By: Noah Wright
On the 28th of February, outfielder Bryce Harper signed a $330 million mega deal for 13 years with the Phillies. It was the largest in free agent history to date. Even though Harper could be a great player, there is a lot of risk in this deal.
The main risk in this deal is Harper’s inconsistency. Harper’s numbers in terms of WAR are all over the place. Just look at his WAR since his rookie season:
- 2012: 5.2
- 2013: 3.7
- 2014: 1.1
- 2015: 10.0
- 2016: 1.5
- 2017: 4.7
- 2018: 1.3
Harper has yet to put together back-to-back elite seasons. Speaking that Harper is so up and down, it’s hard to really pinpoint an estimation to how Harper will perform year to year. A lot of players, like Trout, Arenado, Goldschmidt, you can pretty much predict what they’re going to do in their next season.
The other large risk the Phillies are taking is that Harper has become a defensive question mark. Last year, Harper had -26 DRS in the outfield (-16 in RF, -10 in CF) with -14.4 UZR and massively disappointing -3.2 dWAR. Comparing Harper to now teammate Rhys Hoskins, who was basically a clunky 1B playing left field, Hoskins had -24 DRS, -11.3 and -3.6 dWAR. Sure Harper’s numbers look worse when he was playing CF, but a -16 DRS and -7.4 UZR in RF should raise some eyebrows. Harper has not put up spectacular numbers defensively since his rookie season in ‘12 when he recorded 15 DRS (13 in CF, -1 in RF, 2 in LF), 7.9 UZR, and 1.5 dWAR.
Baserunning wise, Harper is also a potential liability there. Last year, the outfielder only had .4 baserunning runs above average. Overall that isn’t ‘horrible’, but it sits around average. Though during 2017 however, he was worth -.8 runs above average. He’s not been worth more than 1 run above average in that category since his MVP season back in 2015.
During his 2018 season, Harper also experienced a batting slump for half of the season. From the beginning of the season to the All-star break, Harper batted only .214/.365/.468. That is very comparable to Joey Gallo’s 2017 season. That’s when the Texas Ranger slugger batted .209/.333/.537.
However, Harper isn’t a lost cause. The outfielder is only going to be 26 next year. That’s still pretty young. We already know what Harper can do when he’s on his a-game (ie his 2015 MVP season). Plus, Harper had shown signs of great potential last year. From July onward, Harper had a .931 OPS.
Harper does know how to draw a walk. Only Mike Trout had a higher walk % than Harper last year. Bryce can also make hard contact, a lot. During 2018, he made hard contact 42.3% of the time, and soft contact only 11.8% of the time.
Durability wise, Harper has had his ups and downs there too. Harper has only 2 seasons under his belt where he’s played 150 games. The least amount of games he played was 100 on the dot in 2014, and 159 in 2018. He also played 153 games in 2015, but other than those 2 seasons, Harper has seen time on the DL. On average, Harp plays about 132 games a season. Meaning he sits out about a month’s worth of games a year.
Regardless, this deal has tons of risk in it. Harper could be like the player we saw in 2015, or be the player we saw in 2016. It’s also extremely risky because of the number of years. By the 8th year of the contract, Harper will be 33. He’ll already be getting up there in age, and will still be under contract through 5 more seasons. Who knows what his performance will be like then, or what the league could be like. There could be a DH in both the NL and AL, so Harper could move to a DH role and worry less about his defense. He could also see some time at first base by the end of his contract. Afterall, he did spend a small portion of time at first this year, and if his defense is still below average in the OF, we could see a move to first sooner rather than later.