Fantasy Impact: Bryce Harper Signs In Philadelphia

Just over a week after Manny Machado signed in San Diego, and today Bryce Harper has signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. Harper staying within the division and joining a team who have made a number of moves this offseason is fascinating. It was going to be hard for Harper to leave Washington and find a lineup with much more talent than he was leaving. However, in Philadelphia he may have done just that.

There are a number of interesting things about Harper in Philadelphia. The most obvious questions are how will Harper gel with his new team and adapt to his new environment? Beyond that any part of a new player arriving is looking at how that affects his new team mates, be it positively or negatively.

Let’s take a look at what we can expect from Harper in 2019.

Which Harper will we get?

The last four years have been somewhat of a roller coaster for Harper. Here are Harper’s runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases and batting average from the last four seasons: 118/42/99/6/.330, 84/24/86/21/.243, 95/29/87/4/.319 & 103/34/100/13/.249. That is quite a variation and it is tough to know exactly which Harper will turn up in Philadelphia. If we just look at 2018 the picture gets even stranger. Harper had career highs in RBI and walks but also in strikeouts. It is a very strange picture and it makes knowing exactly what we will see in 2019 very difficult to predict.

There are some pretty strong indicators about what we might be able to expect from Harper power wise. Harper’s worst year for home runs was 2016, when he had just 24 despite logging over 600 PA. However, when you look at his Statcast numbers for that year there is a clear decline in his batted ball returns. That season was the only time in the last four season that Harper had a barrel % less than 11.5% (7.5%) and an exit velocity below 90.6. In the other three season, Harper has topped those numbers and has an average of 0.057 HR per PA, which is nearly 0.02 above his 2016 return.

Bryce Harper’s fly ball and line drives hit at home superimposed over Citizens Bank ball park

The overlay above from Baseball Savant depicts how the fly balls and line drives which Harper hit while playing in Washington last season would have played out in the Phillies ball park. You can see that Harper would have likely gained a few extra home runs from having his home ball park in Philadelphia as opposed to Washington. In fact the park factor for right-handed hitter home runs increases from 1.13 to 1.25 with the move to Philadelphia. Conservatively, I would expect Harper to hit in the region of 35 home runs once again this season. However, there is no reason why that return could not be 40 or more if he gets back to the numbers from 2015 and 2017.

The Batting Average and Steals

The other two big factors for Harper are his batting average and stolen base returns. Unfortunately these are not quite as easy to predict as his home run totals. Harper’s expected batting average has fluctuated as wildly the last four seasons as his actual batting average. That makes it extremely hard to know what 2019 might bring. A 24.3% strikeout rate looked to be the key to last years struggles. Then again his other lower year for batting average came with a four year low strikeout rate of 18.3%. One of the risks of drafting Harper this year is that he could return you anywhere from a .240 to a .330 batting average but on draft day you are not going to know which one it will be.

Stolen base wise I am not expecting him to repeat his 13 steals from 2018. Stealing bases is largely a decision based stat for a hitter and a big contract could change the mentality. Harper is no longer in a contract year trying to prove his value. Now he is the well paid stud in a strong lineup and I think we see him run less. Double digit stolen bases from Harper in 2019 would be a shock to me.

The Rest of the Phillies

This is a really strong lineup now for the Phillies. It already had some good pieces before Harper but now it has real quality throughout. In terms of what that means for Harper and his combined runs and RBI? It means that a total of 200 is more than possible. In the same way the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, who will bat around Harper get a decent boost from this signing. However, the signing leaves the likes of Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr and Dylan Cozens looking likely to open the season in the minors. None of those were likely to be big fantasy contributors but Williams could have been solid with regular PA.

Overall it is just a relief to get Harper signed somewhere. I never felt he was really in danger of missing the start of the season but it was starting to get tiresome. Now that he has signed he provides a little boost in runs and RBI value to those hitting around him in the Phillies batting order. As for Harper himself? My projections look something like 40 home runs, 200 combined runs and RBI, five steals and a middle of the road .270 batting average.

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