A few days ago, Tom Verducci at sports illustrated put out a piece on whether Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have lived up to their massive contracts.
Have Bryce Harper and Manny Machado lived up to their mega-deals in Year 1? Tom Verducci assesses where each star is at https://t.co/uAyVYas9oY
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) August 12, 2019
It’s an excellent pieces, as are many of Verducci’s pieces. Feel free to give it a read when you’re done reading this. What I want to talk about is how it speaks to the Dodgers front office, and how we as fans see value.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
In his piece, Verducci touches on the fact that Machado and Harper haven’t exactly been overrated in terms of their statistics, but just appearing to be so because of their contracts. It’s a struggle that’s as old as when players could finally get paid big in free agency.
I’m going to compare some of Machado and Harper’s statistics to Max Muncy. Comparing them to Cody Bellinger would seem unfair. Max Muncy is a perfect person to compare them to, for the sake of the point.
Taking a quick glance, in only a few small categories can one say either Harper or Machado are having a better year than Max Muncy. One could argue that RBI’s and batting average aren’t as important, but I’m not writing about a old school/new school debate. Machado and Harper are pretty even with a 113/114 OPS+. Compared to Muncy’s 131, it’s not even close. Muncy has them beat in both OPS and SLG, too. None of this is surprising to most Dodger fans I would imagine.
Where statistics reveal these truths, the hype and overall machine of Bryce Harper (and admittedly less so, Manny Machado) are what make them feel overrated to most people. If a player like Corey Seager had been a free agent last summer, he sure would have commanded more money. Same goes for Max Muncy, despite his breakout year being only in 2018. The lies we read come from hype backlash. Manny Machado (other than some rather unkind statistics regarding his clutch performances and high-leverage situations) has been as good as advertised, betting his contract with a fan aside. If you’re judging Machado’s performance based on the Padres standing, you’re going to never understand player value. One player does not a playoff team make.
Bryce Harper’s overall WAR and contributions are definitely lower pace than a typical Bryce Harper year. His 2.8 fWAR matches Justin Turner’s fWAR. Justin Turner’s WAR numbers are low because at his age, his defense has gone down. Otherwise, Turner is outhitting Harper in most metrics. So the fact that Harper is definitely having a down year, coupled with the hype and gripe over his new contract, the vultures have definitely circled.
A heckler told Bryce Harper he was "$330M, 0-for-3."
Harper told him to "shut the f–k up"…and then hit a walk-off grand slam ?
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 16, 2019
Lack of Team Success
Both the Padres and Phillies are up and coming teams. A handful of ‘experts’ picked the Phillies to win the East or at least the Wild Card, but not everyone. Realistically, they’re still a year or two away from competing. The Padres are a team that most people agree will probably be competitive in a few years. They had a hot start in 2019 that perhaps magnified those expectations. They’ve obviously cooled to a place that’s more realistic. They’re a young team, with young talent. They’ll get better as they learn.
Still, both teams aren’t leading their respective divisions, while just the Phils are on the outside of a Wild Card spot and looking in. That is only making the backlash worse, despite that probably being unfair.
Dodgers Front Office Is Smarter Than Me
Many of us insisted in the off season that signing Harper was a priority for the Dodgers to remain competitive. While most felt it, the majority thought that a big free agent signing was imperative.
From “move Corey Seager to 2nd base and let Machado play SS,” to us justifying to ourselves that the Dodgers didn’t have too many outfielders, it was a hot mess of an off season. The Dodgers front office didn’t operate in this frantic state. Friedman and company knew what they were doing.
Cody Bellinger is en route to winning MVP or the runner up. Alex Verdugo has had a great rookie season. Matt Beaty and Will Smith have been hot shot rookies, etc. This could go on. The Dodgers front office knew they had the talent in the organization, and didn’t need to spend upwards of $300 million on a player they’d be paying into their late 30’s.
This isn’t a knock on those contracts, either. The Phillies attendance has gone up this year quite a bit. And the Padres with Machado and potential ROY Fernando Tatis Jr are a fun team to watch. Signing guys like these has helped those respective teams get closer to where they want to be. It just was clear that neither were the best fit for the Dodgers. We didn’t need Harper, and we didn’t need Machado.
I was wrong, and many of us were wrong.