It’s time for Bryce Harper to earn his keep.
The Philadelphia Phillies star hasn’t been terrible in his first season since he ditched the Washington Nationals for greener pastures in southeastern Pennsylvania, but he hasn’t come close to the $330 million man the Phils paid for.
Entering play Tuesday, the Phillies were 39-32, three games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They’re in the postseason chase but not a shoo-in to charge deep into October.
They rank 16th in runs (346), 18th in OPS (.740) and 23rd in home runs (86). Harper isn’t adding enough considering how much he’s getting paid.
The 26-year-old is hitting .247 with 12 home runs. His .820 OPS is decent but only third on the team among players with at least 200 at-bats, behind Rhys Hoskins’ .917 OPS and Andrew McCutchen’s .834. Hoskins is earning $575,000 in 2019. McCutchen is out for the year with an ACL injury.
Harper, on the other hand, is the high-priced hired gun for whom the Phillies opened their checkbook. He should carry the offense.
In June, he’s slashing .245/.322/.396 with 15 strikeouts next to four extra-base hits.
He’s heard it from the fanbase’s infamous boo birds as far back as late March. He’s experienced the less-than-loving side of the City of Brotherly Love.
“I’d do the same thing,” Harper told reporters at the time. “It’s not fun to lose, not fun to watch when you’re playing that way.”
Again, the Phillies aren’t sunk. They’d be a wild-card entrant if the season ended Tuesday. But if they want to join the top tier of the Senior Circuit—the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and Braves—they need Harper to be The Man.
Presently, FanGraphs projects the Dodgers to win 101 games, the Braves to win 91, the Cubs 89, the Brewers 86 and the Phillies 84.
Every club has its flaws, but the Philadelphia offense is blatantly deficient. Each also has a star to carry it: Cody Bellinger, Freddie Freeman, Kris Bryant and Christian Yelich. For the Phils, Harper is said star.
Harper has always been a mercurial player, prone to peaks and valleys. By the conclusion of his age-22 campaign in 2015, he’d won NL Rookie of the Year honors, made three All-Star teams and stashed an MVP trophy in his case.
He’s received three All-Star nods since then and enjoyed a few iconic moments, including an epic showing at the Home Run Derby in Washington, D.C., in 2018.
He’s also struggled with injuries and inconsistency. Despite a Hall of Fame skill set, he’s never been to the World Series, let alone won it, and has eclipsed 150 games just twice (in 2015 and 2018).
The Phillies need to buttress a bullpen that ranks 18th in the game with a 4.62 ERA. They lack a postseason-tested ace outside Jake Arrieta and his 5.03 FIP. There are reasons other than Harper why they aren’t Fall Classic favorites.
Still, with great money comes great responsibility. The Phillies’ big-ticket addition needs to act like, well…a big ticket.
Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post spelled it out Monday:
“I believed the Nationals should have made every effort to re-sign Harper over the past offseason not only because of what he had done for this franchise—giving the Nats a marketable face-of-the-sport figure for the seven seasons he played here—but for what was ahead, which I figured were Harper’s best years. …
“There are alarming indicators. Harper’s strikeout rate … is 29.4 percent, which is not only the highest of his career but is the sixth-highest in the majors. Similarly, Harper’s swing-and-miss rate … is 32.1 percent, nearly one in every three swings, which is also the highest of his career and is the seventh-worst in the majors this season.”
He’s whiffing. He’s getting beat. He’s incapable, so far, of putting his new team on his shoulders.
Or, as Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler diplomatically phrased it, per Svrluga, “He’s been on a slow trajectory to get to the right spot.”
Talk about damning with faint praise.
Is it too late for Harper to shift into superstar overdrive? Of course not. But as we sprint past the mid-June marker, time is running out. The pressure will increase. The boo birds will chirp.
Here’s the bottom line: It’s time for Harper to earn his keep.