Bryce Harper underwent Tommy John surgery last November. The original timeline given by the Phillies for his return was around the All-Star break in July or sometime shortly thereafter. Harper would push his rehab, and himself, harder than most people expected. He returned to play on May 2 — 160 days post-surgery.
It was the quickest return to play for a player who had undergone the dreadful surgery named after former big league pitcher Tommy John. Nobody knew what to expect from Harper. Was he going to be okay? Was it dangerous for him to be playing so soon? Could he re-injure his elbow? Can he hit like he used to?
All of those questions were totally fine to ask. But Harper is committed to his craft and is the ultimate competitor. He also wasn’t going to play if he, or the Phillies, felt he was at risk of hurting himself again. Harper certainly wasn’t going to allow himself to not be the same hitter he was before, either.
So it wasn’t a matter of if he could return to form, but when would he return to form. And after a powerless three-month stretch to start his 2023 campaign, Harper hit his stride in August.
May, June, and July
Harper made his season debut on May 2 in a game against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. He went hitless that night, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Some felt that was to be expected. He didn’t go on a Minor League rehab assignment, so some rust made sense. But in total Harper fashion, he made five trips to the plate the following afternoon, reaching base all five times as he went 3-for-3 with a double and a pair of walks.
His first home run came three days later in a home game against the Red Sox.
Altogether, the left-handed hitter slashed .315/.410/.483 in May with three home runs. But just as quickly as he seemingly got hot, Harper went “cold”. In June, he hit .253/.357/.295 with just four extra-base hits — all doubles. He was still getting on base, but his power straight-up disappeared.
In fact, between May 26 and Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Padres on July 15 — a stretch of 38 games — Harper didn’t hit a single homer. It was the longest homer-less streak of his career. It spanned 164 plate appearances in which he hit .264/.360/.321.
After not hitting for much power in June, Harper’s slugging percentage increased in July, where he slashed .303/.386/.438. He hit just two homers that month, though. So even though it looked like he was mildly heating up, there was still some cause for concern about whether or not his power would fully return this year.
Overall, Harper hit .289/.384/.403 with a 116 wRC+ in 318 plate appearances from May 2 through the end of July. Of his 79 hits during that stretch, 21, or 27%, were extra-base hits (16 doubles and five home runs).
Even though he was an above-league-average hitter, Harper clearly wasn’t all the way back. He did, however, have a 90.5 mph average exit velocity in his first 318 plate appearances with an 11.3% barrel rate, both of which are respectable numbers.
Some questions started to be asked about Harper, though. Could he start to hit for power this year? Or, was he going to have to wait until next season when he’s further removed from Tommy John Surgery to find his power swing?
The two-time NL MVP went on to put those questions to bed in August by putting together one of the best months of his entire career.
What A Month It Was
Entering August hitting .289/.384/.403 with five home runs, Harper also started the month with 290 career long balls. He needed 10 more to become a member of the 300 home run club for his career.
That wasn’t something that seemed attainable on Aug. 1 given how little he had been producing in the slugging department. But in the game of baseball, players, especially ones as talented as Harper, can go on insane runs without much notice. And that’s what Harper did.
His first homer of the month came on Aug. 5 in a game against the Royals at Citizens Bank Park. He continued to add to that total throughout the month, and in his final nine games, he hit six homers. One of them came on Aug. 21 when Harper sprinted his way around the bases for what was scored an inside-the-park home run — the 295th homer of his career.
The inside-the-parker was his fifth of the month, matching his season total from when the month began. But, as mentioned above, he wasn’t finished there. Harper had nine total home runs in August and 299 for his career entering the Phillies’ last game of the month on Aug. 30 against the Angels.
Harper always seems to have a feel for the moment. He thrives when the pressure is on. And with the Phillies down in the eighth inning in that game against the Angels, Harper did what he does best — come through in the big spot.
All in all, Harper launched 10 home runs in August. He hit .361/.452/.784 during the season’s fifth full month with a 221 wRC+. Of his 35 hits last month, 20, or 57%, were for extra bases (nine doubles, one triple, and 10 homers). While it’s safe to say Harper was locked in, that might be an understatement.
The former first-overall pick had an average exit velocity of 94.6 mph in August with an outstanding 21.6% barrel rate. On top of that, 26 of Harper’s 35 hits (74%) came off the bat at 100-plus mph — an absurd rate.
The hardest ball he hit was a long ball that registered at 115.7 mph.
To put Harper’s August into perspective, his 10 home runs are tied for the third-most he’s ever hit in a month. It’s also the sixth time he posted a double-digit homer total in a single month.
|Month and Year
|Home Run Total
Also, his .784 slugging percentage is the second-highest slugging percentage in a single month during his career.
|Month and Year
Harper’s insane run in August boosted his overall slash line on the season to .308/.402/.503. His wRC+ rose to 144.
While Harper’s 10-homer month got a lot of attention for good reason, he wasn’t the only Phillie to have a great month. Including Harper, six Phillies hit at least five home runs in August — Harper (10), Kyle Schwarber (10), Trea Turner (nine), Nick Castellanos (eight), Alec Bohm (five), and Bryson Stott (five). In fact, the Phillies set an all-time franchise record for home runs in a month in August with 59.
Turner, who also went on a much-needed August hot streak, was the only qualified Phillies hitter to have a lower wRC+ (175) than Harper. Turner hit .324/.368/.676 during the month, raising his season wRC+ from 81 to 100.
Philadelphia was waiting for Harper to get hot. His terrific month may have put some others in the shadows. But he’s the face of the franchise and now a member of the 300-home run club, after all.
Featured Photo: Twitter / @Phillies