Phillies' key players, Ranger Suárez and Bryce Harper, lead a serious NL contender

Checking in on two key Phillies players one month into the season.
Philadelphia Phillies starter Ranger Suárez
Philadelphia Phillies starter Ranger Suárez / Denis Poroy/GettyImages

As the Philadelphia Phillies complete their season’s first month, it might be early to pass out grades, but perhaps it’s all right to consider how true key players are performing. Not all players are genuinely pivotal to an MLB team’s success, no matter how much a “team game” baseball is.

Just about six weeks ago, a few people decided that Ranger Suárez is a key Phillies player this year, for some simply because three aces are better than two. Others saw Suárez and superstar Bryce Harper as pivotal since both players are fully capable of excellent contributions, but both, last year, literally started their seasons late.

One player whose principal job is to produce runs and another whose job is to stop opponents’ runs seems almost like a rule, as well, when picking key players.

Where are Harper and Suárez as April ends? The two starters ahead of Suárez in the rotation, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, and the outrageously expensive shortstop, Trea Turner, are all doing fine. In other words, other arguable key Phillies are producing. What about the two guys who could give the Phillies five productive stars at the same time?

Bryce Harper has been producing since his slow start

In his 23 games since Opening Day, Bryce Harper has had six multi-hit games, beginning when he snapped a 0-for-13 streak with three home runs and six RBI on April 2. In these games, the Phillies have gone 5-1. In the 11 games in which Harper has booked any hit, they are 8-3. Thus far, the slugger has six home runs and 18 RBI. His batting average is .244.

Let’s back up — the Phillies first baseman is gathering a hit in just about every other game he plays, and when he does, the ultra-current record says this version of his team has a 73 percent chance of winning.

And this is pretty much without considering the eight other offensive players, given how good the Phillies starters have been.

In his recent return from paternity leave on April 25, Harper went 2-for-3 with a walk. He began his afternoon against the Reds by grounding into a double play, slammed a two-run homer to right in the third inning, and then nearly knocked off a third baseman’s glove with a 112 mph ground ball single in the fifth.

The home run appeared to be a direct response to a fan’s taunting of Harper as “overrated.”

Additionally, as Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer noted, Harper is playing an excellent first base. He is among the top three now in Outs Above Average as calculated by Baseball Savant and in Defensive Runs Saved per FanGraphs.

That’s one key player producing. His batting average will probably rise during the summer.

Ranger Suárez continues to pitch like an ace

What about Ranger Suárez, then? Through his first five starts, he was nearly perfect, posting a 1.36 ERA with a quite clean 0.68 WHIP.

On April 22, after some prompting from a reporter, manager Rob Thomson declared himself lacking “the vocabulary” to describe his starters’ terrific results. This followed what was supposed to be a “pullback” game following Suárez’s complete game win against the Rockies on April 16. Instead, the left-hander completed seven innings against the Reds, pushing his scoreless inning streak to 25 in a 7-0 Phillies win. Thomson called the lefty’s slider that evening “really, really good.”

Before taking the mound Saturday night, he was ranked 10th in pitcher power rankings by

Suárez promptly turned the clock back to 1967, when pitchers sometimes threw two complete games in three starts without throwing pitches north of 95 mph. He fell a bit short and had his scoreless innings streak broken at 32 2/3 innings, but he moved to 5-0 as the Phils won, 5-1. His ERA ticked down to 1.32. (He also had Alex Bohm to thank; the third baseman battered Dylan Cease for four RBI.)

Suárez does not throw hard; so how does he put these numbers up? He hits his spots precisely. After Saturday's start against San Diego, he ranks in the 90th percentile in hard-hit rate, allowing only 27.6 percent. He's in the 78th percentile barrel rate and 91st in walk rate — an insane 4.1 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.

Ranger Suárez and Bryce Harper are not perfect players, but they are key players. So far, they’re earning their Phillies paychecks.

And the Phillies have five stars playing well at the same time.