A year ago at this time, Kayla and Bryce Harper were still going through the process of deciding where they wanted to spend the bulk of the prime years of their adult lives.
Not only where would the outfielder play his baseball games for the next decade or so, but where would they have children, raise their family, and involve themselves in the community?
The Harper’s chose Philly, setting off a surge of enthusiasm within the frustrated fan base. He would join fellow newcomers Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and David Robertson with a refurbished Phillies squad for the 2019 season.
Finally, after seven years out of the playoffs, the Phillies would return to play in October baseball.
As we now know, it didn’t work out as planned. Robertson pitched in seven games before his season ended with an elbow surgery that may keep him out for all of 2020 as well. McCutchen was lost for the year at the start of June with a torn ACL in his left knee.
The Phillies struggled to an 81-81 finish, continuing a now eight-year streak of non-winning seasons. They also finished the year in fourth place in the NL East Division standings, 16 games behind the division champion Atlanta Braves, a dozen in back of the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals, and eight games off the pace for the final NL Wildcard playoff berth.
In his first season with the Phillies at age 26, Harper slashed .260/.372/.510 with 35 home runs, 36 doubles, 114 RBIs, 98 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases.
Harper joined Baseball Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Chuck Klein as the only players in Phillies franchise history to record a season with at least 35 homers, 100 RBIs, and 15 steals. Only Jim Thome, who blasted 47 long balls back in 2003, ever hit more home runs in their first season with the ball club.
Performing consistently in clutch, Harper provided a .357 batting average with runners in scoring position, the fourth-best mark in the NL. He was also fourth with 15 game-winning RBIs, a personal career high. His overall 114 RBIs were also a career best.
In all of baseball, Harper was one of only two players with at least 30 homers, 110 RBIs, and 95 walks. His total of 99 walks was fifth in the National League. He recorded a five-hit game at Colorado on April 19, the first Phillies player in seven years to reach that total.
Harper was the first Phillies player since Pat Burrell in 2002 to reach 70 extra-base hits and 110 RBIs in the same season. His 42 extra-base hits at home was the second-highest ever at Citizens Bank Park behind only the 44 ripped by Chase Utley back in 2006. He became the first Phillies player since Jayson Werth in 2010 to deliver at least 290 total bases.
Prefer your stats with a more analytical slant? Harper finished with a 4.2 WAR value, second on the club only to Realmuto’s 4.4 mark. Harper’s 5.54 Win Probability Added was the second-highest of his eight-year career, behind only the 6.18 mark that he put up in his 2015 NL MVP season with Washington. In all of Major League Baseball, only MVP’s Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger and NL finalists Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon finished with a higher WPA mark.
On August 15 against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park, Harper provided the season’s single biggest highlight when he delivered a walkoff grand slam. He delivered that unforgettable blast against a southpaw specialist, Derek Holland, who hadn’t allowed a home run to a left-handed hitter in the previous 261 plate appearances against him.
In fact, those lefty pitchers didn’t bother him much at all relative to other left-handed hitters. Harper homered 15 times off southpaws, the second-highest figure in baseball behind only Bellinger. From August 3 to the end of the season he hit .348 with nine homers, 24 RBIs and a 1.194 OPS against lefties.
Defensively, Harper was consistently outstanding, and became a finalist for the NL Gold Glove Award in right field. His 13 outfield assists equaled the total of his prior three seasons combined, and were tied for the NL lead, just one off the overall MLB leader. His nine defensive runs saved ranked third in the National League.
So, what more does Harper have to do for his part in the 2020 season in order to help finally push this club to a contending level? It should be obvious at this point. The answer is, of course, nothing. That’s right. Nothing.
If Harper stays healthy it would not be at all surprising that in his prime at age 27 and with a full season in Philly under his belt, we could see him take his game to an even higher level in 2020. In fact, Harper should enter the season as a leading contender for the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
That is really all the Phillies need from Harper in 2020, and it is largely out of his hands. That factor of his remaining healthy, avoiding anything more than a couple of minor physical tweaks here and there. He stays healthy, he will do his part.
In order to finally record not only their first winning season since 2011, but to reach the postseason and bring the excitement of October playoff baseball back to South Philly this year, the Phillies need more from everyone else but Harper and Realmuto.
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