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Di Fino: Bryce Harper's early returns

Senior Fantasy Writer
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There are a host of players -- both famous and forgotten -- who played in the major leagues at age 19.

Mel Ott, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Ty Cobb, Robin Yount and Tony Conigliaro are just a few. Some, like Conigliaro and Ott, met their 19 year-old seasons head-on and put up outstanding numbers; others, like Rodriguez, struggled.

To play baseball at age 19 means you have a great amount of skill, but maybe not as much seasoning. Bryce Harper, as everyone knows, is 19. And since he was called up to the majors, he has been nothing short of impressive, hitting .274 with four home runs, two steals, and 21 runs scored through his first 30 games.

If the game of baseball has taught us anything, however, it's that history tends to repeat itself. It's not an exact science, but we have endless at-bats, hits, home runs, and steals at our disposal -- across three centuries -- from which we can cull useful research. The game is much different today than it was in 1928, when Ott played in 124 games as a 19 year-old.

A player like Harper has the luxury of watching film, studying uber-advanced research, and, of course, learning from the mistakes and experiences of 19 year-olds, like Ott, before him. But, at the end of the day, it's still a pitcher throwing a ball, challenging a teenager to hit it. And, as history shows, the pitcher tends to win more often than not, especially when facing a 19 year-old.

So here is an incredibly in-depth look at one of the most popular and simple questions in all of Fantasy this season: Should I sell high on Bryce Harper?

First, let's look -- thanks to Baseball Reference -- at some of the standouts among 19 year-olds throughout baseball history:

Mel Ott had a .322 average and drove in in 77 runs in 1928
Tony Conigliaro hit 24 home runs in 1964
Ty Cobb stole 23 bases in 1906
Buddy Lewis scored 100 runs in 1936
Robin Yount had 28 doubles in 1975
Will Smalley walked 60 times in 1890

For the sake of this study, though, we are going to look at Harper against four significant players with 19 year-old seasons, who started in 1950 or later, and have a similar background (top draft pick, power/speed combo and Hall of Fame careers): Mickey Mantle (obviously doesn't fit the draft pick criterion, but he is similar enough to Harper to be included), Ken Griffey, Jr., Robin Yount (not as much power, but he's similar enough) and Alex Rodriguez. Looking at the first 30 games played by Harper, Griffey, Rodriguez, Yount and Mantle, there's a great deal of similarity across the five major batting categories:

Through the first 30 games of their 19 year-old seasons ...

Bryce Harper (2012): .274 average, four home runs, 11 RBI, 21 runs scored, two steals
Ken Griffey Jr. (1989): .299 average, three home runs, nine RBI, 19 runs scored, three steals
Mickey Mantle (1951): .311 average, four home runs, 26 RBI, 25 runs scored, three steals
Alex Rodriguez (1995): .255 average, three home runs, 12 RBI, 11 runs, four steals
Robin Yount (1975): .330 average, four home runs, 13 RBI, 18 runs scored, two steals

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There is plenty of hope in these numbers. And, regardless of when they were called up, or sent down, for the sake of this experiment, here is what they would be on pace for in a 162-game season:

Bryce Harper (2012): .274 average, 21.6 home runs, 59.4 RBI, 113.4 runs scored, 10.8 steals.
Ken Griffey Jr. (1989): .299 average, 16.2 home runs, 48.6 RBI, 102.6 runs scored, 16.2 steals.
Mickey Mantle (1951): .311 average, 21.6 home runs, 140.4 RBI, 135 runs scored, 16.2 steals.
Alex Rodriguez (1995): .255 average, 16.2 home runs, 64.8 RBI, 59.4 runs scored, 21.6 steals.
Robin Yount (1975): .330 average, 21.6 home runs, 70.2 RBI, 97.2 runs scored, 10.8 steals.

These projections would have given Yount the best batting average ever for a 19 year-old, Mantle would have crushed the RBI and runs scored records, Rodriguez would have come painstakingly close to the stolen base mark, and Mantle, Yount, and Harper would all have finished just below Conigliaro for the home run title.

Of course, none of this happened.

Looking at their full seasons, a slide in production appears after the first 30 games for these four who came before Harper:

Final stats from their 19 year-old season:

Bryce Harper (2012): ?????
Ken Griffey Jr. (1989): 455 at-bats, .264 average, 16 home runs, 61 RBI, 61 runs scored, 16 steals.
Mickey Mantle (1951): 341 at-bats, .267 average, 13 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs, eight steals.
Alex Rodriguez (1995): 142 at-bats, .232 average, five home runs, 19 RBI, 15 runs, four steals. Robin Yount (1975): 558 at-bats, .267 average, eight home runs, 52 RBI, 67 runs scored, 12 steals.

It is kind of scary to note, however, how close Griffey's 162-game projections were to his actual home run and steal totals. And while his average dipped, his RBI pace actually picked up. For the others, though, it was a disappointing slide after early promise. Still, the totals these four put up -- with the exception of Rodriguez -- aren't terrible; they're just down from their first 30-game bursts.

In fact, using our standard league scoring values, the 19 year-olds would shake out thusly: Yount would have scored 348.5 Fantasy points, Griffey would have put up 341.5, Mantle would have accrued 292 points, and Rodriguez would have scored 92 points.

Here is where they'd fall if they played their 19 year-old seasons in 2011, just to give some idea of relative rank and value (among batters):

109. Peter Bourjos, 350
110. Todd Helton, 349.5
111. Aaron Hill, 348
111. Robin Yount, 348
112. Adam Lind, 344.5
113. Martin Prado. 344
114. Andre Ethier. 342.5
115. Ken Griffey, Jr., 341.5
116. Hideki Matsui, 340

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147. J.P. Arencibia, 293.5
148. Casey McGehee, 293
149. Mickey Mantle, 292
150. Ben Revere, 291.5
151. David DeJesus, 290

368. Rene Tosoni, 95
369. Pedro Alvarez, 93
370. Alex Rodriguez, 92
371. Matt Tolbert, 91.5
371. Jimmy Paredes, 91.5

The silver lining to this is when we look at the following year: the 20 year-old seasons from these players were vast improvements -- even held against the projected 162-game outputs from their first 30 as 19 year-olds -- in all cases but Yount's:

Bryce Harper (2013): ?????
Ken Griffey Jr. (1990): 597 at-bats, .300 average, 22 home runs, 80 RBI, 91 runs scored, 16 steals, All-Star.
Mickey Mantle (1952): 549 at-bats, .311 average, 23 home runs, 87 RBI, 94 runs, four steals, 37 doubles, All-Star, finished third in MVP voting.
Alex Rodriguez (1996): 601 at-bats, .358 average, 36 home runs, 123 RBI, 141 runs, 15steals, 54 doubles, All-Star, finished second in MVP voting.
Robin Yount (1976): 638 at-bats, .252 average, two home runs, 54 RBI, 59 runs scored, 16 steals.

Even Ott improved on his already-solid 19 year-old campaign, hitting 42 home runs as a 20 year-old after hitting 18 the year before. And we're seeing a similar path from Mike Trout, the Angels' outfielder who wasn't brought up with the same degree of hype as Griffey, Rodriguez, Yount, Mantle, or Harper -- and who struggled through his first 30 at-bats as a 19 year-old (otherwise he would have made the comparison list) -- but is currently batting .303 with five home runs, 16 RBI, 21 runs, eight steals, and seven doubles through his first 30 games as a 20 year-old.

In short, if history has taught us anything, then, yes, Bryce Harper -- for as impressive as his first 30 games have been -- is a sell-high candidate. He will likely see the dip that Hall of Famers before him have seen as a 19 year-old, and finish the year sandwiched in Fantasy points between the likes of Kelly Johnson and Lucas Duda. If you want to trade him for Mike Trout, history will nod in assent.

But just make sure you get him back on your team for his 20 year-old season. Because chances are he will produce in a very major way.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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