High expectations abound for Bryce Harper

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The Washington Nationals slugger just turned 21 this offseason—TWENTY-ONE!—and the pressure's on him to be one of the key offensive forces of the team. Just what is a realistic expectation for him this season?

Bryce Harper played over 250 major league games before he reached his 21st birthday. He's a wunderkind, phenom, and all the other words used to describe a player so young. He won NL Rookie of the Year during his age 19 season. That's not a shabby way to start a career.

On the cover of Baseball Prospectus 2014, you'll find this question about Harper: "Is this the year? Or are we being too greedy?"

He's 21 and already on his way to becoming a veteran of the game. He'll be a free agent by the time he reaches the peak of his power. There's no denying he has a lot of power already, posting an ISO of .206 in 2012 and .212 in 2013. Steamer projects his ISO to be between those numbers—.209— while Oliver projects it to skyrocket to .244.

Which is kind of the point, all on its own: that's an unusually high power expectation for a guy so young and who has had such an unusual MLB career. I'm not saying that it's wrong to expect so much from him — expect all that you want! — but sometimes, it's good to ground it in something realistic.

Year AVG OBP SLG BABIP ISO wOBA wRC+ BsR fWAR rWAR RE24
2012 .270 .340 .477 .310 .206 .352 121 0.2 4.5 5.2 12.98
2013 .274 .368 .486 .306 .212 .371 137 1.2 3.8 3.8 19.47

Now, during this time, there's been a small uptick in his numbers, especially in ISO, wOBA, and wRC+. This is a rather reasonable increase and not something that would make you wonder if he's doing PEDs or the beneficiary of some crazy luck. These are also numbers that shouldn't be expected from a player in his very early 20s, because the fact that he is OPSing .854 at age 20 and in the major leagues isn't something to disregard.

Then, there are the projections for 2014.

BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR
Steamer 11.2% 18.2% .209 .299 .271 .356 .480 .363 132 3.7
Oliver 12.0% 19.3% .244 .316 .285 .376 .529 .389 150 4.9

Steamer shows Harper replicating numbers similar to his 2013 season, while Oliver has expectations incredibly high. PECOTA has his slashline at .266/.344/.453 with a BABIP of .300. I would imagine that PECOTA and Steamer would be a lot closer to what the reality is in 2014 — maybe a line of .270/.365/.500 and ISO between .210-.220 would make sense (this is just an estimated guess; do not quote me on this).

Harper is a talented player, but I don't think this would be the year where he puts up a Barry Bonds' single-season stat line. Not even close. Maybe in five years or so, when he hits the peak of his power (which, to be honest, will be one of the most fascinating seasons to watch, if only for his power). The projections don't hurt, of course, because the accuracy has never been 100%. But it might be too early to say he's going to be the next great American slugger.

We've been following Harper's career for so long, it's easy to forget he's still so young. He's a good player right now, but if he isn't great for a few more seasons, that doesn't mean he's a bust.

. . .

All statistics and information courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Prospectus 2014.

Jen Mac Ramos is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on twitter at @jnmcrms.

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