It was around the time the baseball sailed over the right-center field wall Sunday in Atlanta, the latest pitch put into orbit by Bryce Harper, that the following thought crossed the mind: The kid is no longer just a curiosity. In fact, he might be on the verge of becoming an obsession. With me, anyway.
Let's face it, every sports fan/writer needs his obsessions, those athletes who make you stop and watch every time they're on the TV screen — or, just as entertainingly, inspire you to punch numbers into calculators (and search engines) deep into the night. My New Guy is Harper, who, since his call-up by the Washington Nationals, has been doing stuff that's unusual even by phenom standards. I mean, you almost wonder if he has a Dominican birth certificate or something.
(My previous crush, by the way, was Ichiro Suzuki, who was a human hit machine for Seattle for a solid decade. But now that he's swinging the bat like a mere mortal, I've been scouting around for a replacement, somebody to amuse my Inner Seamhead. Harper is as good a candidate as any.)
The aforementioned homer off old friend Livan Hernandez — he of the marshmallow curve that's impervious to radar — came on Bryce's 101st major league at bat. It was his fourth dinger at the age of 19 ... and he clearly isn't stopping there. After all, there are still 114 games left in the season.
At any rate, for those unfamiliar with the kind of obsessiveness I'm talking about — and especially for those who are familiar with it — here are some Bryce Harper Fun Facts I threw together while he went 1 for 4 (with two other hard-hit balls) in Monday's 5-3 loss at Miami:
• At his current pace, Harper would be the most productive 19-year-old in major league history. Even though he missed the first 20 games while in the minors, he could still wind up with 614 plate appearances, 533 at bats, 107 runs, 152 hits, 30 doubles, 15 triples, 20 homers, 56 RBI, 10 stolen bases, 71 walks, a .286 batting average, a .372 on-base percentage, a .514 slugging percentage, an .886 OPS and — through Sunday's games — a 144 OPS+.
• No player his age has had that many ups, runs, hits, doubles, triples or walks in a season — or an OPS+ of 144, for that matter (minimum: 300 at bats). Only Tony Conigliaro of the 1964 Boston Red Sox has hit more homers (24); only Conigliaro (.530) and Mel Ott of the 1928 New York Giants (.524) have had a higher slugging percentage; and only Ott has had a higher OBP (.397) or OPS (.921).
• At his current pace, Harper also would finish with 51 stitches. (He already has 10 after getting cheapshotted by his own bat in Cincinnati.) This, too, would likely be a record for a 19-year-old.
• Of course, at his current pace, Harper also would steal home five times.
• And go the entire season without grounding into a double play. (Translation: Always take the words "at his current pace" with more than a few grains of salt.)
• At 19, Ty Cobb was a year away from winning the batting title. (So was Al Kaline.) At 19, Mickey Mantle was a year away from finishing third in the MVP voting. At 19, Ott was a year away from driving in 151 runs. At 19, Conigliaro was a year away from capturing the home run crown. At 19, Ken Griffey was a year away from the first of his 13 All-Star Games. What's Harper a year away from?
• No 19-year-old hitter has ever won the Rookie of the Year Award. So there's another first that's out there for Harper. Those who've come closest: Griffey (third, 1989), Kaline (third, 1954) and Cesar Cedeno (fourth, 1970).
• Interesting footnote: Dwight Gooden was 19 when he won 17 games — and the Rookie of the Year Award — with the 1984 New York Mets. His manager? Davey Johnson.
• Since Harper was promoted to the big club, only Adam LaRoche, among everyday players, has topped him in the slugging department (.524 to .514).
And finally ...
• In 50 years, Bryce will be as old as Davey is now.
I'll be back at you with more Bryce Harper Statistical Snacks as the season goes on. As I said, this is far more than just a passing interest. This is a genuine obsession.
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