Bryce Harper’s 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies is not record breaking or extremely large, by baseball standards. But it is a major deal that has dramatically altered the landscape of the National League East and seems to be a major stepping stone in the Phillies rebuild.
Harper’s offensive numbers have always been underappreciated since he made is big league appearance midway through 2014. The 26-year old saw a surge in walks from 2017 to ’18, but he also saw a increase in strikeouts at the same time his slugging percentage dropped by almost 100 points from the previous season. Despite the decrease in his power, probably from lingering and frequent leg injuries that he’s suffered since coming up, he was still worth 3.5 wins while also being a disaster in the field and seeing his wRC+ drop to 135 in 695 plate appearances last season.
That wRC+ of 135 would have been the highest on the 2018 Phillies, of anyone with more than 200 PAs. Harper’s offensive production from last season would have provided a nice boost a Philadelphia offense that averaged 4.18 runs per game last year, tied with the Mariners for 21st in the league. If Harper’s leg injury completely heals up, and his offensive production returns to anywhere his career norms than the folks in Philly are going to be mighty happy with their latest off-season acquisition.
But the club is going to need some major strides from its young core for the offense to really take off and really contend with for a playoff spot. Especially since they’ll have to overcome a questionable outfield defense that doesn’t get stronger by signing Harper.
His leg injuries apparently were lingering a bit last season as the sixth-year veteran had arguably his worst defensive season out in right field. His UZR was a career low -14.4 as he seemed to struggle to make plays on balls hit into the gaps. Philadelphia is hoping that his legs will be healed up and that Harper will be able to consistently make plays like this one from 2017.
Harper’s best defensive season was 2016, according to UZR, and that was where the majority of his value came from while his offensive production struggled that year (he posted a wRC+ of 111 while earning a WAR of 3.0). For the Phillies to see significant improvement in the win-loss column this year they’re going to need to see his defense resemble a cross between 2017 and ’16.
Philadelphia’s decision to go out and sign Bryce Harper was a bold stroke for a team that finished two games under .500 and only ten games back of Atlanta in the division. This move is unlikely to move the Phillies into serious contention in the East this season — there will need to be a couple more moves to bolster the bullpen — but it will make them a contender for a wildcard berth with room for more growth near the trade deadline in a weak National League.