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March 05, 2020

Phillies season preview: Was Bryce Harper actually underrated last year?

Spring training is starting to ramp up, as the Phillies are currently both tuning up to make a run at the playoffs in 2020 whilst also honing down their roster to the best 26 men they have to field a team when they return from Clearwater.

So it's as good a time as any to ramp things up here at PhillyVoice too. As the March 26 season opener against the Marlins approaches, we'll break down everything you need to know to get ready for one of the most anticipated Phillies seasons ever.

Let's take a look at right field...

Doesn't it kind of feel like Bryce Harper has been here for a long time?

He famously signed a 13-year, $330 million contract last winter that capped off one of the most dramatic and unending offseasons possibly ever. He was the center of a media circus that defined Philadelphia for months and actually lived up to expectations, playing well in his first season as a Phillie — though not up to par with his 2015 MVP season, and to some not well enough.

But now, with the team in Clearwater preparing for the season, Harper's presence on the Phils seems eerily routine. Harper hit two home runs Wednesday (that no one saw, because it wasn't on TV) and he seems comfortable and ready to continue to make good on the monster deal he earned. 

Scouting report

At first glance, Harper's numbers from 2019 were just okay. He hit .260, below his career average with a .510 slugging percentage, right at his career average. He hit 35 home runs (two more than his 162-game average of 33), and struck out almost twice as many times as he walked.

But a deeper look at his stats from 2019, starting with his career high 114 RBI, paints a promising picture of the 27-year-old as he looks to try and be even better in the year ahead:

2019NL Rank
Plate appearances6827th
Times on base2547th
Win probability added4.65th
RF putouts2841st
Outfield assists131st

There are three takeaways one should make from the data above. First, he has power (the RBI total and his 33 homers show that). Second, he gets on base. And third, he is an astoundingly underrated outfielder. 

Harper was all over the place in the batting order for Gabe Kapler's injury-riddled 2019 squad, but a perfect world should see him smack dab in the third spot, able to get on base for the power hitters behind him while having a pair of speedy hitters in front of him to score from his own power.

NL East ranking

Harper is one of the best players in baseball and has the seventh best odds (+1400 according to to win the NL MVP this year. Unfortunately for him and for the Phillies, two of the six players with better odds play right field for division rivals.

The Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. was the 2018 Rookie of the Year and a 2019 All Star and has +550 MVP odds. Juan Soto was the runner up for that same ROY award and in the running for last year's MVP, boasting +900 odds for 2020. The Mets also bring to the table power-hitting Michel Conforto, with steady veteran Garrett Cooper expected to man right field in Miami. Here are their numbers:

Right Fielder 2019 stats2020 proj  Career WAR
PHI Bryce Harper (27).260, 33 HR, 114 RBI.267, 32 HR, 97 RBI31.5
ATLRonald Acuna Jr. (22).280, 41 HR, 101 RBI.288, 35 HR, 86 RBI9.6
MIAGarrett Cooper (29).281, 15 HR, 50 RBI.268, 14 HR, 49 RBI1.6
NYMMichael Conforto (27)
.257, 33 HR, 92 RBI.259, 30 HR, 83 RBI12.8
WASJuan Soto (21).282, 34 HR, 110 RBI.290, 29 HR, 93 RBI7.6

It would be hard to anoint Harper as the top dog among NL East right fielders, with so much immense talent on other teams. He does have a chance to put up the best numbers, and perhaps the competition will add fuel to his fire.

Phillies' future

Typically in this section, we look at the longterm contract situation for the player in the position under examination, and then we look at the up and coming minor leaguers vying to be in the franchise's future. But Harper will be a Phillie until 2031 — and unless the National League adopts the designated hitter sometime before then, he'll be playing right field.

We'll take a look at the Phillies' outfield prospects when we breakdown center and left.

Harper is the present and the future at right field.

Phillies season preview
SP | RP | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | RF | CF | LF | Bench | Manager

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