Bryce Harper is quietly having one of the best years of his career. It’s hard to say that someone as hyped as Harper has been quietly doing anything, yet this site has yet to devote an entire article to his extremely productive season.
Even FanGraphs has only written about Harper once this season, an article back in May, penned by none other than Beyond the Box Score alum Devin Fink.
Atlanta has led the National League East for most of the season, with the Phillies ascending to first place for a few brief moments, most recently in mid-August. It has taken some extraordinary play by Harper (among others) to keep the Phillies in contention in the division. This past Tuesday night’s hard-fought 10-inning victory against the lowly Orioles as the most recent example of Harper making things happen, and being the difference between a win and a likely loss.
We can point to struggling against a middling Orioles team as a counterpoint to the Phillies being a strong NL East contender, but Philly’s resiliency paid off, and they ultimately won Tuesday’s game.
In the 10th inning, up by one run, the Orioles decided to intentionally walk Harper with two outs, putting the winning run on base (behind the zombie runner who started the inning at second, and ended up on third). JT Realmuto ripped an extra base hit to deep right field, leading Harper to go from first to home, sliding in as the winning run.
Going into Wednesday’s rubber-match against the Orioles, the Phillies sit three games behind Atlanta (four in the loss column). An NL East pennant is their only realistic hope for making the postseason, as they are 4 ½ games behind the Cardinals who sit in the second wild card slot with the Reds in between them.
Much of the Phillies’ success this season can be attributed to the strong performance of their best player, Bryce Harper. Harper leads the National League in fWAR, at a robust 6.4 wins (a solid .5 wins ahead of Padres’ young star Fernando Tatis Jr.).
Heading into Wednesday night’s action, Harper has posted a strong slash line of .313/.429/.621, good for a wRC+ of 172. His batting average is the highest since 2017, the OBP and slugging are the highest since his monster 2015.
Harper is hitting for average, getting on base, and posting some monster power numbers. To date, he has 73 extra base hits including 33 homers and 39 doubles. He’s making things happen on the base paths as well, as was evident in Tuesday night’s walkoff win. Of 16 stolen base attempts, he has snagged 13, a solid 81.5 percent success rate.
Throughout Harper’s career it’s been a mixed bag of analytics on defense, with fielding metrics showing a capable but not strong defensive outfielder. This season, per FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, he’s been below average in the field, but certainly adequate enough in the context of being one of the best hitters in the league.
The Phillies in some way control their own destiny, as they face-off against two of the worst teams in the National League in seven of their remaining ten games, and the other three games are against the team they are chasing in the division. Philly have four games against the lowly Pirates and three against the Marlins, with a three-game series against Atlanta in the middle of those series.
It’s not inconceivable that with a series win against the Braves, the Phillies finish the season 7-3 or 8-2 if they show up to play against opponents who likely have been waiting for the season to end for quite some time. This weekend’s series against Atlanta will be their chance to make Braves fans nervous.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano