The vibe in Philly seems to have shifted over the last six months. For much of the 2018 season, it felt like Manny Machado was more likely to eventually end up with the Phillies than Bryce Harper, and the fans seemed to have that preference as well.
Then came the trade to the Dodgers, Harper's second-half surge and Machado's bewildering postseason.
Now, it seems like Phillies fans prefer Harper, not just because he's the better offensive player but because he has an attitude that would fit so well in this city. Philadelphia loves the Aaron Rowand types, players with an edge. Harper is that, just in superstar form.
Is there any reason at this point to prefer Machado?
Machado is the safer bet to hit .300. Harper is the sure bet to have a higher OBP. Harper's career on-base percentage is .388, some 21 points higher than Machado's best OBP in any season.
Harper's power is more prodigious. His plate selection is so, so much better than Machado's. Aside from Joey Votto, there's no player in baseball who tracks pitches the way Harper does.
There's also much more swing-and-miss in Harper's game, but we're in an era when few front offices seem to care.
The only other offensive edge Machado has is that he's more platoon-proof. There's basically no difference in Machado's career performance against lefties (.284/.342/.474) and righties (.282/.333/.491). Harper, meanwhile, has an OPS nearly 150 points higher against righties.
Both graded out poorly in 2018, with Harper among the worst defensive corner outfielders and Machado among the worst when at shortstop.
It's not going to matter much here, at least not right away. The Phillies were an atrocious defensive team in 2018 and neither player could make this defense worse.
If the Phillies get Machado, he'd probably play short for at least the first couple years of the deal, pushing Scott Kingery to second base and Cesar Hernandez out of town.
If the Phillies sign Harper, he'd play right field. In that scenario, Rhys Hoskins would probably split time between first base and left field, playing more at first with Carlos Santana at third base. The Phillies' infield defense would be worse, but their corner outfield defense would be better with Hoskins back at his natural position.
Fit with Phillies
Harper is just more of a stylistic fit for the Phillies than Machado. The Phillies want players who consistently control at-bats, see pitches, force a lot of effort from the opposing pitcher. Harper does all of that as well as any player, and he frequently finishes those at-bats better than any Phillie did in 2018.
Machado is more of a free swinger, and it's interesting to observe him AB by AB. Harper's approach rarely, if ever changes. Machado, though, has at-bats he gives away by chasing, yet two innings later can spit on multiple close pitches to work a walk. A lot of times, it depends on whether Machado starts 1-0 or 0-1.
Both players are superstars. Both will increase the 2019 Phillies' win total by five to seven games.
But if it were up to me, I'd go Harper.
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