There was a time this season when it felt like Bryce Harper was never going to get on track. There was a time his 2019 season was deemed by most (not all) to be a disappointment. Chants of “overrated” filled opposing ballparks, and the occasional “boo” was heard at his own.
And it must be said, there were valid reasons for it.
After an 0-for-4 performance against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 14, Harper’s batting averaged reached a season-low .219. Sure, his on-base percentage of .370 was excellent, but his .432 slugging percentage was not what fans had in mind when the left-handed slugger was signed to a $330 million contract.
But slowly, things started to stabilize for Harper. From May 15 through July 31 (65 games) he hit .272/.374/.490 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs. His .864 OPS during that stretch was solid. Despite lofty (and perhaps unreasonable) expectations, Harper was having himself a fine season.
Things have only gotten better.
In the series opener against the Reds on Monday, Harper hit his 30th blast of the season, only the third time in his career he’d crossed that threshold. Last night, he knocked in his 100th run of the season, only the second time he’d accomplished that feat (last season’s 34/100 being the first).
30 home runs for Bryce Harper with the Phillies.— John Foley (@2008Philz) September 2, 2019
Here’s all of them in 2 minutes. pic.twitter.com/nscQgX4Qrf
Entering play on Wednesday, he was hitting .256/.370/.502 this season with those 30 homers, 100 RBIs, and 86 runs scored. His 3.6 fWAR is already higher than last year’s 3.5, and his wRC+ of 123 ranks 11th among NL outfielders.
But the numbers look even better as of late.
Before the All Star Break, Harper was hitting .253/.370/.470 with a 116 wRC+. He had 16 homers in 395 PAs and was worth 2.0 fWAR. Since the break, he’s hitting .262/.371/.567 with a 136 wRC+. He has 14 homers in 200 fewer plate appearances (194 PAs) and has been worth 1.6 fWAR over that stretch.
And if we drill down even further, over his last 25 games (going back to August 3), Harper’s hitting .289/.373/.680 with 12 homers in 110 PAs and 28 RBIs, good for an OPS of 1.053. Over the last 30 days, Harper has hit 11 bombs. Only Aristides Aquino (14), Nolan Arenado (13), Nicholas Castellanos and Freddie Freeman (12 each) have hit more among NL players and his 27 RBIs over that stretch is tied for 3rd-most in the National League.
Much of the credit to his recent success is given to Harper instituting a toe tap just before he swings, a change made shortly before Charlie Manuel took over as hitting coach. Needless to say, it’s helped.
Harper is the first Phillie since Ryan Howard in 2011 to hit 30 HR and have 100 RBIs. The last Phillies outfielder to post those numbers was Pat Burrell in 2005 (32, 117). There’s also this:
The only free agents in #Phillies history with 30+ HR & 100+ RBIs in their first season after signing:— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) September 4, 2019
Jim Thome 2003 - 47/131
Bryce Harper 2019 - 30/100
Harper has also been one of the most clutch players in baseball this season according to Win Probability Added (WPA). WPA is calculated as the percentage increase of that player’s chances to win a baseball game based on their at-bats. So, if Harper comes to the plate in the 9th inning with the team down three runs, the Phils’ win expectancy might be 1%. If he hits a walk-off grand slam, the Phils’ chances of winning the game are 100%, so Harper’s WPA for that plate appearance would be 0.99.
On the season, Harper’s 5.13 WPA is 6th-most in baseball, with much of that coming from blasts like this.
Harper had already been providing a ton of value with his defense this season. His +3 Defensive Runs Saved is 4th-most among MLB right fielders and only four outfielders have more assists than Harper’s 9. But now, the offense has caught up, too.
Harper still has a little less than a month to add to his season totals and, when all is said in done, it’s likely his 2019 season will go down as the second-best of his career, trailing only his insane 2015 MVP season, which is only one of the greatest offensive seasons by any player in MLB history.
J.T. Realmuto may be this team’s MVP, but Bryce Harper is proving to be exactly the type of player the Phillies had hoped he’d be.