Is Bryce Harper Worth the Money? by Erik Manning May 21, 2010 Bryce Harper, hitting prodigy extraordinaire. Dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the baseball’s Lebron James, Harper is the most hyped prospect since, well, Steven Strasburg, who was drafted just last year. Both players have the tools and the results to be considered worthy of such hysteria. Steven Strasburg is dominating Triple-A pitching already, and Harper has clubbed 23 homeruns in 198 at-bats as a 17 year old collegiate in a league that plays only with wooden bats. Sure, it’s junior college, but Harper has done nothing to sully his reputation as a prodigious power hitter. The craziest thing about this all is these two super-phenoms could be battery mates in D.C. in the very near future if a.) The Nationals draft him, which it appears that they will, and b.) If Harper can stick at catcher, and many scouts believe that he can. The Nationals already doled out a record signing of $15.67 million to Strasburg last year, raising some eyebrows among fans and analysts alike, but it was a far cry from the possible Dice-K numbers that he was rumored to be initially seeking. Harper, who is advised by none other than Scott Boras, is rumored to be seeking even more money than Strasburg, according to Jon Heyman. (What? Heyman leaking bonus demands of a Boras client? That’s shocking!) While it seems astounding to us average Joes that a kid not old enough to vote would receive such big dollars, is it really that nuts for a player drafted 1st overall to get that sort of money? To answer that question I looked at all the 1-1 picks since the history of the draft. I’m looking just at the players who have played long enough to be judged to this point, so no Strasburg, David Price, Justin Upton, Tim Beckham or Luke Hochevar. Again, I’m looking only at the player’s first seasons in the majors, not when they are free agent eligible. I’m using Rally’s Historical WAR database to get their WAR totals. Here’s the Top 5 1-1 picks of all time, and what their production would have been worth on today’s free agent market. Name Pos HS/COL WAR WAR/yr. FA$ Alex Rodriguez SS High School 37.5 6.3 153.8 Ken Griffey OF High School 35.2 5.9 144.3 Joe Mauer C High School 33.1 5.9 135.7 Chipper Jones SS High School 26.8 4.5 109.9 Dar. Strawberry OF High School 26.7 4.5 109.5 It’s attention-grabbing to me that all of these hitters came out of high school. And of course, they were all really, really good. If Harper can come even close to any of these select few, he’ll be worth his bonus many times over. Now getting beyond the fun, superlative stuff, 45% of the #1 overall picks have produced nothing or next to nothing in the big leagues. Averaging all the 1st picks together, you get 9.5 WAR, or 1.6 WAR per season. We are talking about just 40 players, so standard deviation for the group is 1.8 WAR per season, in case you were wondering. If we estimate that a player worth 1.6 WAR per season will earn about $13 million before they hit free agency (factoring in the 40%, 60%, 80% arbitration estimates and league minimum pay), we find that said player is worth a surplus value of around $26 million. So while handing out a bonus of $15 million puts a good sized dent in that surplus, that’s still a considerable surplus left over. For all the moralizing and hem-hawing that #1 draft picks are vastly overpaid, I’d argue that they are a relative value. Sure, there is a good bit of risk involved, but when you glance at the overall picture, the #1 overall picks on an average have been worth their scratch. If Bryce Harper is worth only a fraction of the hype he’s received, he’ll be well worth whatever the record signing money he receives.