On the final day of February, Bryce Harper signed a 13-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies for a reported $330 million. This launched the Phils well up the National League and World Championship futures board. It supposedly set the tone for a decade of NL East dominance.
With Thursday’s series finale against the New York Mets (1:05 p.m. ET) bringing the Phils near the halfway mark of the 2019 season, the franchise must be suffering buyer’s remorse. Bettors who took flyers on Philadelphia are certainly regretting those significantly smaller investments.
The Phillies don’t look like a team that’s going to chase down surging Atlanta at the top of the NL East. William Hill now has the Braves at -475 to win the division (risk $475 just to win $100, or anything in that ratio). That’s 83% to win. Philadelphia is now 5/1, which is a 17% win equivalent. (The Mets are currently 25/1, or 4% as sports books build a universe larger than 100% to create a house edge.)
Philadelphia could be stuck in wildcard gridlock throughout the campaign’s second half and not even make the playoffs. The Phillies are currently 15/2 to win the NL (12%), and 15/1 to win the World Series (6%).
What should bettors expect of Harper and the Phils down the stretch? It’s possible that baseball observers will have to accept that his fantastic 2015 season was a fluke. Usually hitters improve consistently (often dramatically) from their “age 22” seasons. Harper isn’t playing like he’ll ever get back to those numbers.
Playing 153 games in 2015, Harper posted a .330 batting average, a .460 on-base percentage, a .649 slugging percentage, while hitting 42 home runs and striking out 131 times.
Through 78 games in 2019, Harper was hitting .251, getting on base at a .365 clip, and slugging .467. You can simply double his home run and strikeout totals to ballpark a full season estimate. That would yield 26 homers with a whopping 188 strikeouts. All this happening in a high-scoring season with aerodynamically friendly baseballs creating “steroid” type stats. Harper isn’t taking advantage in what is supposed to be his prime.
Harper fans can say “hey, it’s only half a season.” But it’s not. In 2018 with Washington his stat line was .249, .393, .496. Harper is an on-base machine. That by itself doesn’t justify his paycheck or market respect. (Note that Washington was minus 25 units for bettors last season, and the Phils are down a few more so far in 2019.)
For now, it’s best to assume that the Phillies won’t be offering any betting value unless Harper heats up to something resembling his career peak. They’re not an auto-fade. The Phils aren’t as bad as the American League tankers who will make a run at 100 losses. But markets usually take some time to fully correct preseason misreads on projected powers. It’s probably “pass or fade” unless you see ideal scenarios against opponents who are struggling even more dramatically.