I would say that much ink has been spilled about Bryce Harper this offseason, but in this day and age, I would expect that a full 95% of Harper-related verbiage has never been in the vicinity of a printing press. I understand that this Harper saturation has led most to want to never hear or read his name again, and possibly to never hear or read anything again, ever, but I am here to tell you why you should root for Bryce Harper to sign with the Phillies.
Now, I’m not doing so under the guise of impartiality. I am a great lover of the sport of baseball foremost, but the Phillies are my life partner. Von Hayes was the first man I ever loved. My veins are blue, but I literally bleed red. These are the Phillies’ colors. Bizarre anatomical fact!
But I’m not asking you to root for Harper to go to the Phillies for a partisan reason. I’m not even asking you to care about Philadelphia’s historic landmarks, as I posited in a recent episode of Fangraphs’ The Sleeper and the Bust that if the Phillies don’t get Harper, enraged fans are going to rip out the Liberty Bell, upturn it, and vomit cheesesteaks into it. We saw what they did to the city after the Eagles won it all in ’18. They’re going to take a wrecking ball to the ‘Rocky stairs’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and I don’t want that, for a partisan reason—my mom works there. But I’m not asking you to care on behalf of art or historical artifacts.
To be clear: I’m not such a fool as to expect fans of the other NL East teams to get on board, particularly Nats, Mets, or Braves fans. I guess one of the twelve Marlins fans could hypothetically be interested, if they’re the kind of fan who likes the Phillies more rather than less now that we have Just Terrific Realmuto. But my argument could appeal to you if you’re say, a Twins fan, or a Diamondbacks fan who’s still salty about the Goldschmidt trade, or an A’s fan—I’m happy to do a fan-share with you, hypothetical A’s fan, for all the love I’ve thrown at Matt Chapman’s Botticelli defense, Matt Olson’s tremendous dingers, Khris Davis’s repeating .247 batting average and Stephen Spaghetti’s* Oscar-nominated life story. (*Piscotty. This is my pet name for him.)
Why Non-Partisans Should Want Harper on the Phillies
So, having come clean about my affiliations, and acknowledging my partisan objectives, here’s my argument for why a non-partisan should want Harper in red pinstripes: it will be good for some solid, competitive baseball. Harper will make more difference to the Phillies’ chance of competing in their division than any other team to which he has been linked over the course of this Tough Mudder of an offseason.
Look, if you’re the kind of sports fans who loves it when there are a few Superteams and everyone else duking it out for who gets the highest draft pick next year, then fine. If you love going to a 21-3 blowout game because your favorite part of the sport is watching relievers warily jog in from the bullpen, fine. You can stop reading this article now and go do whatever else it is you enjoy doing, like untangling earbud cords or eating an onion like an apple.
Now that they’re gone and I’m talking to the reasonable baseball fans, let’s get down to it. The NL East is widely reputed to be completely stacked this year, with the improvements made by the Nationals, Mets, Braves and Phillies. It should be a very fun race to watch, after a couple of years in which it resembled a dog race with only one greyhound in it, the rear being taken up by some combination of a Corgi, a Dachshund, a Shih Tzu, and a geriatric Golden Retriever (up to you to guess which is which).
However, the Phillies’ place in the standings, at present, doesn’t look that different from their record last year, despite already having made many non-Harper related improvements. Through free agency, they’ve added Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, and acquired Jean Segura and Jonathan Taylor Realmuto via trade, along with some other helpful bullpen pieces. Nevertheless, here are a variety of pre-season projections:
I’m thankful to Mr. Davenport for ranking the Phillies above the Braves here, but please note his optimism about the Mets, despite the fact that both Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier have already tripped over the Mets’ cursed monkey paw.
I include Fangraphs last so we can continue to refer to
However, here’s the key point, and why a baseball fan without skin in the game should be rooting for Harper to take whatever ridiculous haircut he has to Philadelphia. If the Phillies acquired Harper, that would make this an absolute neck-and-neck race.
Steamer projects Harper for 4.8 WAR and Depth Charts projects him for 4.9. From what I understand, a team’s projections are also based on the strength of their schedule and not just a simple addition of the WAR of its players, but a sum of WAR does get you in the general vicinity. I would say “ballpark,” but I prefer not to stack baseball metaphors on top of baseball. Dog metaphors work much better.
So, even if we round Harper’s WAR down to a straight 4.0, this would put the Phillies at 89-73, a close second place according to Fangraphs, and a tie for first according to BP and CD. Four. Greyhounds. Everybody.
Where Else Could Harper Go
To add to this argument, the only other division in which it would make as much of a difference would be the NL Central, which is similarly stacked. The three projections do not agree about anything except for that the Reds will be third, but let’s just take a look at the Fangraphs projections for the moment:
Harper would make a significant difference to the Reds, but still might not get them a divisional title, but only the Cardinals would be put over the top in the same way as the Phillies. But this would actually make the Cards the odds-on favorite, and eliminate some of the kerfuffle that has three different teams projected to win the division across these sites. That, and the Cardinals don’t appear to be in on Harper at this point, though Lord knows we’re only one Jon Heyman tweet away from them being added into the fray, and the entire city of Philadelphia doing a collective spit-take with the wooder they’ve been drinking. So I hope they don’t swoop in, as a Phillies fan, and for my many Cubs fan friends, and for the salty Diamondbacks fan who tentatively got on board with us in the first paragraph.
Where Else Could Harper Go, Really
But who is in this race? At this point, besides the Phillies, it’s the Dodgers, and the Giants. And Harper added to either team does not make sense for maximizing fun, competitive baseball. Let’s take a look at Fangraphs projections again (hey, we’re covering the whole national league!):
The Dodgers, who seemed to be out on Harper for a while after signing Pollock Frolic (my pet name for AJ Pollock), will be mind-numbingly better than everyone else if they sign Harper. They’re already mind-numbingly better than everyone else without him, which is why they platoon every position player on their roster and have a revolving-door-10-Day-IL shtick with their pitchers.
The Dodgers have already been in the postseason for the last 476 years, dating back to the reign of King Sigismund I the Old of Poland. I am not going to make any barbs here about the Dodgers not being able to win the World Series, because I have more respect for their franchise and their excellent players than that; in my view, they’ve just been small-sample-sized out of those wins for the past two years. They could win (or lose) the Series this year without Harper. They don’t need him.
The Giants, on the other hand, will be wasting Harper on a battle for fourth place. And with many of their players reaching free agency after 2019 and one of the poorer farm systems in baseball, they don’t look to be turning it around immediately. They’d also be wasting Harper on the newly-named Oracle Park, a park that is just tragic for left-handed power.
The existence of Barry Bonds can obscure this fact, but left-handed home runs face a steep battle there, given the
And oh, excuse me, I just dropped this paragraph telling you that Citizens’ Bank Park has a friendly 109 Park Factor, with 117 homers scored versus 100 in an average park. I am so clumsy! Hopefully my Editor will clean that right up.
[Editor’s Note: I got you, girl.]
Seriously, I don’t mean to malign Giants fans; after all, the Giants have three Championships in this century, and shipping away their farm system paid off. And to be fair, I have also witnessed some glory days for the Phillies in my lifetime, notably 2008, which is not so long ago that Phillies fans deserve pity.
But as a person who is with the Phillies rain or shine, on the IL and in health, for greater payroll flexibility and less, we have slogged through some bad times with position players pitching in the last decade. I have been in the stands on the sad end of a 21-3 type blowout more than twice. But the Phillies have been building for this moment; they’ve been feathering their nest for right now. Wouldn’t it be fun to see a real battle for first?
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