NEW YORK — Bryce Harper’s parents tune in each night in Las Vegas to watch their son play across the country, but they know better than to tell him about the numbers he’s putting up. Same goes for Harper’s wife, Kayla, and all of his friends.
Harper does not want to know what his stats are and claims, even during his MVP-caliber season, that he’s in the dark about what he’s doing.
“I don’t even look at them on Instagram,” said Harper, who has 1.7 million followers and posts frequently on the platform. “Every time my eyes even come close to looking at something, it’s out of it as quickly as possible. I really worry about this season. I really worry about what we do from an individual standpoint and a team standpoint at the end of the year. I’m a very big season guy.
“I’ll look at my numbers at the end. See where I can improve, where I can get better. But also where it’s going to be. I know that’s kind of crazy and it doesn’t make sense, but I don’t like MVP talk. I don’t like looking at my numbers. I don’t like looking where I’m at or where I am in the second half, or anything like that. I just want to play my game. I just want to show up every night, make sure I’m playing right field, batting third, and helping this team win.”
Harper says he doesn’t know his stats, so here are the five stats that he’ll scroll past but have positioned him as one of the favorites to win the National League’s MVP Award:
Batting average is no longer in vogue like it once was, but winning a batting title still carries weight. Harper entered Sunday’s series finale with the Mets trailing Los Angeles’ Trea Turner by just one point for the National League crown. A Phillies player has not won the batting title since Richie Ashburn hit .350 in 1958. If Harper wins the batting title, his MVP chances become almost a lock.
“That’s pretty incredible,” said manager Joe Girardi, who has been most impressed by Harper’s defense and baserunning. “I think batting average is more important than we give it credit for. A good batting average is going to increase your OPS, it’s going to increase your on-base percentage, as the idea is to get you on base to score runs. But I think we pay more attention to on-base percentage than batting average because there’s guys who have a 100-points-higher on-base than batting average.”
Entering Sunday, Harper led the majors with a 1.056 OPS, but how good is that? Well, according to his OPS+ of 184, that number is 84% percent better than league average. Harper is producing nearly double the output as an average hitter. Since 1900, only Mike Schmidt in 1981 has finished with a better OPS+ and he won his second straight MVP award that season..
Since 2010, just one NL player has finished a 162-game season with an OPS+ better than 184. That one player? Harper in 2015, when he won his first MVP Award. This stat puts him in an excellent position to win another.
Since the All Star Game was first held in 1933, only five players — Ryan Howard, Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Jim Thome, and Albert Belle — have finished with a second-half OPS better than Harper’s 1.247. Those five players combined to do it in nine seasons as Bonds did it four times and Williams did it twice. And five of those nine seasons resulted in an MVP award. There’s no better way to sway voting than with a strong finish.
That’s Harper’s slugging percentage. There’s a lot of attention on his lack of RBIs, but just 21% of his plate appearances have come with a runner in scoring position. A look at his major-league-leading slugging percentage allows you to imagine the RBIs Harper could have if he had more chances with men on base. Only four Phillies — Chuck Klein, Ryan Howard, Dick Allen, and Schmidt — have finished a season with a higher slugging percentage.
Harper has not been out of the lineup since missing one half of a doubleheader on July 16 and Sunday was his 58th consecutive game. As Harper did play a game on July 16, the Phillies last went without Harper on the field on June 27.
He missed time earlier this season after being hit in the face by a pitch and has played through a back injury that requires daily maintenance. Playing every day — and producing — is probably the best way to define valuable.
Harper’s season has been historic, but there are still two weeks left in the season and the field — which includes San Diego’s Fernando Tatis, the Dodgers’ Max Muncy, Washington’s Juan Soto, and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman — remains crowded. Pushing the Phillies to the playoffs may be Harper’s best way to win the award. But does he really not know what he’s hitting?
“I think sometimes guys might pay more attention to their stats when they’re struggling than when they’re doing good,” Girardi said. “Because you’re reminded every day ,‘Oh, you’re hitting .210.’ I’m sure has an idea of where he’s at in certain areas, but I’m sure he’s not studying it.”