How Bryce Harper’s Injury Could Affect the Phillies Next Season
Bryce Harper’s career as a Philadelphia Phillie so far has undoubtedly been a success. Harper won the MVP award in his third season in Philadelphia two years ago, and the Phillies reached the World Series last season with Harper playing as the team’s DH despite an elbow injury during the season.
However, Harper underwent surgery this week. Ahead of the operation, the Phillies and Harper were unsure what repairs to his elbow would be required. Unfortunately, it was discovered that he needed Tommy John surgery, which was completed on Wednesday.
How Harper’s Injury Will Affect the Phillies Next Season
2022 was remarkable for the Philadelphia Phillies. In every season prior to last year, Philadelphia would not have reached the MLB postseason, but the Phillies took advantage of their opportunity by reaching the World Series.
The Phillies did not have a good start to the season. They finished April with an 11-11 record and followed that month with a 10-18 record in May. On June 3, when the team had a 22-29 record, the Phillies fired manager Joe Girardi.
The team had several players injured during the summer months, and Harper did not play in right field for most of last season due to his elbow injury. Philadelphia had a successful June, finishing the month with a 19-8 record, but injuries remained an issue as Harper went on the injured list with a broken thumb just before the end of the month.
July and August were successful for the Phillies, but an 11-14 record in September almost resulted in the team missing the playoffs. Philadelphia reached the postseason but was only one game ahead of the Brewers for the final NL Wild Card position at the end of the season.
Philadelphia played in arguably the best division in baseball in 2022, and the NL East will likely remain excellent in 2023, with two teams in addition to the Phillies, the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves, likely to be World Series favorites. Injuries had a significant impact on the Phillies last season, and they already are having an effect on next year’s team due to Harper’s surgery.
Harper will likely return to the team before the All-Star Game, but he will definitely miss a significant amount of games at the start of the season. When he does return to the team he will remain the Phillies designated hitter, as he will need more time to recover before returning to playing the outfield.
The Phillies’ defense was the team’s main area of concern ahead of last season and became an even greater focus after Harper could no longer play in the outfield. Harper is not an outstanding fielder, finishing his last full season where he played the outfield, 2021, with -6 Outs Above Average.
However, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, who played most games in the corner outfield positions in 2022 after Harper’s injury, both did not perform well defensively last season according to both Outs Above Average, and Defensive Runs Saved.
Schwarber, who played left field for the Phillies last season, had the third-worst Outs Above Average of any qualified outfielder last season, finishing with -13. Castellanos, meanwhile, finished with -10 Outs Above Average, which was the sixth-worst among qualified outfielders.
In terms of Defensive Runs Saved, Schwarber finished 2022 with -14, second-worst among all qualified outfielders, while Castellanos finished fourth-worst with -9. Schwarber and Castellanos also finished with the lowest and third-lowest UZR respectively of all qualified outfielders last season.
In 2023, new rules limiting shifts will be introduced. While these rules affect infielders more than outfielders, they can still affect the positioning and outfield defense. In 2022, the Phillies shifted only 27.3% of the time, which was the 22nd most in the MLB, but the rule changes being introduced next year could still have an important impact on Philadelphia’s outfield defense.
Harper is the most important player in the Phillies lineup, but his defense also has an important impact on the overall performance of the team. His surgery will not only affect Philadelphia’s ability to score runs at the start of next season, but also their ability to prevent them throughout next year. His surgery, and the rule changes being introduced next season, may impact how the Phillies approach the rest of this offseason.
The Phillies Offseason
Philadelphia is considered to be one of the teams that are most likely to sign Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner, or Xander Bogaerts this offseason. All of those players would significantly improve the Phillies’ offense and would likely have a positive impact on the team’s defense as well.
However, the Phillies should also pursue an excellent defensive outfielder, especially if they are successful in signing one of the major free-agent infielders this offseason. Even if the outfielder they sign isn’t excellent offensively the improvement of the team’s defense, and the ability to allow Schwarber or Castellanos to play as the designated hitter, could have a positive impact on the overall performance of the team.
Brandon Nimmo, who finished last season with six Outs Above Average, is likely pursuing a contract that is too long or has a higher average-annual-value than the Phillies would be interested in this offseason. However, there are other players that could make sense as potential free-agency signings for Philadelphia.
Both Brett Phillips and Kevin Kiermaier are free agents this offseason. Phillips and Kiermaier both did not have outstanding seasons offensively last year but have had excellent seasons defensively recently. Depending on the length of Harper’s injury, singing one of those players with the intention of starting them in the outfield until Harper’s return could make sense, and both would be excellent players to have available in the playoffs.
Jake Marisnick played in only 31 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season but had five Outs Above Average. He could also be a free agent that would make sense for the Phillies to sign. Marisnick had a .661 OPS last season and can play all three outfield positions well.
Cody Bellinger, who was recently non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers, is another free agent that could be a great signing for the Phillies. Bellinger has always played excellent outfield defense, finishing last year with seven Outs Above Average, 14th best among all qualified outfielders. While his offense hasn’t been as solid as expected in the last few years, he did win an MVP award in 2019 and could still return to his previous success.
Other players, such as Andrew Benintendi, A.J. Pollock, or others could be potential free agency signings for the Phillies depending on the type and length of contract the franchise wants to pursue. However, Philadelphia should, and likely will, improve their outfield depth and defense this offseason.