Over a month ago, the Philadelphia Phillies clinched the playoffs, having turned a 22-29 start into a playoff wild-card 87-75 season, but the team remained the third best in the National League East. These lower numbers raised numerous comments about the Phillies never living up to expectations. Comments became commentary, and a trend began to emerge: Bryce Harper. When Harper left Washington, the Ringer Sports news reported that Washington just did not miss him anymore. Harper was a prime early prospect, a Rookie of the Year turned 2015 MVP but never a playoff series winner. After Harper left however, the Nationals won the World Series. Curious about this trend, I began doing some research, and in doing so I discovered a trend. By his second playoff series Harper was a star, but the numbers began to fall, and, following the statistics, I fully expected the Phillies to lose in the first round, with Harper’s numbers just holding them back. Fast forward a month and I could not have been more wrong.
By the time the first playoff pitch had been thrown in St. Louis this October, The Quad had already done a deep stat dive into Harper’s career. When it comes to Harper, the positives are hard to ignore. He batted .289 in his first four seasons (reaching .330 in 2015), and the 2014 Washington Nationals, who ended the season with a .593 record, were .630 in games that Harper played. It is from here however that the shine starts to dull.
Come 2016, Harper’s batting average (BA) had dropped to only .243, with the league average being .255. And although his regular season numbers would come and go almost rhythmically (.319 in 2017, .249 in 2018, .260 in 2019), it was in the playoffs where Harper’s numbers just kept dropping, having fallen to only .211 in the Nationals 2017 playoff series and putting him in a three-way tie for 37th in BA in the 2017 playoffs. The worst statistic, however, the one that seemed to prove Harper’s negativity, came this year. 2022 only saw Harper play 99 games, his lowest number in one season so far. The Phillies started this season 2-0. Fast forward to their 72nd game and Philadelphia is still only two games above 0.500, but Harper suffers a thumb injury. Harper has to miss the next 52 games. A good amount of hope has now been drained from this Phillies team, with Bleacher Report reporting that Philadelphia had lost its “most important offensive player.” However, Philadelphia marches on. By the time Harper returns, the Phillies rocket up the charts and are now 14 games above 0.500. Many expect them to just keep rising, but somehow, the Phillies have stalled, making the playoffs but ending up just 12 games up since Harper’s return. You can literally cut the Phillies 2022 season into three sections of almost equal length: The first third, where Harper is playing, and they are .500; the middle, where Harper is out, and the win differential rockets; and at the end, where Harper is back, and the team is back to being .500.
Looking at this, it is easy to see how one could expect so little from the playoff-bound 2022 Phillies. The 2022 team seemed to never put out when Harper was on the field, and Harper’s playoff numbers have been dropping since 2014. So what happens? Philadelphia goes to St. Louis and sweeps. This takes them to Atlanta where they win 3-1, then to San Diego where they win 4-1. What’s getting them there? Bryce Harper, who is literally leading the MLB playoffs in hits with 22 while being stuck in a three way tie for home runs with six (that tie being against Rhys Hoskins and Kyle Schwarber), all the while batting .349.
Dubbed the National League Championship Series MVP, Harper led wild-card Philadelphia to the 2022 World Series. Philadelphia was able to take a 2-1 lead in the series before falling to the Houston Astros. Whether or not the Phillies should have fallen short in the end may be debated, with 97.5FM Philadelphia sports radio literally offering to let fans call in to “scream and vent” the day after the Astros clinched the win. However, the story line of Bryce Harper is the point that may stand above it all: an even bell-curve. 2015 Harper was an MVP, but add three years and he is batting under the league average. So he leaves Washington, only to join a .500 Philadelphia squad. He works and rises, becoming MVP in 2021 and finding himself two wins short of winning the World Series, the series that ESPN claimed would most likely see Harper awarded MVP. It is a hero’s journey if ever there was one.
*All statistics acquired from BaseballReference.com and ESPN*
M. Bordeaux is a third-year History major with a minor in journalism.