Loving Springer, Hating on Harper

In this series, I will be taking a tour around the diamond for in-depth looks at players who I value differently than the market consensus. Expert ranking lists are not worth the paper they are printed on without analysis as to why players are ranked where they are. Since the featured players in this column will be guys who I value much differently than the mainstream, you may not agree with where I rank them, but it is still important to understand why I have them where they are. Sometimes alternative viewpoints can be more illuminating than group think, even if you do not agree with the opinion.

 

Love – George Springer

George Springer is not without flaws, but he could end up being a tremendous value for owners in 2015 and beyond. I typically do not like to invest in early low power speed guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, so in order to get what I need in the HR and SB categories, I love taking a little batting average risk on a power/speed combo guy like Springer. There is a lot to like here, so lets dig in.

Injury History

George Springer lost the second half of 2014 with a quad injury that is reportedly fully healed. He will be a full go for the start of training camp and should not be limited in any way. Since Springer was able to play full seasons in both 2012 and 2013, we will chalk this up to misfortune. Until a player has injury issues for a couple of seasons in a row, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. I do not consider Springer to be an injury risk at this time.

Plate Discipline and Batting Average

Springer struck out a whopping 33% of the time during his rookie campaign. This ridiculous K rate was not at all unexpected since his minor league K rates fell between 23.5% and 30.9%. The unique thing about Springer, though, is that he actually has pretty good plate discipline. Springer walked 11.3% of the time and only chased 26.7% of pitches outside the strike zone. When I visualize high strikeout batters, I usually picture Alfonso Soriano routinely flailing away at pitches outside the zone. That is not George Springer.

Springer does have a swinging strike rate of 18.2%, which comes from an alarmingly low zone contact rate of 68.4%. The bad news is that Springer swings and misses way too much, but the good news is that he rarely swings at bad pitches.

Springer is always going to strike out a lot because he is taking aggressive cuts regardless of the situation. Since he has a pretty good batting eye, however, he will also continue to get on base at a decent clip.

While he will never contend for a batting title with his current approach, he is also very capable of getting his average up to a more palatable .260 or so. After his first couple weeks in the majors where he basically did nothing but strike out, Springer’s batting average was .241 the rest of the way. He has always had extremely high BABIP in the minors, but was at just .294 last season due to a 15.3% line drive rate. As he continues to mature, I would expect slightly lower K rates, more line drives and a batting average that will not kill his owners.

Speed

Admittedly, I always get a little nervous when a player who is expected to contribute in the speed categories is making a comeback from leg muscle injuries. That being said, Springer was 5 of 7 on his stolen base attempts at the big league level in 2014. He was 4 for 4 in 13 AAA games and 2 for 2 during a 3 game A rehab stint. Springer also swiped 37 bases across 3 levels in 2012 and was 45 for 53 on SB attempts in 2013.

While I would not count on Springer stealing 30+ bases next season, it is a possibility. A cautious projection between 15 and 20 SBs seems more appropriate given the Astros’ reluctance to give Springer the green light last season, and the fact that he is coming back from a quad injury that cost him 60+ games.

Power

George Springer is an elite power hitter. In 2012, he hit 28 HRs in 149 games across 3 levels. In 2013, he smashed 37 bombs in 135 games across two levels. Last season Springer’s 20 HRs in 78 major league games had him on a 40+ HR pace over 162 games.

As you want to see from a good power hitter, Springer hit 39.3% of his balls in play in the air. 27.8% of those fly balls ended up as souvenirs. I do not think it is wise to project the same HR/FB ratio over the course of a full season, but Springer’s 309 foot average fly ball distance ranked third in the majors, so it was no fluke. The power is legit.

If Springer is able to stay healthy for a full season, 30 HRs is a given, 35 is probable and 40+ is a distinct possibility.

Conclusions

Most early projections have Springer ranked somewhere between the 15th and 20th best fantasy OF. That would place him somewhere between rounds 4 and 5. I think the value here gives fantasy owners an excellent opportunity to return a rather hefty profit.

Expect the batting average to be a little better than it was last year, and the power/speed numbers will be elite. Springer is capable of posting a reverse Carlos Gomez type line that looks something like this:

.250, 90 Runs, 35 HR, 100 RBI and 20 SBs

That is first round value. There is always some risk in drafting young players (especially ones who strike out so much), but this time, I feel like the price is low enough provided you can grab Springer in round 4 or later.

Hate – Bryce Harper

To be clear, I do not hate Bryce Harper. In fact, I grew up in the Washington DC metro area as an avid supporter of all DC sports teams. Although I have always been an Orioles fan, I have since adopted the Nats as my favorite NL team. I love the way that Harper plays the game. His relentless intensity and fearless play have made him one of my favorite players to watch.

That being said, I still feel like fantasy owners are paying exorbitant prices to acquire his services, and those prices are unlikely to allow owners to yield a profit. Strictly from a fantasy value perspective, I believe Harper to be one of the most overrated assets in the game. Despite being just the 81st ranked OF in fantasy baseball, Harper is likely to fetch a 3rd round price tag on draft day.

Harper just turned 22 in October, so his best seasons are still clearly ahead of him. It is easy to look at Harper’s career .355 wOBA, 55 HRs and 9.5 WAR at a time when most of his peers are struggling through AA ball and immediately assume that Bryce Harper is the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr.. He may end up being every bit as good, but for now owners need to be aware of a few alarming trends before they decide how much to invest for 2015.

Injuries

It is far too early to call Bryce Harper injury prone. However, given his aggressive approach to the game I do believe that Harper will be more likely to get hurt than the average major leaguer. Steamer has him projected to play 130 games next season and if you draft him expecting many more, you may be in for disappointment.

There have really only been two significant injuries for Harper during his Washington Nationals’ career, but both have cost him large chunks of the season. In 2013, Harper missed just over a month with a knee injury that required surgery after the season. In 2014, a torn ligament in his left thumb suffered on an ill-fated head first slide caused Harper to miss two more months.

Harper advocates will tell you that those injuries were the main reasons that his production has not come close to what he was able to accomplish over 139 games as a 19-year-old rookie. They may be right, but given his playing style, are you willing to project an injury free 2015? I am not, so I will adjust my expectations accordingly.

Plate Discipline

As young players move into their primes, the hope is that their plate discipline improves. Harper, however, had his worst season in terms of plate discipline in 2014. As a rookie, Harper walked in 9.4% and struck out on 20.1% of his plate appearances with an OBP of .340 and a wOBA of .352. Not too shabby for a 19-year-old. During his sophomore campaign, he raised the walk rate up to 12.4% and lowered his K rate down to 18.9%. This lead to an OBP of .368 and a wOBA of .371.

In 2014, however, his walk rate regressed all the way back down to 9.6% and his K% rose to an alarming 26.3%. Considering that Harper had never struck out more than 21% of the time at any level in which he played more than 10 games, this number is very concerning. Harper’s OBP and BA remained right in line with his career averages (.344), but his wOBA was just .338.

As one might expect from a struggling hitter, Harper’s swinging strike rate rose all the way from 10.9% in 2013 to 13.7% in 2014. He chased more pitches outside the zone (35.7% swing rate on balls outside the zone) and saw his contact percentage on balls in the zone drop from 86.1% to 82.9%. His contact rates were definitely worse after he came back from the thumb issue, but he was still rocking a 23.1% K rate in March before the injury bug bit.

Harper’s .352 BABIP certainly helped prop up the OBP last season, but the increased strike out percentage could prevent Harper from being the .300 hitter many of us think he can be if he is unable to make better contact. I do think his plate discipline will be better in 2015, but it is still somewhat off-putting to see a young hitter regress so massively in their third MLB season.

Speed

Maybe Harper did not run as much in 2014 because of the off-season knee procedure from the year before, but his fantasy appeal has always been so great because of his power/speed combination along with a profile that suggests the ability to hit for a high average. In 2014, Harper attempted only 4 steals and was successful on just 2. After going 11 for 15 in 2013, one has to question just how many steals we should expect out of Harper moving forward.

Personally, I think the Nationals are being wise by taking the cautious approach and limiting Harper’s activity on the basepaths. Whether or not the Nats are limiting him intentionally, Harper was not as good on the basepaths as he was his first two seasons. He has only hit 5 triples the past two seasons combined. In 2014, his overall base running graded out with a negative value for the first time in his career.

Looking toward the future, owners can hope for 10 steals out of Harper, but realistically you should not be counting on any more than 5.

Power

Harper clearly has elite bat speed and he is capable of finding the cheap seats at any moment. He is still a couple of years away from his power prime, so we have not yet seen the best of Bryce Harper in this category. That being said, there are a couple minor issues that make me question what his ultimate ceiling is in the HR category.

First, Harper’s average flyball distance actually regressed in 2014 from over 300 feet down to 287 feet. These distances tend to fluctuate a little, so the fact that he regressed is not a huge issue by itself. You would like to see an elite power hitter come in closer to that 300 foot number, and I do expect Harper to get some distance back in 2015.

The second issue, however, is Harper’s batted ball profile. His fly ball percentage has been gradually creeping up over the last two seasons, but it is still at just 34.6% which is below league average. At this point, Harper is more of a line drive hitter (this is a good thing in real life baseball, not so great for fantasy) with a career line drive rate of 21.5%.

To put this in perspective though, most elite HR hitters have above average fly ball rates, up near 40%. For Harper to approach 30 HRs with his current fly ball rate, he would need a HR/FB ratio of over 20%. Harper’s power ceiling will never be as high as a Giancarlo Stanton or even a George Springer unless Harper starts to hit more balls in the air.

While I certainly believe that Harper will be a 30 HR hitter in time, he may not ever be a guy who contends for the HR crown. That just is not who Bryce Harper is, at least not right now.

Conclusions

When our top 200 list for keeper/dynasty leagues comes out in a couple of weeks, many will say that my Harper ranking is way too low. When you add up all the pieces, however, consider what you are left with. Following his rookie season, fantasy pundits were absolutely drooling over this kid’s tools. He had the look of a guy who was going to hit over .300 with 30-35 HRs and 15-20 steals. That is an elite fantasy player.

Now, however, we see a guy who is no lock to play 162 games, his K rate is on the rise, he is not running anymore and he does not hit the ball in the air enough to maximize his HR potential. What if Bryce Harper’s best seasons look like this:

.280, 80 R, 30 HR, 95 RBI and 5 SB

What would you pay for that kind of production? It is a nice line for sure, but it is hardly first round fantasy OF material.

I do expect Bryce Harper to produce like a third or fourth round fantasy asset this season, but given the risk, that should place him in the Jason Heyward, Jayson Werth range for re-draft leagues. I don’t think there is any chance that he falls that far. Therefor, Harper owners are not going to be able to turn a high enough profit to compensate them for the risk they take in drafting him.

Given the current trends, I do not think Bryce Harper is a lock to be a future first round producer. As a result, I am not willing to pay as much to acquire his services. Understand that if you decide to draft Harper in the third round this year, you are selecting an unproven commodity with more downside risk than upside possibility. That is a losing proposition in the fantasy world. Let somebody else pay for the hype.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel

16 thoughts on “Loving Springer, Hating on Harper”

  1. Its a guessing game with Bryce right now. Any credence into his postseason performance? if you could adequate value in return for trading him would you get a package together to deal Harper for Rizzo?

    1. Great question Steve, and thanks for reading!

      Harper’s postseason performance was certainly encouraging, but he has shown flashes before. The question is whether he can stay on the field and maintain that level of production for 150+ games.

      While I am down on Harper, trading him now could prove to be a mistake. His value is at what has to be rock bottom (I think). Because there are so many people out there like Paul Hartman who still fully believe, I would not let him go for anything less than mid to late first round value. That may sound crazy when you see where I have him ranked, but I believe you can find somebody to pay that type of price. If not, you are best suited to wait until you can.

      I prefer Rizzo to Harper because Rizzo has already proven he can produce at a near-elite level, and I think it is more difficult to fill those CI positions with replacement level players than it is to fill OF. That being said, however, I don’t think I would pull the trigger on Harper for Rizzo unless I could get another piece in the deal too. Maybe an underrated SP with some upside or a solid closer.

      If you can pull something like that off, then I would strongly consider it.

      1. its tough to trade him simply b/c I’ve been so patient up to this point and he still carries first-round value However, if ’15 doesn’t go well for any reason (injury, performance), his value WILL finally hit rock bottom. The warning signs are there as you have pointed out above. Regarding the Harper/Rizzo swap, these are my keeper candidates listed in order by Proj. ’15 ADP: (16 team, 5 keeper annual redraft, 25-man roster FYI) Robinson Cano, Bryce Harper, Corey Kluber, Matt Harvey, Nolan Arenado, 2B/SS Javier Baez (dual-elig helps), Devin Mesoraco, and Jose Fernandez. As you can see by my candidates lol I’ve had a string of bad luck in fantasy. Do you still think it would be of interest to deal Harper? Any of those SP’s mentioned (Kluber, Harvey, JF) would fit in a package deal for Rizzo nicely, but I’ve also been offered Springer (IRONICALLY) and Bogaerts for Harper and Cano. Any help would be appreciated! and you are very welcome for the read, it was a great one. Keep up the good work!

  2. In a dynasty league, would you consider trading George Springer for Gregory Polanco and Noah Syndregaard?

  3. Andre,
    This is really about a gut feeling for you. Springer has proven he can hit for power (20HR in 78 games) and his dynasty potential is great for years. Polanco looks to be the opposite of Springer in that he stole 14 bases in half a year but could use a year or two to fully showcase his developing power. To me they are about the same as far as value as I like SB guys more than power but I think they could both be first round drafted players for years. Syndergard had a hiccup year in Vegas but that is to be expected a little moving into a hitter’s park. But he has 10.00K/9 average in the minors which bodes well for him in his eventual move to the NL. Keep in mind though that the Mets are talking of bringing the fences in again which will affect his home stats at the big league level. I personally would do it as you swap a near match in dynasty OF value and get a SP to boot.

    1. Thank you so much for your comprehensive and helpful reply. I’m relatively new to dynasty fantasy baseball, and while I understand relative values overall, it’s the prospects (particularly pitching prospects) that I tend to find difficult to value. It’s always helpful to get a second pair of eyes for a potential trade deal, and I appreciate you taking the time to respond so thoughtfully.

      1. HELP! ANYBODY that could help in my Keeper Conundrum would greatly be appreciated! I wholeheartedly stumped… (sorry for the long post)

        I’ve been in a dynasty/keeper league for coming on 5 years now next spring, gotten close to a championship twice (fell short by a category in ’12 & reached the semi’s in ’13), but MISSED the postseason in ’14 and I don’t have a lot of confidence in my keeper-core that I’ll see much improvement soon. The thought-process might be to stay patient, but I’m unsure.

        League Specs:
        ESPN 16 team, 5 keeper/annual redraft, 25 man roster (C 1B 2B SS 3B 3xOF DH UTIL & 10 P slots).
        10×10 scoring. We’re talkin’ R, HR, RBI, SBN, OPS, Errors / HRA, K, QS, CG, W, L, BS, ERA, WHIP, SVHLDs.

        My Current Keeper Core includes the following players. : Robinson Cano, Bryce Harper, Corey Kluber, Matt Harvey, Nolan Arenado, 2B/SS Javier Baez (dual-elig helps), Devin Mesoraco, Jose Fernandez, Carlos Santana, Wilin Rosario, Oswaldo Arcia. —> I tried to list them in order by Proj. ’15 ESPN ADP.

        I almost have questions about every single player, and I’ve made some mistakes with my selections in the past guessing on some players (the ouch of ’13’s core: Cano, Harper, Fernandez, Segura). Cano was my ONLY serious contributor. So definitely reaching out for help to try to rectify those problems lol if I can :-/

        I’ll start with…

        Cano: no question needs to be kept by somebody, just not sure if that’s me. I’ve read several articles regarding his power-outage not being so much ballpark related, but age-related. BOTH bad, regardless. I still like him for his durability, AVG, strong contact. Might have 2 years left before regression begins as well. DH elig helps, its a tough position to find, but he didn’t gather much time there last season despite having several other options at that position.

        Harper: just READ ABOVE lol. its when I began to seriously question retaining anyone.
        Kluber: 1-time wonder? Will league adjust?
        Harvey: TJ concerns, pitch count, Innings pitched concerns. Ceiling below Fernandez from what I’ve read.
        Fernandez: ^^^, June, July? he ripped his arm up good, will that slider have the same bite? despite being out to July, which will hurt, still younger and higher ceiling than Harvey.

        Arenado: 15 Proj: (Mash of Steamer/Rotochamp Proj.) *.290AVG, 19HR, 76RBI, .789OPS. Age, Ballpark positives. But again injury concerns with this guy and his ceiling is not very high from what I’ve read from ‘experts’. Numbers good, not great. He is certainly to be grabbed Rounds 6-10, but is he a top 90 pick? from top 300 i’ve seen, he’s borderline. One had him #145/300 & ranked near Carlos Santana, sometimes below.

        Javier Baez: another favorite of mine, but more concerns again exist. many positives, many negatives. dude is youngest active player in MLB. Stud in milb, could hit 30+ at 2B/SS – don’t see that come around. However, he K’s with abandon and that slash line minus the XBH was not pretty to look at. 15 Proj: *.217AVG, 23HR, 56RBI, 13SBN, .673OPS. (again a personal steamer/rotochamp mash). For example, Alcides Escobar had a .694 OPS in ’14. I don’t know if that’s going to cut it as a round 1-5 pick.

        I could go on, but those listed above are the guys I am thinking about keeping. I also dunno if I’ll retain anyone, trade away everyone IF I can, or what. Let me know what you think, what you might do with those players. Anything. Again thanks for reading, and thanks for any replies.

        Happy Holidays Fantasy Assembly!!!

        1. Hey Jim, good to jump back in; took a pause in the twitter/blog phase of things after this spring and focused on winning 3 out of 6 baseball leagues and leading 2 out of 3 football leagues going into the playoffs. All around, decent year now to broaden my horizons again. Back to the task at hand, Steve, thanks for the long but helpful post about your situation. This will basically be a task involving a lot of patience. First off, you need to look at position scarcity, i.e. Cano is a top 5 2B, you have to draft/keep these guys early. Harper is an over valued OF, you can find OF help all season long. I’d hold Cano and see what you can get for him if he starts hot next season. Harper I’d sell now before his stock falls off a cliff. Beaz, is a gut call, I’d keep him but others may say sell. I don’t think there is a wrong choice there, except selling cheap. That’d be unwise.
          With the pitchers you will need an ace or two to go far, but my philosophy has always been to draft them early and then fill out the rest of the rotation with back end of the draft potential flyers, every year there are the Jake Arrieta’s, the Simon’s, the Carrasco’s that have an amazing run for 2 or 3 months. Heck, even Kluber came relatively out of nowhere last year. I’d keep Kluber and Harvey as they have both proven to be high end starters but try and sell Jose if it’s possible.

          Hope that helps.

  4. John, thanks so much. I am trying atm to sell on Harper and Cano. Not a very easy process. Any insight on Arenado? One thing I failed to point out was how high I am on the class of prospects at 3B coming up in ’15. Hard to make a commitment with Bryant and Sano on the way.

    1. I can see Arenado being a top 5 third baseman eventually. I can’t guarantee it will be in 2015, but he should make some more positive steps and if you don’t protect him, you will regret it. I love Bryant and think he can be better than Arenado, but it’s better to keep the guaranteed player now and maybe draft and stash Bryant and see what happens. The only other third baseman I would want in a keeper league would be Rendon (and maybe Seager as a back end option if I couldn’t get a top 5 guy).

      I agree on shopping Harper and Cano, but I think you best chance of doing so would be during the season. You may get an ok deal now, but with only 5 keepers your field is limited. During the season you’ll be able to package Cano with a useful (but not keepable) player for an Altuve type guy, and Harper if done early enough in a package could get you a Rendon/Rizzo type player. With only 5 keepers you should be aiming at established upside players.

      I would keep them in the order you ranked them meaning Kluber & Harvey are kept, but I would look to get Fernandez back sometime after round 10 despite being out the first 3 months. Baez is nice for the duel eligibility, but I don’t see him producing fantasy worthy numbers this season so I would pass and take a shot on him again in 2016.

  5. so I wanted to come back with what I feel like is good news!!!! I was able to acquire Springer for Harper, somehow. Involved a little more than previously intended. Officially the swap was Springer/Bogaerts for Cano/Harper. Not sure where to go exactly. I have suitors for Bogearts, but I am happy. Maybe I should be worried, but the owner who dealt Springer states to me he is concerned lol.

    1. Steve,

      Sorry for the delayed reply. I have been having internet issues the last couple days.

      I think you did just fine in getting Springer and Bogaerts for Harper and Cano. You may have been able to get a little more for the name value you gave up, but production wise I expect that deal to come out fairly even over the next 3 years, with the long term kicker being that you got two young studs for 1 and 1 declining, but very good veteran.

      I would not even consider the Posey deal, however. Bogaerts could be a top 5 SS as soon as this season, and Posey may not be catching for much longer. He would not be a guy I would trade for in a dynasty league, especially since you already have Mesoraco.

      In looking at your keeper core, you have a very solid group, but if I were you I would be building with 2016 in mind. I think you can have a good team this year, but with Fernandez and Harvey coming back from TJ, (those pitchers don’t usually get back to full strength until year 2) and young, developing studs like Baez and Bogaerts I think you may still be a year away from a title shot.

      If you are able to add a couple pieces to this core:

      Fernandez, Springer, Harvey, Kluber, Bogaerts, Baez, Mesoraco, Arenado, Santana (I think Santana plays OK as a 1B in your scoring system)

      Then I think your team could be awesome in the near future. I would be focusing on upside players in the upcoming draft so that you can solidify those last couple keeper spots. Nice work!

  6. Thanks so much to all of you for your time and advise!!! Happy Holidays from my family to yours! I feel a lot more confident in a dynasty format going forward, and of course am also very excited at watching Springer put some good numbers in my column in ’15.

    Regarding my keeper selections, I’m leaning on this young (slightly unproven) core: 2B/SS Javier Baez, 3B Nolan Arenado, SS/3B Xander Bogaerts, OF George Springer, & SP Corey Kluber.

    Baez/Bogaerts both young, powerful, good teams. dual elig. is tantalizing. I should try and target a veteran 2B/SS late to serve as a utility in case both struggle, but I’m confident in both putting up a good line. Kluber is a regression candidate, but the Indians are a solid squad and play in a good ballpark. Durability isn’t a concern, and from what I’ve read he seems to be the real deal. Springer, Arenado seem to be no-brainers.

    Mesoraco, Fernandez, Harvey, the cuban outfielder’s Yasmany Tomas & Rusney Castillo are tantalizing to select, but there questions that keep me away from each.

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