Phillies

Assessing Bryce Harper the hitter, fielder, baserunner and teammate at 2019 midpoint

Phillies

With 81 games in the books, Bryce Harper is 3.8 percent of the way through his Phillies contract. And there is much to say about those first 81 games, of which Harper started 78 and played in all 81.

The home run total

Inevitably where the conversation begins most of the time, particularly in 2019, a year on pace to see nearly 1,200 more home runs than any other.

Harper hit a 438-foot bomb to left-center in Thursday's walk-off win over the Mets, the only run that scored before the ninth inning. It was his 14th. 

Harper arrived at the midpoint hitting .246/.363/.465 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs.

There are 60 players with more home runs. A staggering number. It's crazy to look at league leaderboards these days and see guys like Ketel Marte with 20 home runs, Eduardo Escobar and Derek Dietrich with 18. Jorge Soler is on track to set the Royals' home run record. It seems everyone is hitting for huge power, whether it's the raw power guys like Soler and Franmil Reyes or players who used to be high-contact hitters with mediocre pop.

In that way, Harper's total of 14 is surprisingly low. He's on pace to hit 28. The weather will continue to heat up, and as the humidity rises the ball flies out of Citizens Bank Park. You can really see it these last two weeks. It would be no surprise if Harper hits 20 to 25 homers over the final 81 games. Last season, he was so much better in the second half than the first. Throughout his career, it's been more even.

 

We all see the violent hacks Harper takes. There is more movement in his swing than you typically see from hitters in his tier but this is what brought him to this point. He has not experienced enough failure to need to adjust what makes him him. 

The Phillies have not yet seen the best of Harper at the plate, they've seen about 75 percent of it.

Strong defense

Harper has, day in and day out this season, been an impactful defensive player. He had a stretch earlier this season with five sliding or diving catches in four games. He's thrown out five runners after registering just one outfield assist a season ago.

Harper takes his defense seriously. He has rarely taken poor routes and has been more judicious than ever throwing to the correct base, which was an issue at times in Washington.

The Phillies' outfield defense is better with him. If you care about defensive metrics, he has graded out as neutral or positive this season after grading out horribly in 2018.

Balls to the wall

"I've never seen a superstar play so hard," Gabe Kapler said emphatically when asked his thoughts on Harper's first half. "I've never seen a superstar give as much as he gives on a daily basis."

You will not find a fan or close observer of this team who disagrees. Harper is on pace for a career-high in doubles because of how many times he's taken the extra base on a would-be single. He's shown little hesitation leaving his feet in the field. He's bunted for a hit. He's been aggressive going first to third and second to home.

Now, some of that has been overaggressiveness. Harper has tried to score from second on a single 10 times this season and been thrown out four times. He's been thrown out once going first to third on a single and twice trying to stretch singles into doubles.

Seven outs on the bases are too many. It was pretty clearly Harper trying to spark a lifeless offense — several of these outs came during the recent seven-game skid.

Walks and strikeouts

In this category, Harper has been a bit disappointing. He has struck out 98 times this season, a pace that would see him whiff 37 times more than he ever has. There are games like Wednesday's when he swung and missed seven times and did not put a ball in play in five plate appearances. 

He also has not walked as much as he typically does. From 2015-18, he averaged 123 walks per 162 games. He's currently on track for 106. It's why his on-base percentage is 25 points lower than the .388 career mark he entered the season with.

Harper has expanded the zone at times this season, getting fooled badly on a breaking ball here and there. He's swung and missed at many a high fastball. His approach has not changed. He is still an uber-selective hitter who will have many more games with multiple walks.

His personality

I’ll offer a firsthand account. Harper is a very low-key guy. He doesn't carry himself like the most important person in the room. He doesn't walk around with his chest puffed out. He interacts, he has fun with the boys, he plays his video games some afternoons before BP, he makes more eye contact than most.

 

He doesn't like to open up much when a camera is in his face after a game, but he's almost always sitting at his locker ready to answer questions when the clubhouse opens, good game or bad. Off camera, he's a bit more revealing. He's shown signs of vulnerability and humanness that you don't get from every star athlete you encounter. 

"It's not just on the field, it's in the clubhouse as well," Kapler said. "He's selfless. Obviously wants to perform but is looking out for his teammates all the time. I'm his biggest fan. His teammates are huge fans of him as well."

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