MVP? Booed in Philly? Predicting Bryce Harper’s first year with Phillies


The Bryce Harper Phillies era officially begins at 3:05 p.m. ET on Thursday with an Opening Day showdown against the Atlanta Braves. Before Harper takes the field in his new uniform for the first time, we asked five of our experts to predict how things will go during the $330 million man’s inaugural season in Philadelphia.

Over/under:

Bryce Harper is a .279 career hitter. Are you taking over/under that number for 2019?

Bradford Doolittle: Under. Putting his career in a Citizens Bank Ballpark context adds only a couple of points to his batting average, and I suspect he’ll be more focused on the long ball in his first Philly season.

After signing a $330 million deal over the winter, Philadelphia’s new superstar takes the field in front of his new home crowd for the first time. Don’t miss Harper’s debut!
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Sam Miller: Over. Nothing fancy about my reasoning: I just think he’s better than his carer numbers. Easier to explain away the bad years than explain away the amazing ones.

Eddie Matz: With seven seasons of data on Harper, that .330 average from his MVP season is looking more and more outlier-ish. Plus, the average average in MLB fell from .255 in 2017 to .248 last year. I’ll have the under, please.

Jeff Passan: Give me the over. The National League East is chock full of right-handed starters, and Harper’s career batting average is 30 points higher against them. And there’s the whole every-other-year thing, which Harper obviously picked up after the Giants’ run ended.

David Schoenfield: I can’t remember a player seesawing back and forth with such extremes in his batting average, but I’m taking the under mostly because Harper’s swing-and-miss and strikeout rates increased last year, and you’re not getting hits if you’re not putting the ball in play.

Harper hit 34 home runs in 2018. Are you taking over/under that for this season?

Doolittle: Over. Better homer ballpark, and as I said, I think he’ll be going for the pump in his first season with a new team. He might be inconsistent overall, but he’s pretty consistent when it comes to going deep.

Miller: Over. For the same reason as my batting average answer earlier.

Matz: Harper’s home run rate at Citizens Bank Park (6.7 percent) is 50 percent higher than his rate at all other parks combined (4.5 percent). I’ll have the over, please.

Passan: In the live ball era, only 17 players before Harper put up an OPS of at least .900 through their age-25 season with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances. The average number of home runs in their age-26 season: 33.1. If that’s the ballpark — and Citizens Bank bandbox is Harper’s actual ballpark — I’m a strong over.

Schoenfield: Citizens Bank Park should give Harper a couple of additional cheap home runs, but will he get a career-high 695 plate appearances again? I’ll take the over, but only by one or two.

Harper posted a 3.5 WAR last year (using Fangraphs). Will he beat that number this year?

Doolittle: Over. Give Harper even a modest regression in BABIP and an improvement on defensive numbers so bad they’d be hard to repeat, and you’ve got a 5-win player at minimum.

Miller: He will. He’s just better than that!

Matz: Instead of trying not to get hurt, he’ll be trying to win over Philly fans. That should translate to better defensive metrics, which translates to me taking the over here.

Passan: Publicly available defensive metrics are notoriously finicky — that’s a kind way of saying they’re not altogether trustworthy — so it’s a risk saying yes when they’re a clear part of the equation. But if he hits over .279 and has more than 34 homers and walks the way he did last year, the answer will be yes.

Schoenfield: We know he’ll hit for power and take his walks, and his defensive metrics can’t be worse than 2018 (he didn’t dive for a single ball all season). He should be more relaxed with the contract in hand. Over.

Number of postseason at-bats for Harper in his first year with the Phillies. Over/under of … 1.

Doolittle: Under. The Phillies certainly can make the postseason, but I’ve got them behind the Nationals and Braves, and one of the wild cards is likely to go to a Central team.

2 Related

Miller: Goodness, that’s a close one. I buy the Phillies at about 50 percent to make it, and there’s a non-zero chance Harper gets hurt and isn’t active in October, so I guess I’m forced to say under.

Matz: I’ve got the Phils slotted for a wild card. So unless they lose the wild-card game and Harper walks every time up to bat (or gets hurt), I’m all about the over.

Passan: I think the Phillies are a wild-card team. Harper also went 0-for-0 with five walks against Miami last September. So he could make the playoffs and not get an at-bat. (Stop being pedantic.) Fine, over.

Schoenfield: Under. I have the Nationals winning the division and the Phillies JUST missing one of the wild cards.

Citizens Bank Park holds 43,000 fans; how many of them will be wearing Bryce Harper jerseys on Opening Day? Over/under 4,000.

Doolittle: Over. Mob rules.

Miller: In my opinion, the mid-50s is sweatshirt weather.

Matz: Based on the merch that I saw coming out of the team store at Spectrum Field when I was in Clearwater, Florida, last week, I’m convinced that roughly 44,000 of the 43,000 fans will be rocking Harper gear on Opening Day. Over.

Passan: Under. Maybe if Harper had signed before Christmas.

Schoenfield: I’ll take the under … if only because the real diehards wait until the second game of the season to show up.

Predict the day:

Bryce Harper hits his first home run with the Phillies.

Doolittle: March 28. Harper seems like a give-them-what-they-want kind of guy. Might as well stoke those soaring expectations.

Miller: Opening Day is the only responsible bet, for logic reasons. But also Bryce Harper on opening days (.429/.538/1.143) is one of the most impressive athletes of my lifetime.

Matz: The only thing Harper loves more than the big moment is hitting against Braves Opening Day starter Julio Teheran (eight homers in 40 career at-bats). So, um, March 28.

Passan: Opening Day, mainly because I’m going to be there and the world is simply begging for more purple prose about the love affair between Harper and Philadelphia.

Schoenfield: Opening Day. He has a flair for the dramatic and has homered five times in six career openers.

Bryce Harper gets booed for the first time in Philadelphia.

Doolittle: March 28. He’ll strike out at some point, and that’ll be enough for Philly fans.

Miller: Loud and collective enough for it to make the game story? Maybe 2021. He’ll lose some fans if he doesn’t come through big in the 2020 World Series.

Matz: March 28. All it takes is one drunk Philly fan.

Passan: He historically hits a wall in June. Little draws Phillies fans’ ire like the Mets. June 25.

Schoenfield: I’ll go April 16, when Jacob deGrom strikes him out four times.

Harper plays his first World Series game.

Doolittle: Oct. 23, 2023. It’s a tough division and the Braves and Nationals should have staying power. The Mets … we’ll see, but the Marlins could conceivably leap up to win a World Series and then sell off all their players in a couple of years as well. The Phillies will get their turn at some point.

Miller: 2020.

Matz: A year after he waives his no-trade clause and ends up in pinstripes.

Passan: The Phillies are set up well enough financially to lock up Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, too, so their window is bigger than most. Totally spitballing … 2021.

Schoenfield: I mean, 13 years is a long time. I’m putting each year on a piece of scrap paper and drawing one out of a hat and the winner is … 2024.

Pick one or the other:

Higher finish in the NL East this season: Harper’s new team or his old team?

Doolittle: Old team. The Nationals are good. Not many teams could lose a guy like Harper and still have a second-year Juan Soto and a rookie-season Victor Robles to console them.

Miller: Nationals were my pick for the NL East, I think.

Matz: Old team. I’ve got the Nats riding their starting rotation to an NL East title.

Passan: Old team. I’ve got the Nationals winning the NL East.

Schoenfield: The old team.

Bryce Harper’s finish in 2019 NL MVP voting — inside the top five or outside the top five?

Doolittle: Inside. If the Phillies don’t win the division, it won’t be his fault. He has a lot of doubters to silence, and he’s just the sort of bloke to be motivated by stuff such as that.

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Miller: Probably outside, but just because I’m a coward and I’m considering the literal odds instead of picking the fun answer that accurately conveys my general sentiments about his outlook.

Matz: WAR has become such a strong indicator for MVP balloting, and there are too many guys that I see finishing ahead of Harper in that category. So … outside.

Passan: Not just inside. He wins it.

Schoenfield: The NL has so many MVP candidates, and voting tends to at least slightly favor players on playoff teams — and I have the Phillies missing the playoffs, so I’ll say outside the top five.



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