Before the 2019 season, outfielder Bryce Harper signed a mammoth 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, with the objective of leading Philly back to the World Series, an instance that they haven’t seen since 2009 and haven’t won since 2008.
In his two years with the Phils, Harper hasn’t had much luck guiding them to deep postseason runs, but the organization feels things could be different in 2021.
The team is currently fighting with the New York Mets for the National League East lead in what is shaping up to be a race that will last for the remainder of the season.
Harper, not surprisingly, has been one of the best hitters in the Phillies’ lineup.
In 71 games, the left-handed hitting slugger is batting .283/.380/.519 with 15 home runs and a 140 wRC+.
The wRC+ stat means weighted Runs Created Plus, and it’s especially useful to determine whether a hitter is performing above or below-average.
100 is established as the ‘average’ wRC+, so Harper is performing 40 percent better than his peers offensively.
He has also contributed eight stolen bases, 49 runs scored, and 34 RBI.
Assigning A Grade To Harper’s 2021
So, how would we grade Harper’s season with more than half of the calendar already in the books?
A ‘B’ grade seems appropriate: solid, but not spectacular.
Harper’s 140 wRC+ is actually a team-leading figure among regulars, so he has been setting the tone offensively as usual.
However, his 2.3 Wins Above Replacement, or WAR (FanGraphs’ version) do not lead the team.
Catcher J.T. Realmuto, a known two-way contributor (meaning a star both offensively and defensively) actually paces the Phillies’ hitters in WAR with 2.7.
Pitcher Zack Wheeler is actually leading the team as a whole with 4.6.
But back to Harper, who is the one we are analyzing in this piece.
Since hitting 42 homers in 2015, he hasn’t been able to reach that power ceiling.
#Phillies Bryce Harper just hit his 15th HR of the season. This was his first home run of 2021 with a runner on base. He had 14 consecutive solo HR to this point.
He's not alone, another former MVP from the #Dodgers has had a similar season. 10 HR in 2021, all solo shots.
— MLB Analytics (@MLB_Analytics) July 7, 2021
He did have two consecutive seasons with 34 and 35 bombs in 2018 and 2019, but that seems to be the norm for him now.
It isn’t bad at all, but it’s not quite elite slugger level.
Sure, he has missed some games, but this year, he seems a little bit off his power pace.
Still, a finish around 30 seems entirely possible if he remains healthy.
What makes Harper special is his impressive eye at the plate and patience.
His .380 OBP is one of the best marks in the league and is an extremely desirable asset to have in a lineup.
Harper Is Who He Is
Truth be told, Harper is performing exactly as advertised: he is playing well, but it feels like he is capable of more.
His .283/.380/.519 season line and 140 wRC+ is almost a carbon copy of what he has done in his career: .276/.387/.514 with a 139 wRC+.
All in all, he is a very good offensive player, with generational talent and an incredible eye at the plate.
Bryce Harper 2021 ranks among National League outfielders in ⬇️
Offensive fWAR: #6
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) July 11, 2021
Harper remains middling at best with a glove on his hand, and even his 140 wRC+ isn’t top-10 in the league among qualified hitters of all positions.
Right now, it ranks 23rd.
Harper is a very good ballplayer who is having a very good year, but giving him an A would be too much.
A B grade seems fair.