At long last, Bryce Harper has a new team. . . The Phillies are expected to announce the signing in the coming days.
Three of the five largest contracts in baseball history have been handed out this month. Here's the list:
- Bryce Harper, Phillies: 13 years, $330 million
- Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: 13 years, $325 million
- Manny Machado, Padres: 10 years, $300 million
- Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: 10 years, $275 million
- Nolan Arenado, Rockies: 8 years, $260 million
Unlike Machado, Harper is not moving into a ballpark with a reputation for being a pitcher's paradise. Petco Park in San Diego was incredibly pitcher friendly when it opened, though changes to the ballpark and surrounding area in recent years have turned it into more of a neutral park. It's neither hitter friendly nor pitcher friendly now..
Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia has the exact opposite reputation as Petco Park. It is a hitter's ballpark and Harper knows it well after spending the last seven seasons with the NL East rival Nationals. Harper is a career .268/.365/.564 hitter with 14 home runs in 50 career games in Philadelphia. He is the ballpark's all-time leader in slugging percentage (min. 200 plate appearances):
Of course, Harper spent the last seven seasons facing Phillies pitchers in Citizens Bank Park, and the Phillies have had some lean years recently. That said, it is no surprise he ranks high on the ballpark's slugging percentage leaderboard. He's a left-handed power hitter with a propensity to pull the ball and Citizens Bank Park is a great place to be a lefty pull hitter.
Here, for the sake of having the visual, is Harper's 2018 spray chart laid on top of the Citizens Bank Park dimensions:
The spray chart indicates Harper hit several balls that went for fly outs or doubles last season that would've cleared the fence at Citizens Bank Park. Quite a few, actually. I count about 16 of them with zero homers that would've been lost due to the ballpark dimensions. See that spray chart as a Phillies fan and it's hard not to get excited.
I caution you not to read too much into the spray chart though, because Harper is not going to have the same batted ball distribution next year. That's just now how these things work. The spray chart does reinforce the point that Harper and Citizens Bank Park should mix well. Here are the top home run park factors for left-handed hitters:
- Yankee Stadium: 114
- Camden Yards: 111
- Miller Park: 111
- Great American Ball Park: 110
- Citizens Bank Park: 108
What does that mean? It means Citizens Bank Park inflates home run production for left-handed hitters by 8 percent relative to a neutral park, making it one of the friendliest parks in the league for a lefty hitter like Harper. And Harper is not your average left-handed hitter. He tends to hit bombs. Look at the spray chart above. Most of his homers would've left every park.
The shorter right field porch at Citizens Bank Park figures to reward Harper with a few more "cheap" home runs, meaning those homers that just clear the fence and land in the first few rows. Balls that were caught for outs or maybe landed over the right fielder's head for a double on the right field warning track at Nationals Park could plop into someone's lap in the front row at Citizens Bank Park. A ball like this, for example:
Harper is not an extreme pull hitter, but he does pull the ball more than the average hitter. Last year's 42.3 percent pull rate was above the 40.2 percent league average and the second highest rate of Harper's career, behind the 45.4 percent pull rate he put up during his MVP season in 2015. That's the sweet spot right there. Enough batted balls pulled to right to take advantage of Citizens Bank Park without sacrificing the ability to go to right and center fields.
At age 26, Harper is about to enter what are typically the most productive years of a player's career. His established ceiling is already very high -- his 2015 season at age 22 was historically excellent -- and now he's moving into a ballpark that is not only hitter friendly in general, but also suits his particular skill set nicely. Harper was always going to hit no matter where he played. Now he can count on Citizens Bank Park to boost his numbers even further.