Phillies general manager Matt Klentak met with the media ahead of tonight’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. I wasn’t there because I was running late, but WIP’s Howard Eskin was, and he streamed some of Klentak’s comments, as he often does. So thanks, Howard.
One of the topics covered with Klentak included the struggles of right fielder Bryce Harper. Dating back to April 14, Harper has hit only .193 with a .697 OPS over his last 99 plate appearances. He’s also produced a modest .323 OBP and 31.3% strikeout rate during that span, which has obviously raised some concerns about Harper for some. Just don’t count Klentak among them. Here’s what he had to say when asked by Eskin about Harper’s recent struggles:
I mean, the short answer is no, I’m not concerned. A 26-year-old with a track record like he has, I’m going to trust in that track record. He’s, if I’m not mistaken, leading our team in doubles, he’s leading our team in walks, he still has a .370 on-base [percentage], and he’s making plays like he did last night in right field to help us win games even when he’s not hitting, so I don’t have any concerns with Bryce.
I do think we need to recognize though that all players, including the best players in the league, are going to go through stretches when they’re not at their best, and Bryce has had these before. He had a stretch like this early last year, in fact, and what great players do is they work themselves out of it. And I think one of the things, this is specific to Bryce but its also specific to a style of play, one of the things that I like Bryce’s style of play is that even when he is struggling offensively is he takes his walks. And it’s hard for players to really get into prolonged slumps when they have the patience that Bryce’s has, and that’s why we can see right now even though he may not be getting the hits he’s hoping to get, he’s still reaching base at a good clip and positively impacting our club.
You can check out the video, after the jump:
— Howard Eskin (@howardeskin) May 14, 2019
Klentak is right in that Harper hasn’t been that bad. I mean, the guy leads the National League in walks and is currently only one of four hitters with at least 25 RBI and 25 walks this season. On the other hand, I get it. Walks, while productive, don’t exactly get people fired up, particularly when they’re coming from a guy with a .222 average.
He’s also right in that we have seem similar slumps from Harper in the past. His first and second half 2018 splits have been frequently referenced in this regard and with good reason. Harper followed an underwhelming first half in which he hit only .214 and produced a “meh” by his standards .833 OPS with a torrid finish. Over his final 65 games, he hit .300 with a .972 OPS. That’s more like it. As bad as he’s been lately, if he puts together a strong five-game stretch, his overall numbers will jump, and everyone can take a deep breath. Not to sound like an apologist, but after only 40 games, it’s still early enough where a few multi-hit games can make the numbers a little bit more aesthetically pleasing.
One peripheral stat I’d like to see revert back to his career norms which might get him going is his startlingly high 52.2% pull percentage this season, way up from his career average of 39.3%. Is that a product of discomfort at the plate? Pressing? Or is Harper trying to take advantage of Citizens Bank Park’s advantageous right field dimensions?
Maybe if I’m on time tonight, I’ll look into it. Stay tuned.