Most fantasy baseball drafts start with Mike Trout or Jose Altuve going first, followed by Clayton Kershaw or Nolan Arenado. Pick number five is where things can get interesting. There are a lot of different ways to go: Mookie Betts, Charlie Blackmon or Paul Goldschmidt, maybe Trea Turner, Giancarlo Stanton or another pitcher in Chris Sale.
Lets say you are drafting about the tenth spot and the bulk of these guys are gone. You might start thinking about adding outfielder Bryce Harper. His current average draft position in National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts is 10th. However, I advise against drafting Harper. Top ten is too rich for the risk and reward of Harper.
Is Harper a superstar? Absolutely. Can he get hot and carry a team? He’s done it before, in the regular season and in the postseason. But can he play 150 games? That is where I have a hard time putting him in the top ten of a fantasy draft.
Since coming to the big leagues at age 19, Harper has played in 153 games or more only once, his MVP year in 2015. Since then he’s averaged only 129 games played. He has yet to drive in over 100 runs and has only hit over 40 home runs one time in his career – also in his MVP season.
Below is a 162 game average, based on Harper’s six years in the big leagues (source: Baseball Reference).
Not too shabby. The problem though is that it hasn’t happened yet. The key number here is 162. Harper hasn’t been able to reach that number on a consistent basis.
Harper projects 98 RBI and 35 HR per Steamer, which rank him 8th and 10th respectively in those categories. This puts him behind players like Goldschmidt, Manny Machado, Rhys Hoskins, Cody Bellinger and Khris Davis.
Before you start saying, “but those guys have lower averages and don’t score as many runs as Harper does,” give me a minute. This next part is what may seal the deal on why he shouldn’t be drafted in the top ten.
Power is quickly becoming a constant in baseball. Last year, 117 players hit over 20 home runs. However, only 16 players had over 20 stolen bases. If we cross reference how many players hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases, only eight players were able to accomplish this feat: Altuve, Betts, Trout, Tommy Pham, Will Myers, Elvis Andrus, Brett Gardner and Andrew Benintendi.
There were a number of players like Goldschmidt, Byron Buxton and Whit Merrifield, among others, who were one or two home runs or stolen bases away from the 20/20 club. Harper is down the list with only 9 projected SB, so while power is great, it isn’t as scarce a commodity that you want to pay such a high price for it in Harper, while sacrificing so much in steals.
Another factor involved with not taking Harper in the top ten is pitching available and demanded. There are four “studs” that you can pretty much count on for 200 strikeouts, 15 plus wins and an ERA close to 3.25 – Kershaw, Sale, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer.
When participating in mock drafts, I found that these four pitchers typically all go in the top 15. If you take one of these four pitchers, you get more bang for your buck than taking Harper in the first round. These four pitchers, and a host of less risky position players mentioned earlier, push Harper down to about the 15th best player available.
A final factor to take into consideration is the depth of Harper’s position. The outfield position isn’t as deep as it used to be, say compared to third base, but there are still a multitude of outfielders you can take instead of Harper and come out with a solid team.
For example, an outfield with Aaron Judge will cost you about 50 points in batting average and two stolen bases. That first pick could instead go towards a third baseman (Arenado, Bryant), a five category first baseman (Goldschmidt), a stud pitcher (Kershaw, Sale), a five category second baseman (Altuve) or a couple of better options in the outfield (Betts, Stanton).
Harper is going to have a good year. His career numbers show that already, plus the fact he’s in a walk year adds a little to my gut wanting to draft this guy. However, his track record of games played per year and his numbers compared with his fellow outfielders aren’t overwhelming. Do yourself a favor and pass on Harper unless he becomes a true bargain in the mid-second round or later.