Entering Thursday’s action, the Philadelphia Phillies are very much in the playoff hunt — they own a 62-58 record and are two games out of the final National League wild-card spot. Clearly, though, the organization was looking for a spark by recently hiring Charlie Manuel to be their new hitting coach.
As Philly looks to avoid a second consecutive late-season drop-off, Bryce Harper is doing what he can at the plate. In Manuel’s first game back in the dugout on Wednesday, the Phillies’ big-ticket offseason acquisition made the most of the old skipper’s return by collecting three hits, including two home runs in an 11-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs. It was Harper’s second multi-homer performance in less than a week. While he’s turned things up a notch in August, it’s not as if this has just happened all of a sudden.
If we use the arbitrary date of June 30th to split up his 2019 performance, it’s clear that the outfielder has elevated his offense for an extended period of time.
He’s also paired this with a rise in walk rate (15.2% to 17.0%) and a drop in strikeout rate (27.6% to 23.6%). Harper’s surge feels like it’s more recent than the end of June because of the power display he’s put on over the past two weeks. The six homers he’s hit through 60 August plate appearances is nearly more than what he did in June and July combined (eight homers in 217 plate appearances).
When looking at Harper’s monthly results, he’s been on a bit of a roller coaster this year. Things were pretty good in March/April, as he posted a 124 wRC+ and .250 ISO. His wRC+ dropped in May to a season-low 107 before creeping up each month since (117 to 120 to 152 at the moment). His ISO dropped in May (.217) and June (.194) before heading back in the right direction in July (.198) and what he’s done to this point in August (.360).
Harper has watched his line-drive rate drop 10 percentage points between July and August, with that difference going to his ground-ball rate. That’s not a preferred series of events, but he’s kept his infield-fly rate at 0.0%, along with producing a 5.4% soft-hit rate and 59.5% hard-hit rate (both on track to be his best marks of any month in 2019).
When looking at the Phillies’ order, one would imagine they’d be an offensive powerhouse. Gabe Kapler has the opportunity to pencil in Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, and J.T. Realmuto into the top of his lineup card each night. Unfortunately, they’ve underperformed — their team wRC+ of 91 is among the bottom half in baseball, as is their 572 runs scored.
There’s hope that Manuel coming in with a fresh perspective will jumpstart the offense. That’s a valid thought, but they’ll also need Harper to stay hot and be the focal point of this offense (like they envisioned) to have a shot at nabbing a playoff spot.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book and created an online class about how to get started as a sports blogger. Check those out and more helpful tips on sports blogging at his website.