struggles in the majors – if he bats .211 over 100 agonizing at bats and Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson decide they have to send him to AAA. The coverage would be intense, uninterrupted, and brutal, and it would not stop the day Harper went to Syracuse or Harrisburg. It would be relentless.

Except now, it wouldn’t. If Harper hits .211 over 100 agonizing at bats (or just 50), and the Nats get healthy – gee, he showed flashes of brilliance and we know exactly what the later Harper will look like, but, gosh, Ryan Zimmerman is indeed coming off the disabled list on time on May 6 – the Nats can send him back to Syracuse and tell him and the world that this was the plan all along, see you real soon.

He would not have failed. The message would be: He did exactly what we needed him to do, on a short-term basis – and now having given him a taste of the real thing, we’re going to put him back in the oven because he isn’t going to play here every day and blah, blah blah, blah blah…

Of course, if he’s hitting .290 when Zimmerman comes off the DL, they can abandon the “plan” and stick him in the line-up for good.

And that is opportunistic genius.

It’s not new – the Yankees did the same thing with Derek Jeter for a long weekend in 1995 when they came up short in the infield – and it’s a mid-season cousin to the standard procedure with standout rookies: bring them up in September and stick them in the line-up. If they succeed, great. If they fail, the season is ending in three weeks, nobody will consider them as having flamed out. Heck, in 1977 the Tigers brought up Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker over an eight-week span (the latter two debuted in the same game). Same idea, and it works nicely.

Of course, with Jayson Werth scratched, Michael Morse lost in some kind of injury ozone, and centerfield a mess, take the odds and wager on Harper overstaying his visit. Heck, he may have to overstay it in centerfield, and the other farmhand just promoted today Tyler Moore (is he a fun guy? Is he a merry Tyler Moore?) in a platoon of some kind in left.

UPDATED: Mantle and Harper…and Vin Scully

The comparisons have been made for years, and tonight one of them comes true. Like Mickey Mantle, Bryce Harper will make his major league debut tonight, slightly out of position, and at the same age – 19.

Dismissing for the moment the relative validity of the comparisons of the players, something startling dawned on me this afternoon. We all know Mantle broke into the majors at Yankee Stadium on April 17, 1951, batting third and playing in right field (and wearing number 6) and grounding out to second base in his first at bat against Bill Wight of the Red Sox. Mantle would go 1-for-4 and notch his first of 1509 career RBI on a single that plated the third run in a 5-0 shutout by Vic Raschi.

But that wasn’t Mantle’s first game in New York as a bona fide member of the Yankees – and that’s where the startling part comes in.

Check this out:

(C) Associated Press 1951

That’s exactly what it looks like. Mantle posing with Joe DiMaggio – at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. The date is Saturday, April 14, 1951 and it’s part of the annual pre-season exhibition games the Yankees and Dodgers used to play. The seriousness of these games (though they didn’t count) is evidenced by those patches on their left sleeves. It’s the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the American League and the patches were brand new. Mantle has just gotten off an overnight flight from Kansas City, having just again been classified as medically unfit to serve due to osteomyelitis by yet another draft board. DiMaggio played CF and Mantle RF, and in the second exhibition, on Sunday the 15th – as Jane Leavy reports in her epic biography The Last BoyMantle merely went 4-for-4.

Update: This was not just Mantle’s first game in New York, it was also his first game in a Major League stadium. In 1951 – and only in 1951 – the Yankees spent spring training in Phoenix. There were no big league parks west of St. Louis then, and when the team began the “tour” that annually preceded the regular season (and to some degree still does) it went west to places like Seals Stadium in San Francisco. On March 26, 1951, Mantle hit a home run at USC’s field that went at least 550 feet, possibly as much as 600. But then came a letter from the draft board and Mantle had to leave the Yankees for nearly two weeks.

Note what’s painted onto the press box level in the fabled Brooklyn ballpark. WMGM was the Dodgers’ radio flagship station (at 1050 AM, it had been, and would again, become WHN). But it was just an exhibition game. Would Mantle’s debut have even been on the radio that day?OK, so I can’t find the television listings for April 14th.

But there you have it: at minimum, Mantle’s first game ever in New York, on Saturday April 14, 1951, was broadcast by the Yankees’ station (WINS, with Mel Allen and two new colleagues who were replacing Curt Gowdy, named Bill Crowley and Art Gleeson), and was also carried by the Dodgers’ station, WMGM, with their announcers.

Wait.

The Dodgers announcers? In 1951?Red Barber on the left, then beginning his 13th year in the Brooklyn booth. In the center, Connie Desmond, Barber’s sidekick since 1942. And on the right, the kid, the local fellow who had just joined the team in the middle of the prior season…Vin Scully.

Updating: I asked my old friend (and my second boss) and Dodgers’ broadcaster Charley Steiner to check with Vin this evening to make sure he didn’t have that weekend in 1951 off for some reason. Vin says he has no recollection one way or the other (I mean, it was at least 10,000 games ago) but doesn’t think he wouldn’t have been working the exhibition games, especially the ones in New York, and recalls doing so throughout that era. So I think it’s safe to say that Vin Scully broadcast both Bryce Harper’s Major League debut tonight, and Mickey Mantle’s first game in New York just 61 years, and two weeks, ago!

Amazing.

By the way, one more relic. Just in case you get to go back in time, print this out:

Bryce Mantle?

So as the spring training games begin, Bryce Harper (1-for-2 against the Astros this afternoon) now says “I want to be up here. I want to play, and I want to play in D.C.” This after Davey Johnson was publicly pushing for him to be on the Opening Day roster and General Manager Mike Rizzo confessed Johnson had convinced him to “keep an open mind.” Thus the most amazing question of the spring isn’t about whether or not Harper is going to open the season with the Nationals, nor the one that goes “are the Nats seriously considering it?” The answer is: what happens if it doesn’t work?

The historical “comp” is Mickey Mantle, who worked his way from a wild-armed shortstop in a pre-Spring Training special showcase camp of top minor league prospects for the benefit of Manager Casey Stengel, to the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup in 1951 (batting third, in an outfield also featuring Joe DiMaggio and an even-more prized youngster that spring, 56-game big league veteran Jackie Jensen). The comparison between Harper and Mantle as players is speculative at best, but the useful history might be what happened when Mantle made the Yankees out-of-nowhere as a 19-year old rightfielder – and then failed.

When Mantle was sent down to AAA Kansas City after the game of July 13, his numbers didn’t look all that bad. In 69 games, he’d batted .260, logged nine doubles, five triples, and seven homers, and driven in 46 runs, while stealing seven bases. But American League pitchers had begun to deny him fastballs late in May, and in his last six weeks before the demotion Mantle had hit just .211. The rest is history: Mantle said he got to Kansas City, called his father to say he now doubted he could cut it, was surprised to find his father in his hotel room a few hours later. Instead of the pat on the back he expected, Mickey saw “Mutt” Mantle begin to empty his son’s clothes into a suitcase and tell him he wasn’t a man and he should come back home and join him in the copper mines.

That worked.

Mantle drove in 50 runs in 40 games and returned to the Yankees on August 24th: six homers, 20 RBI, .284 in his last 27 games.

But Mantle’s demotion came 61 years ago. There was no internet, no cable, no tv sports news to think of, no radio call-ins, no blogs. The Yankees who didn’t get sent to the minors that season included Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat, coach Bill Dickey, and manager Casey Stengel. They were the two-time defending World Champions and, frankly, it is possible that a lot of Yankee fans had no idea for days or weeks that Mantle had even been sent back to the minors.

That will most assuredly not happen if Bryce Harper struggles in the majors – if he bats .211 over 100 agonizing at bats and Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson decide they have to send him to AAA. The coverage would be intense, uninterrupted, and brutal, and it would not stop the day Harper went to Syracuse or Harrisburg. It would be relentless.

Thus the question isn’t whether or not the Nats are thinking of taking Bryce Harper north or summoning him early in the season. The question is how much time they’ve spent game-planning the worst case scenario.

Baseball Prospectus 2012

It hath arrived.

Got it first Sunday at a chain bookstore here and have not dived fully in,  but the predictions based on Statistical Reduction and a dozen other complicated formulae cascade out upon you from every page and it’s worth mentioning a few even before anybody’s done a thorough vetting of what they’ve got.

The most poignant of them, perhaps, are the minimalist predictions for the Yankees’ only offensive addition (“his dense hasn’t been good in a decade, and his bat is barely good enough to fill a DH role”) compared to the man the franchise downgraded, degraded, and then forced into retirement:

Player                                           PA    2B     3B   HR    RBI     AVG/OBP/SLG    WARP

Raul Ibanez                              552   28     3      17     65       .251/.311./.416    1.5

Jorge Posada                           376   18     0      13     45       .260/.350/.440   2.1

The predictions were done, obviously, before Ibanez signed with the Yankees and do not account for their intention to sit him against lefthanders. If that brings Ibanez’s predicted Plate Appearances down the 32 percent or so to where the Posada predicted Plate Appearances are, the BP forecast for Ibanez translates to 19 doubles, 2 triples, and 44 RBI.

In short, the stats – and remember this is the predictive formula that got Evan Longoria’s rookie season virtually exactly correct, even though it had nothing but college and minor league data to work with – suggest Jorge Posada would’ve had a better year than Raul Ibanez will have. This underscores a point that has become clearer and clearer to me since the Montero-Pineda trade: Brian Cashman and the Yankees are approaching 2012 in exactly the opposite way they should be. They are not flush with hitting and weak with starting. Their offense is, in fact, getting dangerously old, and the only immediate productivity from their farm system was likely to be more starting pitching (the traded Hector Noesi, plus Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances). They did not have a hitter to trade, least of all one that Cashman compared to Miguel Cabrera.

I’ll go into the Yankees’ age problem in another post but the Alex Rodriguez prediction is appropriate here:

Player                                           PA    2B     3B   HR    RBI     AVG/OBP/SLG    WARP

Alex Rodriguez                       437   18      0    24      66       .279/.377/.525    4.3

Ack.

BP has long been known as a deflator of the balloons of hope. It sees Mike Trout getting just 250 ups this year, with a 4-24-.254/.317/.369 line. Bryce Harper gets the same number of plate appearances, and just 7-26-.239/.304/.383. The rookies it likes best include an unusually large lot of catchers:  Jesus Montero (2.7 WARP), Robinson Chirinos (2.5), Ryan Lavarnway (2.3; I agree; Boston hopes this year may rest on whether or not anybody on the “New Sox” has the vision to see it); James Darnell (2.1) and Devin Mesoraco (2.1). The likelies to crash (in terms of WARP falloff) are Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Gordon, Matt Kemp, Alex Avila, and Jeff Francoeur – but even with that it still sees Bautista at 9th in that category in the AL and Kemp tied for 7th in the NL.

What it says about the big Pujols move, and the other transactions, I leave to the hard-working editors and publishers. I’ve stolen enough of their thunder.

As to an evaluation of the book itself, there is a format change. In past years, players were grouped by the teams they were with in the preceding year. In this edition, all those who have moved before the publishing deadline have been put in the sections of their new teams – which sounds great, except when you go looking for Pujols and Fielder you’ll find the former with the Angels and the latter with the Brewers instead of the Tigers. It’s a nice try but ultimately not helpful.

And in what is either a booming typo or a bizarre redefinition, the very last leader board in the book – Rookie Pitchers’ WARP – seems to list last year’s rookie pitchers. Unless I’m missing something, Pineda, Hellickson, Ogando, Kimbrel, Sale, et al, don’t get a second bite at the kiddo apple.

Bryce Harper: “I Want To Kick The Crap Out Of You”

IMG_3042.jpg“Gonna remember that first RBI for a long time?,” a reporter asked Bryce Harper.

“‘Scuse me?” Harper deadpanned up from his seat in front of a locker in the visiting clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The reporter tried again: “Are you going to remember that first RBI?”

“Did I get an RBI?” Harper’s act had reached its end and he smiled broadly. “Just kidding! Yeah.”

It had come in the 8th inning of a sloppy 10-8 Washington victory over the Yankees, off the prototypical AAA pitcher, Romulo Sanchez. But the single to right made the loudest sound of any ball connecting with any bat all day, and it was probably not coincidental that rightfielder Colin Curtis then bobbled it.

It’s not as if they’re going to put a plaque up to indicate it happened, although it was noteworthy that when Harper went into the game in the bottom of the 5th, as he jogged out to right, the other team’s crowd applauded loudly, as they did for his two plate appearances, as they did when he first emerged on the on-deck circle.

The first ribby also inspired remarkable perspective on comparative quickness. We will each have our own perspective on October 16, 1992. It was the day of the book party for Madonna’s $50 book of naked pictures of herself. The next day, Tom Glavine would four-hit Toronto to open the World Series. It was three weeks until Bill Clinton’s first presidential election. I had already been working at ESPN for ten months, Derek Jeter had already played 58 games in the minor leagues, and one of Harper’s current Washington teammates, Matt Stairs, had already played 13 games in the major leagues.

IMG_3038.jpgHarper said, with full sincerity: “It takes awhile.”

He was referring, of course, to the “30 to 40 at bats to get yourself ready,” during spring training – and not the seemingly lightning route that has put him in a major league camp at the age of 18 years and not even five months.

That route seems to challenge the expectation that Harper will have seen three Spring Trainings before he appears in a big league game that counts. It is noted that at this time in 2013 he will still be a young 20 year-old and that’s quick enough. Except the ball explodes off his bat and his adjustment to the outfield has already been such that he was as proud of starting a relay that nailed the Yankees’ Austin Romine at third base as he was of the RBI hit (shown to the left in what you’d say is a crappy photo, until you realize it was taken from the distant press box with an unaided iPhone).

Many newly-official men have looked like star big leaguers at 18. To go back to placing Harper’s birth in perspective, the ill-fated Yankee phenom Brien Taylor had already struck out 187 guys in his first 161 innings of pro pitching the day Harper was born. But it is hard to believe the Nats would arbitrarily slow down his pace through the minors to stick to an artificial deadline of 2013, because it isn’t just Harper’s physical game that’s so impressive.

His attitude is also already pretty well developed. Harper was asked by the small crowd of reporters around his cubicle what he thought of playing in a packed stadium festooned with Yankee self-promotion, and he admitted it was “awesome” to have shared a field with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia and all the rest. He said “awesome” twice and added Nick Swisher to the pantheon of impressiveness, which should make Swisher say funny things later on.

But then Harper was asked if he’d said hello to any of these Yankees (even Swisher, who was almost 12 when Harper was born). “No. I don’t really care to say hi to anybody over there. I stick over here.” I wondered if that was humility or competitiveness. “You try to beat ‘em. That’s what I am. If we’re off the field? Hey, I’ll go and say hello. You can be my best friend off the field and I’ll hate you on the baseball field. That’s how I am…on the field, I want to kick the crap out of you.” (By the way, here’s Dave Sheinin’s version of this in The Washington Post, including the very relevant detail that Harper grew up around Las Vegas as a Yankee fan).

One game, one portentous spring training, one killer instinct, and one exhibition game RBI do not mean you should step directly into the majors at 18. But they do tend to support the idea that suggesting it is theoretically possible at 19 is not at all crazy.

A LITTLE PHOTO TOUR OF (MY) SPRING TRAINING OPENER:
Take a nice deep breath:

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An almost-forgotten pre-game ritual: The visiting team taking infield (and outfield) practice. The catchers are Derek Norris and Jesus Flores, the coaches Jim Lett and John McLaren. When I asked Washington manager Jim Riggleman about this, he said there was nothing better for a team before a game. “But on the road, the groundskeepers look at you like you’re crazy! ‘Get off our field!'” It looked to both of us like none of the Tampa groundskeepers had been alive the last time a big league team taking infield on the road, which may have gone out with Earl Weaver:
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Just follow the big white line to spring:
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And best of all, the scorebook comes out of hibernation:
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