PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When the Philadelphia Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year $330 million deal this past offseason, expectations for both the team and Harper himself, were sky-high. Through 34 games, it’s safe to say that Harper, at least, is struggling to hold up his end of the bargain.
The 26-year-old right fielder is hitting just .226 following an 0-for-4 outing in Monday night’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps more concerning than the batting average itself is the strikeout percentage that he has amassed this season, checking in at 29.8% for the season. He has struck out 45 times, which is nearly twice as many times as he has walked (25) this season and fans are beginning to get restless.
So, the question is, is it time to be concerned about the organization’s biggest free agent prize this decade?
The answer, as Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com points out, is a bit more nuanced than the batting average would have you believe. Yes, Harper is struggling at the plate, but he continues to provide value by getting on base, posting a .364 on-base percentage which is about 50 points higher than league average. Harper may not have as many hits as Phillies fans would like, but when he does connect with the ball, he tends to slug out extra base hits as evidenced by his slugging percentage (.452), which is also well above the league’s average.
Getting on base has proven a fruitful endeavor with Harper batting in front of Rhys Hoskins this season as Hoskins has already driven him in six times. That is tied by another new acquisition, J.T. Realmuto, who has also benefited from having Harper in front of him in the lineup.
However, Snyder admits that the strike out percentage is concerning. If it holds steady at 29.8%, that would be the highest of Harper’s career, ahead of even his rookie season. In addition, Harper’s OPS+ number is not what you would expect from a player of his caliber. OPS+, which measures a players on-base plus slugging percentage while adjusting for both the park and league that the player is in, sets 100 as a league average player. Harper checks in at 114 in that statistic this season, which isn’t bad. But, when you consider that MVP candidates post OPS+ numbers in the 150 range, you can understand why there is some concern.
Add to that the fact that FiveThirtyEight did a piece earlier this year that posited the idea that Harper may already be past his prime and there are certainly plenty of reason for fans to inch towards the panic button. But, Harper did experience a similar slump last year that left him hitting .211 on July 6 before he went on a tear in the second-half of the season to raise his average to .249 by the time the season was over.
To be fair to Harper, he isn’t the only $300 million man that is struggling this season. Manny Machado, whose contract actually has a higher average annual value than Harper’s, is hitting just .233.
We leave the question up to you Phillies fans. Is it time to start worrying about the Phillies big ticket acquisition?
By Ryan Mayer