It was almost a Hollywood ending, wasn’t it Dodger fans?
Of course there was drama up to the last minute, because, well, that’s Bryce Harper. His free agency had people spinning. It made sense all along that Philadelphia would be in the thick of it, but then the Dodgers made a late push. And then a report about how Harper preferred either the Dodgers or Cubs. And then the Giants were willing to offer a 10-year deal. Ultimately, it was Phillies owner John Middleton and his willingness to spend “stupid money” that reeled Harper in on a 13-year, $330 million contract.
Signing Harper will steal attention away from the already-spectacular offseason for the Phillies, who have obtained three other starters this winter: shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and catcher J.T. Realmuto. Manager Gabe Kapler has plenty of talent to work with. Now it’s just a matter of filling out the lineup card.
Before we take a crack at that, let’s look at Harper’s 2018 season and dispel some of the ho-hum-ness of it. It is fair to point out that he hit only .214 before the All-Star break, although that can be partially pinned to a horribly low BABIP of .226 during that time. However, his slash line was .300/.434/.538 after the Midsummer Classic, thanks to a .378 BABIP, implying much of the bad luck he experienced during the first half did not follow him into August and beyond.
Through it all, Harper continued to work counts and get on base. His 4.14 pitches per plate appearance (PPA) last season were good for 26th in MLB, to go along with the 18th-best expected walk percentage (xBB) across both leagues.
Those rankings, high as they may be, would have ranked fourth-best on the Phillies. Philadelphia is starting to hoard players that grind out at-bats. McCutchen tied for ninth in PPA and seventh in xBB in 2018. Rhys Hoskins was first in PPA and 28th in xBB, and Cesar Hernandez (who we might get creative with soon) was eighth in PPA and 40th in xBB. Four guys in the top-40 of both categories, without mentioning names like Segura or Realmuto.
What might a lineup with those names look like? Glad you asked! How about this:
- Jean Segura
- Andrew McCutchen
- Bryce Harper
- Rhys Hoskins
- T. Realmuto
- Odubel Herrera
- Cesar Hernandez
- Maikel Franco
There are multiple “traditional” arguments for this lineup. Segura has led off 351 times in his career. He also doesn’t strike out. In 586 at-bats last year, he struck out only 69 times. Harper has spent a majority of his career hitting third. Hitting Hoskins fourth is logical, giving him plenty of RBI opportunities.
But here at STATS, we’re encouraged to think outside the box. And since time is running out on National League managers getting to be creative given the MLB-wide DH rumors, let’s swoon at this possible lineup:
The “Moneyball” lineup! Can’t you hear Brad P– err Billy Beane asking, “But does he get on base?” (Okay, so this lineup is a little more expensive than those Oakland lineups.) McCutchen was 20th in MLB last year in STATS’ Run Value Above the Average hitter (RVAA) metric at 30.3 (0 is average). Harper, who slots in second here, was 31st in RVAA at 25.1, Realmuto was 53rd, and Hoskins 27th. Segura suffers quite a few at-bats in this lineup due to his low on-base numbers relative to the rest of the players hitting ahead of him. The end-product there is that Kapler jots down a .300 hitter in the five-spot. This is baseball’s version of first-world problems.
In fact, there are only four other teams in baseball — the Red Sox, Yankees, A’s and Brewers — that can tout as many 2018 top-75 RVAA players as the Phillies (five), and only one of them plays in the National League.
As for the rest of the lineup: Franco, notably, was also a top-75 player last year in regard to RVAA. However, in the name of balance, slotting the lefty Herrera ahead of him makes some sense to chop up that run of right-handed hitters. Hernandez is a great fit for the nine-hole here, flipping the lineup over early. As a high-OBP guy himself (career .357), he turns into a pseudo-leadoff man (he led off for Philadelphia last year), simultaneously giving McCutchen and Harper more at-bats and RBI opportunities.
The Harper signing won’t just be felt in Philadelphia, either. The Phillies, who now stand to be one of the favorites to win the NL pennant, kept Harper out of lineups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington. Harper also gives the Phillies’ lineup more balance, considering the other additions they made this offseason (Segura, McCutchen, Realmuto) all hit from the right side. Oh, and they are still almost $50 million under the tax threshold this year, which means more moves could come.
That’s cause for celebration. Champagne, anyone?