Cubs

If Bryce Harper wants to live up to his upcoming mega-deal, here's how he can improve

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USA Today

If Bryce Harper wants to live up to his upcoming mega-deal, here's how he can improve

Someone, somewhere, sometime soon is going to give Bryce Harper a *lot* of money. 

Whoever decides to pay Harper $330-350 million over the next 6-8 years will also look for a *lot* of return on investment, which stands to reason. Gone are the days of 10-12 guys getting massive, above-value contracts per offseason. Love it or hate it, fiscal prudency is all the rage in baseball, and teams are going to look long and hard before handing out the type of contracts that they were throwing left and right only half a decade ago. 

Because Harper exsists in the 1% of pro baseball players that are still going to get nine-digit contract offers, whichever fanbase he ends up playing in front of for 82 games a year will dissect his performance in a way that few players before him have experienced. Want to get Cubs' or Yankees' or Phillies' or Mystery Teams' fans off your back? Here's what Harper can improve upon during the first year of his new deal. 

Strike out less 

It's the goal of every pro baseball not named Mookie Betts or Jose Ramirez to cut down on the strikeouts, and while may be obvious to point out that it'd be nice if Harper K'd less, it should be noted that Harper was especially free-swinging last season. His K% was all the way up at 24.3 percent, his highest since 2014. He had 169 strikeouts in 2018, which is far and away his worst season in that regards. Ironically enough, his next-worst season was the 2015 campaign, when he notced 131. He also notched the MVP that season, so. 

Power hitters are going to strike out, especially in the increasingly-infamous Three True Outcome era. Minus a radical change to plate approach -- which NO team that's about to give someone 300 million dollars wants to hear about -- Harper's strikeout percentage is always going to sit in the low-20s.  With that said, there's a big difference between 20-21% and 24%, as you know, and only two hitters with higher wRC+'s than Harper also had higher K% -- Paul Goldschmidt and Brandon Nimmo. Even getting back close to his career average (21.2%) would be a win for him next year. 

Get better on the bases again  

Harper's bat grants him baserunning leniency, but it'd be nice if he got back at least not having a negative impact on the basepaths. According to FanGraph's baserunning metrics, it's been two years since Harper's been worth even one run on the bases. In his first five years with the Nationals, he was worth at least two runs four times - and even got above three twice. How active Harper is on the basepaths has a lot to do with whoever's his manager next summer, but he has the speed to at least be a plus runner. Does he need to haul down the line to beat out a grounder to 2nd in a late-August game in Texas? No. But considering only eight guys got on base more often than Harper did last year, it'd be nice to see him take some more chances with all the opportunities he's given. 

Get luckier 

This one only kind of counts, because obviously Harper has no ability to control the type of luck he gets. A lot of Harper's bizarre 2018 season stems from the fact that he was historically unlucky, especially in the first half of the year. His .226 BABIP during that stretch was 18th-worst in all of baseball, putting him with the likes of Texas' Joey Gallo and Baltimore's Chris Davis. He posted a .378 BABIP in the 2nd half, which is even better than his career average (.318). Not convinced yet? Harper hit .249, slugged .496 and posted a .376 wOBA. Per Baseball Savant, his expected results in those categories were .270, .506, and .398, respectively. He was a much better hitter last season than he gets credit for, and suffered because of a prolonged slump that looked bad in all the wrong categories. Even being a smidge more lucky over the first eight weeks of next year will go a long way. 

Philadelphia Insider Jim Salisbury is confident that Cubs are still in on Bryce Harper sweepstakes

Philadelphia Insider Jim Salisbury is confident that Cubs are still in on Bryce Harper sweepstakes

On Thursday’s edition of the  “At The Yard Podcast”, Philadelphia Insider Jim Salisbury stated that he still feels the Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers are the three teams that are all still in the Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado sweepstakes.

He called all three franchises “very interested bystanders in one or both of these guys.”

Salisbury also mentioned that the St. Louis Cardinals could get in on the Manny Machado free agency if the figures for his alleged contract offer from the White Sox was correct, as reported this week.

This comes just days after Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said “not going to happen” in regards to the North Siders going after Harper. And at the Cubs Convention, Tom Ricketts said “we didn't have the flexibility this year to go sign a huge free agent and I'm not sure we would have anyway, to be honest.”

All signs—coming from the Cubs at least—point to them not being in on Harper with all of their current financial commitments, yet reports continue to pour out stating that the Cubs are still monitoring his situation closely. On time will tell, but it certainly seems foolish to count Chicago out at this point.

According to Salisbury, the Cubs have made it very clear to Harper’s representatives that after he receives all of his final offers from teams, he should make sure to “check back with us [the Cubs].”

Report: Theo Epstein faced pressure from Bryzzo to fire Chili Davis

Report: Theo Epstein faced pressure from Bryzzo to fire Chili Davis

It's been 99 days since the Cubs fired Chili Davis, but we're still hearing new reports on the reasoning behind the decision. 

The latest comes from SNY's John Harper, who explained why the New York Mets were so quick to hire Davis after he was fired from the Red Sox and Cubs in successive winters. 

The reasoning? According to Harper, Cubs president Theo Epstein was pressured to fire Davis by two of the team's most notable hitters — Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant:

Secondly, Cubs president Theo Epstein didn't really want to fire Davis, according to multiple sources, yet felt he had no choice but to give in to the wishes of at least a few of his star hitters, most notably Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

"He caved," was the way one person close to the situation put it. "He's not happy about it. He thinks it's BS that the players complained about Chili, but he wasn't going to stick with his hitting coach just to make a point."

That is one strong quote on the matter by the "person close to the situation." 

While Davis himself admitted he didn't connect with a lot of the "millennial" players, it's tough to blame his departure solely on that drama.

The simple fact of the matter is Davis was brought in to limit the roller coaster nature of the Cubs lineup (by improving situational hitting, using the whole field, cutting down on strikeouts, etc.) yet the team still wound up leading baseball with 40 games of scoring 1 or fewer runs. It was the quiet offense that led to the Cubs' demise down the stretch in 2018 more than anything else.

Davis deserves credit for helping Javy Baez realize his potential and become an MVP candidate and the hitting coach also helped unlock a bit more offense out of Jason Heyward while overseeing a strong bounceback season from Ben Zobrist.

Rizzo got off to a very slow start to 2018, but he rebounded from May on and wound up having a season that looks very similar to the rest of his career. At this point, Rizzo is his own hitting coach in a lot of ways and he continues to fine-tune his approach at the plate regardless of who is in the position on the Cubs staff.

The Bryant inclusion here is interesting in that the main reason the former MVP had a down season was the shoulder injury that limited him to only 102 games and diminished his power. However, Bryant has always had a "launch angle" type approach instilled in him at a young age from his dad, and Davis wasn't exactly "anti-launch angle," but he prioritized contact over power at times.

In Davis' stead, the Cubs opted for Anthony Iapoce as the new hitting coach. He has a rapport with guys like Bryant, Baez and Willson Contreras dating back years to their time in the minor leagues, so it's a familiar face who already knows how to communicate effectively with the current roster.

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