The legend of Bryce Harper and more Opening Day lessons 1. The legend of Bryce Harper grows
Sports Illustrated cover boy at 16. Number one pick at 17. Youngest position player All-Star at 19. And now, at 20, the youngest player to hit two home runs on Opening Day. Has any player been more comfortable in the spotlight?
It was impressive enough that Harper hit third in the Washington batting order on Opening Day at age 20 years and 196 days. Only five players were younger when they hit third on Opening Day: Ed Kranepool (1963 Mets), Mickey Mantle (1951 and 1952 Yankees), Gene Stephens (1953 Red Sox), Al Kaline (1955 Tigers) and the melodious sounding Beauty McGowan (1922 A's).
And yet that's not enough for Harper; he goes out there and hits a home run in the first swing of his first Opening Day (he began last year in the minors) and follows it with a home run in his next at-bat, too.Harper is fast becoming the most compelling player to watch in baseball. He is so captivating and so good he may change how baseball is played. Follow me here: For the past decade or so the dominant hitting philosophy in the game has been a passive-aggressive approach in which the hitter takes pitches -- even in hitter's counts -- lets the ball get deep and uses a wide, balanced base. Think Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols and Joey Votto as the templates of this let-the-ball-travel, get-deep-into-counts and never-get-out-on-your-front-foot philosophy.Now you have Harper just attacking pitches so fiercely and with such forward thrust that at contact for both home runs that his back foot was off the ground.
He hits the ball out front and rarely lets pass a hittable pitch. It's an old school swing. Think Frank Thomas (only more aggressive), George Brett, Hank Aaron or Stan Musial -- great front-foot hitters. With so many people watching him, Harper has a chance to influence the next generation of hitters.
Let 'er rip.2. We need more Bryce Harpers
Uh, have I mentioned that we are smack in the early stages of a great era of pitching -- especially young pitching?
Yes, I know it's only one day and it's a day when teams start their best pitcher. But geez, how was that for reminding us all that pitching rules the game? Here's some facts after the dozen games Monday:
• The three youngest of all 30 Opening Day starters -- Chris Sale, 24, Stephen Strasburg, 24, and Clayton Kershaw, 25 -- combined to throw 23 2/3 scoreless innings.
• Ten Opening Day starters have won so far. Here are their ages: 24, 25, 25, 26, 27, 28, 28, 28, 29, 30. Think of it this way: The oldest pitcher to win an Opening Day start this year has been Justin Verlander. He turned 30 in February.
• Kershaw joined Bob Lemon of the 1953 Indians as the only pitchers to throw a shutout and hit a home run on Opening Day. Folks, you only see days like this in Williamsport, not Dodger Stadium.
• The Angels became the first team ever to whiff 17 times on Opening Day and win.
• Nineteen of the 24 teams scored four runs or less. More than half the teams in baseball scored two runs or less, including five that scored nothing.
• The 12 games included an average of only 6.25 runs, as compared to the 2012 season average of 8.64.
• The 12 games included an average of 18.4 strikeouts, as compared to the 2012 season average of 15.0.
3. Stephen Strasburg will still be going strong in December at this rate
Operation Shutdown from 2012 is a thing of the past, especially with the efficiency in which Strasburg threw against Miami.
Until yesterday Strasburg was 0-5 with a 6.65 ERA in the 10 starts in his career in which he did not strike out at least five batters. But Strasburg, with a finely located fastball, found a new way to win. He struck out only three batters -- with no walks -- while throwing only 80 pitches in seven innings. He took care of 10 outs with groundballs.Get this: Strasburg obtained a career-low two swings and misses and still put up seven scoreless innings.
He barely broke a sweat before manager Davey Johnson pulled him. Seeing Strasburg win easily without having to run up a high pitch count or rely on strikeouts was just another positive sign for the best team in baseball.
Read More: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mlb/news/20130402/opening-day-lessons/