PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Bryce Harper knows how to put on a show, and the one he’s putting on at the yard is sending a timely reminder as to why Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton was so eager to open his checkbook to spend $330 million of his “stupid” money. It’s turning out not to be so stupid after all.
Harper has quickly shifted the narrative over the past few weeks from one with fans yelling about his batting average on sports radio to The One Where Bryce Harper Is Worth $330 Million. It’s funny how much anecdotes can change over the course of a long 162-game season.
The Phillies came home from out west last week beaten down with little hope of ending the fifth-longest active playoff drought in baseball. The offense, since the All-Star break, had been among the worst in MLB, coupled with inconsistent pitching and a bullpen ravaged by injuries.
Then came Tuesday when the Phillies’ front office sent a message to a fan base that it’s not giving up on this season — another narrative that was building — when general manager Matt Klentak fired hitting coach John Mallee and hired franchise legend Charlie Manuel.
The Phillies’ offense appeared headed for hittin’ season after Manuel’s first three games — 26 runs, 35 hits and seven homers — but the inconsistency returned against the Padres. The Phils plated just five runs in the final two games of a brutal series loss to San Diego.
While the honeymoon period with Manuel may be over, Harper’s power surge is for real. But that was true even before the Phillies fired Mallee.
Harper had been the only reason to keep your eyeballs focused on the Phillies since the break. Since the calendar flipped to August, Harper’s at-bats have become must-watch TV.
The Phillies depart for Boston still in the midst of a playoff race. The offense’s brief explosion signaled that this team might have a run in them, and it still may. The weekend was a bad one, but they remain in the hunt.
If they do make a run, it’ll be behind the bats. This lineup, on paper, is too talented to have struggled the way that it has.
After going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Tuesday, Harper staged a performance well worth the cost of admission. In Manuel’s first three games back, Harper went 6 for 12 with four homers, 10 RBI and an eye-popping 2.071 OPS.
He executed a 95 mph cutter from Cubs lefty Derek Holland for a walk-off grand slam that broke the internet on Thursday one night after a multi-homer game. He followed up his grand heroics with an opposite-field homer Friday against San Diego.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) August 16, 2019
Harper has thrown the weight of the Phillies on his back in August. Let’s dive into the numbers just to see how hot the Phillies’ $330 million man has been.
- In the first 15 games of August, Harper hit .271 with 8 home runs, 18 RBI, 1.064 OPS
- Compared to Ryan Howard’s first 15 games in his memorable 2006 August:
- Howard, 2006: .377, 6 home runs, 19 RBI, 1.198 OPS
- Harper’s driven in 18 of the team’s 84 runs in August — 21.4%.
- In his last 30 games, he has 10 homers and 28 RBI with a .997 OPS.
None of this should be all too surprising as he generally rakes in August.
During his 2015 MVP season, Harper hit .327/.460/.449 with a .909 OPS partnered with two homers and nine RBI in August. Then in 2016, he slugged .310/.398/.536 with a .934 OPS partnered with three homers and 19 RBI in August. Over his career, he’s hit .291 with 37 home runs and 118 RBI in the month.
One of the legitimate gripes about Harper’s first season in Philadelphia before the All-Star break was his power production.
He had just 16 homers in the first 90 games, which simply wasn’t enough for a player who was expected to see his dinger output jump in a hitter-friendly ballpark.
Harper, however, has found his power in the second half with 10 long balls in 33 games and is on pace to shatter his career-high RBI total of 100.
At this rate, Harper is projected to club 34 homers and 118 RBI.
Whether or not he finishes the season with those numbers — barring injury — he’ll easily set a career high in RBI as he already has 90 with 38 games to go.
He’s just the second Phillies left-handed hitter with 90 RBI in a season since 2010, joining Howard.
Throughout it all, Harper has also dispelled the notion that he’s a defensive liability who sometimes doesn’t hustle enough. He’s played more than serviceable defense in right field and already has equaled his outfield assist output from the past two season this year with nine.
The Phillies signed Harper to be the face of the franchise, to provide power that this lineup hasn’t had since the glory days, to be Bryce Harper.
Harper has held up his end of the bargain.