DH duty hasn't held Harper back one bit

June 15th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki's Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

If Bryce Harper plays the Phillies’ final 100 games like he played the first 62, he could win his second consecutive NL MVP.

He has been that good.

He has been that good playing with a torn UCL in his right elbow since mid-April. The injury has limited him to DH duties, but it has not limited his ability to barrel the baseball. Entering Wednesday, Harper batted .318 with 15 home runs, 46 RBIs, a 1.009 OPS and a 184 OPS+. He has an outside shot at the Triple Crown. He ranked fourth in the NL in batting average (31 points behind leader Paul Goldschmidt), seventh in homers (three behind leader Pete Alonso) and tied for third in RBIs (13 behind leader Alonso).

It's interesting how Harper is doing it. He is more aggressive than at any other time in his career. His first-pitch swing rate (51.1%) is higher than his career rate (39.4%). So is his strike zone swing rate (82% vs. 73.4% in his career), chase rate (35% vs. 27.2%) and overall swing rate (56.4% vs. 46.6%).

It explains the lowest walk rate of his career (8.7%), but it also seems to explain how he is hitting the ball better than last season, when he beat Juan Soto for NL MVP:

Looking at those numbers, it is not difficult to imagine a much different Phillies season, if the NL had not adopted the DH and Harper could not play.

Harper said recently that he occasionally feels something in the elbow when he hits, which is why he wears a contraption on his right arm. The device prevents him from completely extending the elbow, which lessens the severity of anything he feels.

It has been a little more than four weeks since he received a PRP injection in the elbow in Los Angeles. Harper hopes it speeds up the recovery of the tear, which would give him a shot at playing right field again this season.

The best-case scenario there is maybe late July or early August.

Harper remains about two weeks away from trying to throw again. If he feels OK, he will begin a throwing program.

If he does not feel OK, he will continue to DH.

There has been some hand-wringing from Phillies fans who are worried about what that might mean for Harper in 2023.

Harper said he isn’t worried about it.

“It’s like the Ohtani rule,” Harper said. “That’s what we all say, just because he was a hitter. He was able to come back and it was the same [throwing] arm as me. I think he had a four- to six-month recovery.”

Shohei Ohtani had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, 2018.

He returned to DH for the Angels on May 7, 2019.

“I’ll be ready for Opening Day if I do have surgery, hitting-wise,” Harper said. “Outfield-wise, I wouldn’t be ready until May or around there. That’s just a schedule, right? That has nothing to do with how I’m feeling. That’s like perfect scheduling. It really just depends on how your body responds to it. It’s exactly like my throwing program now. It could be anything from 12-16 weeks. Or it could be more than that. It just depends on how it really feels.”