Bryce Harper played even better than a reigning NL MVP last weekend at Dodger Stadium.
“It feels like he’s the best player in the world,” Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner said.
It is a good thing, then, that Harper could rejoin the Phillies’ lineup soon. He had a PRP injection into his right elbow on Sunday in Los Angeles, which has forced him to miss at least two games.
“I want to be out there,” Harper said on Tuesday. “I want to be helping my team, especially against a great team in San Diego. But I think that was the perfect day to get it on Sunday and have that Monday off-day and hopefully just miss two or three games. I think that was the perfect time.”
The Dodgers were thrilled to see Harper unavailable on Sunday. He is the first player in history to have a home run and multiple extra-base hits in three consecutive games against them at Dodger Stadium. The Phillies outfielder batted .667 (8-for-12) with four doubles, three home runs, eight RBIs and a 2.417 OPS in the series.
Harper was named NL Player Of The Week for his performance on the Phillies’ 5-2 road trip. He slashed .600/.643/1.261 with six doubles, three homers, eight RBIs and three stolen bases in six games in Seattle and L.A. He is just the fifth player since at least 1901 to bat .600 or better with at least nine extra-base hits and three stolen bases in a six-game span, joining Fernando Tatis Jr. (2021), Joe Morgan (1976), Ken Henderson (1972) and Ty Cobb (1912).
Harper is batting .305 with nine home runs, 27 RBIs and a .994 OPS overall. He leads baseball with 29 runs, 14 doubles, 24 extra-base hits and 83 total bases. He also leads the NL in homers and has a .634 slugging percentage.
And he's doing all of it following a relatively slow start. Harper had a .789 OPS in April, which is far from terrible, but he has the 10th-highest OPS in baseball history in March/April at 1.005. Only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Jimmie Foxx, Mark McGwire, Rogers Hornsby, Mike Trout, Eric Thames and Aaron Judge have been better the first month of the season.
If you compare Harper’s numbers through 34 games in 2022 to his 2021 MVP season, he is hitting the ball almost exactly the same.
2021: 170 wRC+, .430 xwOBA
2022: 171 wRC+, .427 xwOBA
wRC+ is weighted runs created plus, which quantifies run creation. It allows us to compare players who play in different ballparks, different eras, etc. In this case, it accounts for the lower offensive output in baseball this year. So, while Harper’s OPS is 50 points lower than last season, it is comparatively the same, considering the overall OPS in baseball this season is 45 points lower than last year.
A few interesting points about Harper’s MVP-worthy start:
Run, Don’t Walk: Harper typically builds a robust OPS with a high on-base percentage. But his current walk rate of 7.5 percent is exactly half his career rate (15.0 percent). Harper is walking less because he is being way more aggressive. He is swinging at more pitches in the zone (81 percent) than the past eight seasons combined (73.2 percent), more pitches out of the zone (34 percent to 27 percent) and more first pitches (52.1 percent to 39.1 percent).
Air Raid: Harper’s groundball rate (29.7 percent) is a career low. (It averaged 40.4 percent since 2015.) He is turning those grounders into a career-high 35.6 percent line-drive rate and a 31.7 percent fly-ball rate.
This is significant because Harper hits the ball hard. He has ranked in the top 10 percent in average exit velocity and hard-hit rate each of the past three seasons. So, take a player with an elite hard-hit rate, then increase the number of line drives and fly balls he hits, and it is easy to see why he is doing damage.