The Philadelphia Phillies need to sign Bryce Harper. This isn’t because he’s the one last piece to put them over the top. Instead, the Phillies have talked themselves into a corner with their fans. Since the offseason began, Philadelphia has been promising its fanbase a big offseason, and they didn’t mean trading for Jean Segura.
Philadelphia’s move to acquire Segura was a good one. They were able to move Carlos Santana, and his contract, along with the underachieving J.P. Crawford, and, in return, they received one of the most offensively consistent middle infielders in baseball. However, while a solid move, it’s hardly a headline that makes Phillies fans plan a parade for next fall. In fact, the bigger news for Philadelphia could be who they didn’t acquire.
Patrick Corbin decided that signing with the Washington Nationals was his best move. The Phillies had long been linked to Corbin, but fell short to their division rival in negotiations. Corbin insisted on a sixth year, and the Phillies backed away from the negotiating table. Corbin was easily the best pitcher on the market this winter. His improvement from year to year, along with his very good season in 2018 made it a seemingly safe investment for any team in the running. And to see Philadelphia back away from the table when Washington was their competition is concerning.
Now, with a corner outfield spot open, money still needing to be spent, and promises to keep, Harper is a must for the Phillies. There is a need to create buzz in the city. Signing Harper would create buzz, fill the position, and definitely spend the money. Also, Philadelphia finished in the bottom third of the league in runs, batting average, slugging, and OPS. While signing Corbin would have been a great addition to the rotation, the need for a significant upgrade to the offense is far more prominent.
There has been a large amount of criticism flown towards Harper since the start of his 2018 season. He didn’t exactly have a career year. While he still earned a starting spot in the MLB All Star Game, his overall slash line wasn’t incredible. His slash at the break was a .214/.365/.468 with 23 HR and 54 RBIs. Those aren’t exactly numbers a team wants to throw record breaking cash towards, and that narrative basically stuck with him through the rest of the season, which is really unfair. After the break he returned to form. In the 65 games after the break he slashed .300/.434/.538 with 11 HR and 46 RBI. Project that over a full season and Harper is earning MVP votes. Also, in Harper’s seven year career he’s finished one season with an ops below .800 and it was his age 21 season. Even if Harper is “struggling” he’s finding ways to drive the baseball and produce.
There’s something else to consider, as well, with Harper. He doesn’t see strikes. Andrew Simon wrote a piece discussing these incredible trends that pitchers used to attack the lefty slugger. Basically, Simon highlights how Harper doesn’t see pitches in the zone. Harper saw the third fewest strikes in baseball last year. And the pitches that were in the zone tended to be away from him. It took until after the break for him to adjust and then he mashed accordingly. His adjustment was simply not chasing. Once he cut down on his chase rate, his average rose. Also, even when he struggled, Harper didn’t miss the pitches he was supposed to hit. He mashed on balls in the middle of the zone. Harper hit 40% of his homeruns on pitches in the middle of the zone…he only saw 5.5% in the middle of the zone, which is incredibly low. The league average for homeruns hit in that part of the strike zone was 25%. So, Harper was 15% better than league average even though he had significantly less opportunity. There is even more than that in Simon’s piece and I definitely recommend giving it a read if you’re into advanced analytics.
Look, the Phillies need offense. They’ve also been talking a big game since the offseason started. They have a spot open in the outfield. They have money to spend. And they already missed out on Corbin. It’s time for Philadelphia to address all of these concerns by signing the one player on the market that can. The Phillies need to sign Bryce Harper.
Stats via MLB