Bryce Harper signing the most lucrative contract in sports history with the Philadelphia Phillies was the biggest storyline of the MLB offseason. Now with spring training underway and Harper seeing his first action, we're starting the way teams will defend Harper is already becoming a huge topic, with it potentially having a massive effect on the conversation in baseball.
In a Saturday game against the Toronto Blue Jays, four outfielders lined up in the outfield against Harper in one of the most unusual shifts you'll ever see in a baseball game. Not only was there an extra outfielder, but the remaining infield set up between first and second base—leaving the entire left side of the infield completely open.
Larry Bowa, who has been around baseball going on five decades, told Philly.com it was something he had never seen before. And though it might've been an experimental strategy by the Blue Jays in an exhibition setting, it has already sparked conversation among pundits and baseball fans about whether or not "it's right" to deploy this sort of defensive strategy.
Baseball fans are interesting birds at two extremes; you're either in the old-school, "get rid of the designated hitter" camp, or you can be so firmly in the Moneyball, sabermetrics world that you live and die for the stats. Both these worlds will collide if teams continue to use the four outfielder defense against Harper this year. Here's a bit of the early chatter—and this is before we have the predictable sports talk shows debate this ad nausea on a slow news day.
According to the Philly.com piece, teams used four outfielders 65 times in 2018—and batters hit .186 in those at-bats. That sounds like a successful strategy. And for teams trying to keep Harper in check, they might just try anything—even at the risk of sacrificing the support of the old-school, hardo baseball fan.