Phillies

J.T. Realmuto calls Bryce Harper 'one of most misunderstood people in baseball'

J.T. Realmuto calls Bryce Harper 'one of most misunderstood people in baseball'

Folks who watch baseball, who know baseball, understand how nonsensical the end-of-year storyline was that the Nationals were finally able to win it all because they were free of Bryce Harper. It was troll-like schadenfreude that existed mostly among casuals. Whatever. We all find our own reasons to enjoy the game.

On MLB Network Tuesday, Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto was asked by Chris Russo about his teammate and the perception that Washington needed to cleanse itself of Harper. The Gold Glover said this:

I feel like Harper's one of the most misunderstood people in baseball. Coming in, I wasn't sure what kind of teammate he'd be just because of some of the things I'd heard. But the guy's an awesome teammate, goes out and plays the game hard as he can every single night. That's the kind of leader you want on your team."

I can't speak to how Harper handled himself early in his career, but he was a pro in every way here in Year 1. He gave full effort every day, didn't want to take games off, took his preparation seriously, took off-the-field stuff seriously, led vocally and by example, came up big in clutch moments. He didn't big-time teammates, staffers or reporters. There was no major sense of arrogance emanating from him. He mostly carries himself like a normal big-leaguer.

Yet still, this idea exists and may always exist that Harper is just the brash, cocky veteran version of the brash, cocky kid who first came up with the Nationals. It's not reality. It's perception. In too many sectors of society in 2019, perception matters more than ever before and reality matters less.

In reality, the 2019 Nationals won it all because they were able to replace Harper with Patrick Corbin, who is arguably as important to a rotation as Harper is to a lineup. The Nationals wouldn't have won the World Series without a third ace.

In reality, the Nationals won it all because they had a ton of very good pieces already in place aside from Harper. When Harper hit free agency, a case could be made that the Nationals already had three players better than him in Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Max Scherzer. 

Washington won it all. Hats off to them. It wasn't because the specter of Harper no longer loomed.

"I'm not sure why he's the villain in baseball because really, his personality doesn't portray that in the clubhouse," Realmuto said. "Harper gets a little bit of a bad rap."

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies