By Dylan MacKinnon
A few days ago Tyler Zulli put out an interesting Tweet. He said that Bryce Harper was the best hitter to put on a Phillies uniform in his lifetime. I saw the Tweet and looked at it for a good 5 minutes. I could not find any reason to disagree with him. Tyler and I are of a similar age. We both came up watching the best generation in Phillies history. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley. They brought us a parade and had the best 5-year stretch of baseball this city has seen since the Athletics were here. As impressive as those 3 are, I have to agree with Tyler. Bryce Harper is the best I have ever seen. And I don’t think that is even a hot take.
I say this through careful thought, free of recency bias, with an understanding that I’m going to get crushed for this.— Tyler Zulli (@TylerZulli) June 6, 2022
Bryce Harper is the best hitter to put on a Phillies uniform in my lifetime…
I never got to watch Mike Schmidt, so I am leaving him out of the conversation. And besides maybe Bobby Abreu, there is no one else with the longevity and production in Philly that stands out besides Utley, Rollins, and Howard.
Let’s take the emotion out of it, and look at the raw stats. Harper doesn’t have the longevity yet that those 3 have, but his per-season stats here in his 4th season are hard to argue with. he has already won 1 MVP here, and could score another. And it’s worth mentioning we are only talking about hitting and leaving fielding out of the equation. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a look at the stats, and see where he falls among those 3 all-time Phillies greats. Starting With Chase Utley.
Harper vs Utley
Chase Utley will forever be known here as “The Man”. He was as consistent as they come. Utley had 5 straight seasons with an OPS over .900. He once went on a 35-game hitting streak, which is still tied for 11th all-time. Utley hit the 2 run blast that opened up the 2008 World Series and set the tone that year that they were going to win. And perhaps most importantly, he was a Mets-killer.
Stacking up to Utley is a tall task. Harper does it though. I mentioned Utley’s streak above a .900 OPS. Well, his highest OPS ever was .976. In 5 fewer seasons, Harper already has 3 seasons with an OPS higher than his career-high. He’s on pace to make it 4 this season. Harper has 3 seasons with an OPS over 1.000, including last year. Harper has 4 seasons with an OBP over .400. Utley only has 1. Harper has 4 seasons with at least 30 HRS and 1 where he hit more than 40. Utley only hit 30 three times, and never hit 40. Utley has never had a slugging percentage over .600. Harper has done it twice and is on track to do it a third time this year. And Harper has already surpassed Utley in career HRs.
You can say these are just numbers. But if any sport can be broken down by pure stats, it is Baseball. Utley obviously means a ton to this franchise. Even if Harper ends up having a better overall career here, Utley still may mean more than Harper does. But the numbers are hard to argue with. Harper has more power, gets on base more, and has 2 MVPs when Utley never even finished top 5. He may never be “The Man” the way Utley is. But Harper is That Dude. And it’s hard to argue he is not a better hitter than Utley was.
Harper vs Rollins
Rollins is my personal favorite of the three big-time hitters the Phillies had in that era. The swag and energy he brought to the team are unmatched. Rollins put this team on the map. And given the position he played, his several gold gloves, his longevity, and the impact he had, he likely has the best Hall of Fame Case of the 3. But as far as being a hitter goes, he doesn’t stack up to Harper.
Going over the same things we compared with Utley and Harper, Rollins doesn’t even register in most of those standards. He has 0 seasons with an OPS over .900, 0 seasons with an OBP over .400, and just one Season with more than 30 HRs. Jimmy also has just one season with an AVG over .300 to Harpers 3 and is on pace for a 4th this year. And Jimmy has 0 seasons with a slugging percentage over .600. The one massive advantage Rollins has is stolen Bases.
There is an argument to be made that with his defense and baserunning, Rollins is the better overall player. But Harper is undoubtedly the better hitter.
Harper vs Howard
This is where it gets a bit tricky. Howard’s career was a bit short because he came up later than he should have, and injuries ended his career before it should have. But his 4 year stretch from 2006 to 2009, was maybe the 4 best seasons for any Phillies player ever. Four straight years with over 40 hrs, and 58 in one of them. He led the league in homers twice. He finished top 5 in MVP voting 4 times in a row and won it once. The thing that holds him back, however, is longevity. He just did not do it long enough. Despite the torrid pace, he started his career on, he didn’t reach 400 HRS. A mark Bryce Harper will reach eventually provided there is no epic collapse in the next couple of years. He could pass 300 before year’s end and is only 29.
Compare Howard’s 4-year stretch, to Harper’s 4-year stretch with the Phillies so far, it stacks up. But overall Harper takes the win. Howard surpassed an OPS of 1.000, an OBP of .400, and a slugging percentage of .600 only once. Harper has done each of those multiple times, and this season could make it multiple times in a Phillies jersey. Howard clearly has the advantage in power, but it didn’t last long enough. Had Howard not been blocked by Thome, and never suffered the big injury that derailed his career, he could have wound up a Hall of Famer. But unfortunately his prime, as great as it was, was too short.
Bryce Harper has nearly a decade left here and is still in his prime. If it is debatable now, it won’t be for long. He will end up with at least 400 HRs and has a shot at 500 depending on how long his prime lasts. His career OPS is over .900, and even if the end of his career brings that down it would likely still be higher than Rollins, Howard’s, or Utley’s. As will his OBP.
It feels weird to say. Harper is going on only 4 years here. But the stats do not lie. Harper in his short stint with the Phillies has already done things the other 3 never did. Include his time with the Nationals, you could already argue he has had a better career than these guys. And with a lot of time left in a Phillies uniform, he could very well go down as having a better career as a hitter with the Phillies too. Include defense and the argument changes.
Harper is not the fielder either Utley or Rollins with. But as a hitter, I don’t think it is even that close. As great as Utley Howard and Rollins were with the bat, Harper is better. Even with his subpar fielding, he is on track to be a Hall of Famer because his bat is just that good. He could easily win a third MVP before his career ends, and may pass these 3 guys in nearly every major stat. Whether you like it or not, Tyler was right. Bryce Harper is the best Phillies hitter my generation has ever seen.