Bryce Harper doesn’t need a hitting coach these days. He needs an air traffic controller.
Four games. Six home runs. And an incredible 2,504 feet worth of long balls, according to ESPN's ever-handy home run tracker. Not to mention a double, three singles, 13 runs driven in and eight runs scored. All in just 17 trips to the plate.
If you had a feeling that no one as young as Harper has ever had a four-game stretch quite like this, congratulations. You’ve got that right.
I’ll fill you in on those details in a moment. But first, let’s put this whole tender-age thing in perspective.
This guy is 22 years, 207 days old. So you should know that ...
• Since he reached the big leagues, on April 28, 2012, there hasn't been a rookie of the year younger than him, or even a USA Today Minor League Player of the Year who has been younger than him.
• He has now faced 386 pitchers since his major league debut. They all have one thing in common. None of them has been younger than he was.
• And since he arrived in the big leagues, just three players younger than him have hit a home run for any National League team -- Javier Baez (46 days younger), Addison Russell (1 year, 99 days younger) and Dilson Herrera (1 year, 138 days younger).
So whatever team you root for, there’s an even-money chance that Harper is younger than your team’s No. 1 prospect. Yet he’s coming off four games of unparalleled havoc on a big league stage he’s been waiting all his life to own.
With the help of the Sultan of Swat Stats, noted home run historian David Vincent, I just took a look at the greatest barrages by all players in history who hit six homers in four games at an age remotely similar to Harper’s. Here are the only two instances that were roughly equivalent to the damage Harper just inflicted:
• Johnny Bench, July 24-27, 1970 -- 11-for-17, six homers, 14 RBIs, seven runs, .647/.667/1.706.
• Willie Horton, May 11-14, 1965 -- 12-for-18, six homers, a double, 15 RBIs, 10 runs, .667/.700/1.722.
And now here’s Harper’s four-game reign of terror, just so you can stack it up against those two:
10-for-16, six homers, a double, 13 RBIs, eight runs, .625/.647/1.813.
Bench was roughly four weeks older than Harper at the time of his four-game eruption. And Horton was just three days older when his streak began. But the facts remain the same: Harper was the youngest player ever to hit six home runs in four games. And he outslugged Bench and Horton in their respective outbursts.
If you were as riveted by this show as many of us, though, you no doubt know that Harper actually crammed all six of those homers (plus 12 RBIs) into just the first three games of that assault. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us he’s only the fifth player since RBIs became an official stat to hit six bombs and drive in at least 12 runs in any three-game stretch. And of the other four, only Ralph Kiner (at 24 years, 292 days) was under 25 at the time.
And if you’re curious, here’s the best four-game stretch of Mike Trout's age-22 season (from last June): 10-for-19, four homers, two doubles, nine RBIs, five runs, .526/.591/1.263. Great. But not this great.
So there’s a word for what we just witnessed from Bryce Aron Max Harper:
And for all we know, his historic climb might just be beginning.
AND ONE MORE PHENOM TO APPLAUD
If I ever unfurl my 2015 All-Underrated Team, I can guarantee you Oakland ace Sonny Gray will be on it. Here’s his latest claim to fame:
He made the 50th start of his career Friday night. Six innings of six-hit, one-run, nine-strikeout excellence later, he’d ripped off the 38th quality start in those first 50 starts. And friends, that’s some serious awesomeness.
Thanks to some incredible work by Baseball-Reference.com’s Hans Van Slooten, we can report that Gray is the first pitcher to rack up that many quality starts (or more) in his first 50 starts since Dwight Gooden spun 39 out of 50 -- three decades ago.
And besides those two, only six other pitchers in the past 50 years made 38 or more quality starts in their first 50:
40 Mel Stottlemyre Sr. (1966)
39 Tom Seaver (1968)
39 Bob Forsch (1976)
38 Ron Guidry (1978)
38 Jerry Koosman (1969)
38 Jim Hardin (1969)
And one more thing. Among pitchers whose first 50 starts came in Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index era (1914-2015), only three men in the past century-plus could say they had more quality starts, out of those first 50 starts, than Gray had. Those three are Stottlemyre, Seaver and Forsch.
So do I still have to convince you of Sonny Gray’s underratedness? Good. Didn't think so.
THE STRANGE BUT TRUE FEATS OF THE WEEK
• How far have the Astros come? They just finished winning 10 games in a row. Three years ago, they had a stretch in which they went 10-52. Now that’s progress.
• Hanley Ramirez is back at work -- and here’s what he’s working on: one of the weirdest seasons ever. Before he banged up his shoulder, Hanley hit 10 homers in April -- but no doubles and no triples. So how many other players ever had an April like that, with double-digit homers but no other extra-base hits? Yup. Not a one.
• Speaking of the no-doubles club ... once upon a time, from 2005 to '08, Chase Utley averaged 42 doubles a year. It took him all the way until Sunday to hit even one double this season, in his 106th plate appearance. OK, so who out there predicted that Ryan Howard would hit a triple this year before Utley would hit a double? Anyone?
• Bartolo Colon is a Strange But True phenomenon unto himself. Isn’t he? He has faced 165 hitters since his last (and only) walk this year. So he’s up to six straight starts without a walk. It’s possible he might not remind you much of Edinson Volquez. Who has now made five starts without a walk -- in his past 180 starts.
• Mark Buehrle finally beat the Yankees last week -- for the first time in 11 years. In between wins over the Yankees, he beat all those other teams out there 148 times. Only two other pitchers in the whole sport won at least 148 games in that span, total: CC Sabathia (165) and Justin Verlander (152).
• Finally, we had the Strange But True “getaway game” of the year last week. The home team (the Mets) was leaving town. But the visiting team (the Orioles) was staying in town -- to play the Yankees, who were actually in New York for fewer days last week (four) than the Orioles (seven). Has any team had a stranger but truer season than the Orioles? Let’s hope not!