2013 Fantasy Baseball: Trout vs. Harper (kinda)

Fineartamerica.com
Fineartamerica.com

The who-would-you-rather-have debate between Mike Trout and Bryce Harper is a fictitious thinking exercise. It will inevitably lead to an inconclusive conversation about who is going to be better. The only way to end the argument is to ring the bell, go to your respective corners, and just decide that we should just enjoy the future of baseball. After all, aren’t conversations like that reserved for the guys on the worldwide leader of sports?

Hypothetical conversations such as, Harper or Trout, are fun and a great discussion point during happy hour, but there is one reality in which picking one of the two stars actually matters. It just so happens that this reality is appropriately entitled fantasy baseball.

In March of 2012 the perception around Trout and Harper was that they were no more than late round picks in a keeper league, and would be a valuable asset in (hopefully) a year or two.

If you selected Harper (who had a higher ADP than Trout at the time) in say the 19th round, it was viewed as a reach (I drafted Harper in the 2nd to last round). If you took a flyer on Trout in say the second to last round, no one noticed. If you happen to be in a non-keeper league like myself, Trout was probably on the waiver wire on opening day. In my league he was picked up and dropped right before he got the call at the end of April.

My friend Schimmel, plucked Trout off of the waiver wire and unsurprisingly went on to win our league. Odds are this exact same scenario took place in hundreds of thousands of leagues across the country. Congrats to all of those who were smart/lucky enough to grab the greatest rookie season in the history of baseball off of the waiver wire, you won’t be so lucky this season.

To those who drafted Bryce Harper like me in the second to last round, you likely either sold him for .35 cents on the dollar during his power outage in the summer, or involved him as the throw in piece of a multi-man deal just to get the trade done (please raise your hand just like I did). This year only that first scenario might happen, and if that’s the case you’re team is likely staring at the basement around the All-Star break.

The rookie bargains of last year will no longer be found for the ridiculous price of a dollar, or for free. They won’t just be a disposable part of your fantasy baseball roster either.

If you’re fortunate enough to win the random luck of the draw and get a chance to draft Trout with one of the top three picks, you’re to an extent tying your fake baseball team’s fate to a 21 year-old, who hasn’t played a full season in the majors.

If you decide to select Harper towards the end of the second round, or the beginning of the third, you’re likely going to pass over these position players that have proven themselves in the show: Jose Reyes, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Adam Jones, or Jay Bruce. (Note: Hanley Ramirez was on this list before injuring his wrist.)

(Somewhere Matthew Berry is smiling at what I just did.)

As always in the realm of fantasy sports, the idea of what Harper could do this season outweighs what those veterans listed above have already done. This is mostly due to the amount of potential for statistical output that Washington D.C.’s adopted teenager has this season. He’s bulked up this offseason with an assist to the world of EDM and glow sticks (he would have made for a damn good frat guy in another life).

The hype machine has surely elevated Harper’s ADP (26.9) up a couple of spots, but doesn’t it seem fathomable for Harper to put up a season like this: 107/31/96/20 (Runs/HRs/RBIs/SBs) with a .327/.400/.953 (AVG/OBP/OPS).

If he did indeed have a season like that it would be a carbon copy of what Andrew McCutchen did last season. Again this is totally conceivable based off of: the Nats lineup, the 139 game learning curve Harper experienced last season, and most importantly the fact that he went through a period in the middle of last season where he mentally had to fight through the notion that maybe he wasn’t ready to play at the major league level. In what could be an early turning point of Harper’s career, he was able to rise above the adversity, and flourish during the final two and a half months of the season.

As always in fantasy sports, you have to play Devil’s Advocate. Let’s take a look at how the last five players to be drafted in, or directly near, Harper’s current ADP (26.9) have fared:

Year Player GP R HR RBI SB SO AVG OPS
2012 Teixera 123 66 24 84 2 83 .251 .807
2011 Choo 85 37 8 36 5 78 .259 .733
2010 J. Upton 133 73 31 88 21 126 .280 .785
2009 Carlos Lee 115 65 26 102 5 51 .300 .831
2008 V. Martinez 73 30 2 35 0 32 .278 .701

That chart is like a bad batch of Chex Mix with some really good bagel chips thrown in. Three years ago Justin Upton had the best season of his young career, but his OPS and strikeouts held him back from being a top shelf player. If Carlos Lee could have stayed healthy for 25 more games his value could have been borderline top 15, thus creating an actual return on the investment. This can’t be said about the other three players selected around the 27th pick.

Shin-Soo Choo and Victor Martinez were victims of the injury bug, which meant that their owners likely dropped them at some point, so unless the free agent did anything positive, they essentially threw away their third round pick. Mark Teixera further showed signs of his decline last season and forced his owners to either sell for much less than his draft day price, or suffer through his bumpy ride to mediocrity, which was likely the fate of their fantasy team last season.

So the question you have to ask yourself if you’re thinking about drafting Harper around the 27th pick is, Do you pull the trigger based off his potential, or do you take a player that has proven to be a valuable commodity before?

It shouldn’t be too hard, seeing as you probably will have to go through this same scenario in the first round.

If you happen to get placed in either the first or second slot of your draft, yet another 2012 rookie of the year will be on your radar. This isn’t just your normal second year player with a lot of hype however, this is a 21 year old phenom, who happens to play on what is regarded to be the best lineup in baseball (at least on paper).

The first round selection in any draft is supposed to set the tone for the remaining rounds. That first pick is supposed to be your anchor, it’s supposed to be the pick that has the least amount of risk. You’re supposed to have some type of idea of what to expect from the pick (barring injury of course) and if your first round pick happens to be a let-down, you better hope that those sleepers that you kept talking up in the 7th-12th round pay off because they’re your lifeline.

Right now Mike Trout has a 2.1 ADP, only two players have a higher number, and it totally makes sense. Both Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun have lived up to multiple years of first round projections and have rewarded owners with the anchor type seasons that are necessary to winning that oh so important fake championship.

Two years ago Cabrera sat with the exact same ADP as Trout has this year and put up a: 111/30/105 season, with a .344 average, and a 1.033 OPS. Last year Cabrera won the triple crown, took the best hitter alive title away from Albert Pujols, and became the safest pick in fantasy baseball. (Thanks to Cabrera doing this I fully expect Pujols to have a monster season.)

The 2.1 ADP isn’t always a sure thing however, last year Matt Kemp missed 56 games, and disappointed owners with a 74/23/69 (.303/.906) throwaway season. The unfortunate souls who drafted Kemp last season are likely to put the never again label on Kemp and stay away from him at all costs. It’s basically the same way I feel about Justin Upton.

Three years ago, I bought into the offseason and spring training hype, took him at the end of the first round, and couldn’t wait to get rid of him by the beginning of June. I think I ended up trading him for Jared Weaver and Jake Peavy, (which in hindsight didn’t turn out to be that bad of a deal). I’ve since stayed away from the idea of drafting him because of my refusal to get over the fact that I wasted a first round pick on the next young star.

The same scenario is no doubt a possibility if you happen to draft to be lucky enough to draft Mike Trout this season. In fact there is legitimate reason to be frightened by the idea of drafting him. After all he is still just a 21 year old who, as stated above, hasn’t played an entire season in the majors. His skill set in real life and in the fantasy world is something that might be something we’ve never seen before. You know what else we haven’t seen out of Trout? A slump. More importantly we haven’t seen how Trout combats that inevitable slump. Sure his September numbers emphasized that he was going through something of a slowdown, but he still managed to produce at a level that his owners could deem acceptable.

In the last five years these are how the players with Trout’s current ADP faired:

Year Player GP Avg. OPS Runs HRs RBIs SBs SOs
2012 Kemp 106 .303 .906 74 23 69 9 103
2011 Cabrera 161 .344 1.033 111 30 105 2 89
2010 Hanley 142 .300 .853 92 21 76 32 93
2009 Arod 124 .286 .933 78 30 100 14 97
2008 Hanley 153 .301 .940 125 33 67 35 122

Cabrera’s 2011 tear is clearly the standout of this chart, with Hanley’s 2008 season also deserving of a round of applause. After that, it’s just a mishmash of seasons that left owners most likely saying to themselves, what could have been. According to the chart, Trout’s 2012 season can only be rivaled by Miggy’s 2011 season. Remember though, it means more when a guy actually lives up to his draft potential rather than having some guy you picked up off of the waiver wire. Even if it is the best waiver wire move in the history of fantasy baseball.

As with the other young star outfielder mentioned in this column, Trout is well on his way to becoming a media darling of the twitter generation, which is a bit ironic because Trout is such a simple person off of the field. I’ve met Trout and his family a couple of times. They’re extremely nice, engaging people. Mike likes to talk about everything but baseball (this past Christmas Eve he told a story of buying Dustin Johnson’s driver, it hasn’t helped him hit anymore fairways) and he fills the room in doing so. Everyone stops what they’re doing to listen to Mike talk. Partially I believe it’s because everyone wants to remember as many details as possible, so they can tell their kids in detail what the next coming of Micky Mantle talked about. I’ll bet you everyone left the party that night and couldn’t wait to tell their family and friends that they were this close to Trout.

Did I just namedrop Trout because I could? You’re damn right.

There is a reason I bring this story up, however. A similar feeling of joy should apply to any fortunate soul that gets lucky enough to draft Trout this season. If he has a comparable season with his 2012 tear, he will be the building block a first round pick needs to be in order to win a championship.

Above all, he’s just a fun player to say that you owned, and at the end of the day isn’t that what fantasy sports are supposed to be about? Sure the money is nice, but the best part of doing a fantasy league (besides the draft) is looking back on previous seasons with your friends and talking about the players you owned.

“Remember the year I bought into the hype and drafted Mike Trout third overall and then he went onto win the MVP? Oh yeah and he had one of the best fantasy seasons in the history of the fake sport!”

That’s the reason to not even think twice about drafting Trout if you get the chance. If you want to make the case that the same could be said for Harper I won’t argue with you, but if you make him your “look at how smart I am” pick, you’ll immediately kill the value in the pick. If someone takes Trout first overall no one is going to question the selection, because his immediate potential justifies him as a top three pick. If someone takes Harper at the beginning of the second round, I fully expect the chat room to fill up with a bunch of comments that either say, “wow,” or “I wouldn’t have taken him there”.

You may strike gold and watch Harper blossom into a star, but you don’t want to be the guy that reaches for Harper this season. If you do (or have already done so) and Harper turns out to burn you, you’ll always second guess when Harper’s name pops up on the best available section of your future online drafts. You don’t want that to happen. The same goes for Trout. If you draft him this season and he doesn’t quite live up to his ADP, don’t put a hex on the guy.

Harper and Trout are destined to be the top two players in fantasy baseball at some point in the near future. When that happens, maybe we’ll finally be able to decide who is better, but for now there is a clear reason why Trout is a top three pick. No one really knows what this guy is capable of. Don’t be the guy (or girl) who screws up an opportunity to draft the most fun player to own in fantasy baseball.

Follow me on twitter @scottdargis_NBC

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