Bryce Harper and the MVP enigma

Washington Nationals fans have been waiting for this since 2012. This was the year that Bryce Harper would fulfill his destiny and become the National League MVP while leading the Nats to greatness.

Unfortunately for Nats fans, Harper has delivered, whereas nearly everyone else in the organization, all the way up to GM Mike Rizzo, has failed.

I have already shared how distraught I am with how the Nationals organization has let down a roster full of some of the best talent in baseball. In fact, the Jonathan Papelbon trade was more food for the fodder. The Nats were in first place when they went out and brought in a guy who indeed has playoff experience, but has been a questionable teammate for some time. You happen to see where the Nationals are ranked since he arrived?

But I digress. The other day, my friend and loyal Wayniac The Pooch posed an interesting question.

Have you looked into Harper’s season yet? I didn’t realize how good a season he’s had. Should he get MVP even if the Nats falter from here? All the other top dogs are on contenders that I can see. But his numbers sure seem to standout, no? He saw 20 pitches against the Braves last Thursday… didn’t swing once… and scored four runs. This is a guy that does it any way he needs to, and he’s just 22? Good grief, isn’t that an MVP?

In many aspects, The Pooch is 100 percent correct. As of this writing (September 9th), Harper is second in the MLB in average (.333), third in the NL in home runs (34) and leading the NL in runs scored with 101. Throw in 83 RBI and Harper has been responsible for 184 of the Nationals 612 runs scored, or essentially Harper has been 30 percent of the Nationals offense. They would be nowhere without him.

CHICAGO - 1987: Andre Dawson #8 of the Chicago Cubs follows through on his swing during a game with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1987 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO – 1987: Andre Dawson #8 of the Chicago Cubs follows through on his swing during a game with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1987 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

But that is the conundrum of the MLB MVP Award. Who really deserves MVP? I personally remember the outrage in 1987 when first year Chicago Cub Andre Dawson took home the NL MVP. His numbers were outstanding: he hit .297 with a MLB leading 49 home runs AND 137 RBI. The problem was that The Hawk’s greatness led the Cubs to a dead last finish in the NL East (remember those days?).

That same season Jack Clark helped turn the Cardinals from a 79-game winner in 1986 to a 95-game winning, NL-best beast that fell one game short to Kirby Puckett and his Minnesota Twins in the World Series. Clark hit .286 with 35 home runs and 106 RBI, while leading the league in walks, OBP, slugging percentage and for you SABRmetric guys, he led baseball in OPS. Sounds like an MVP to me, no? The Pooch had an answer:

Shouldn’t it be the FIRST player you would select to start your team? If every player were released tomorrow, who would you pick? That’s the MVP, I would get the guy who brings the most value to winning, not the best stats. Even if Shaq had shot worse during his prime, he would still get my vote quite often.

So what is the Most Valuable Player? Is it based on his team’s overall performance? Over the past ten seasons, only two MVPs have been on non-playoff teams. Both hail from the National League (an odd pattern, are their contending teams so deprived of superstar talent?) as Ryan Howard won in 2006 when they finished second behind the Mets and in 2008 when Albert Pujols and his Cardinals finished fourth. If it were based on team’s performance, history leans towards Harper not winning the Award.

Is the MVP based on where the team stands due to the player in question? Did The Hawk win that 1987 MVP because baseball felt that the Cubs would have essentially won zero games without him? If that is the case, then Harper is clearly the MVP. It’s simple math. We already said Harper is basically responsible for a third of the Nats runs, take away a third of their runs, these guys are in the cellar.

Is the MVP Award given to someone who is most valuable to the league? Think about it. Over the past ten years, the MVP Award has gone to some pretty standup, likable guys. Everyone was rooting for the feel good story (at the time) in Josh Hamilton when he cruised to MVP in 2010. Everyone loves Pujols. Miguel Cabrera? Andrew McCutchen? Unless you are a jealous fan, it is nearly impossible to hate them. Mike Trout? Dustin Pedroia? That little chipmunk became the face of Red Sox Nation. He didn’t win MVP for eye popping numbers, he won it for what he brought to the table.

Harper has certainly had his bouts with certain fan bases and the media, but the majority seems to take to him. But he is also widely seen as the future of baseball, highlighting a list full of superstars in the making all under the age of 23. Harper has certainly embraced the spotlight, and while his antics are sometimes seen as amateur, he leaves all his “bad boy” stuff on the field, which isn’t easy to say about athletes these days.

Photo cred: Washington Post
Photo cred: Washington Post

If it is pure numbers Harper is the NL MVP this year. But again, the most valuable team is a winning team, and these Nationals are a mere four games above .500, six games out of first and nine and a half out of the Wild Card. This is a Nationals team that had the best record in the NL last season, and seemingly went out and got BETTER this offseason, yet have stumbled. From an outsider looking in with little knowledge of the sport of baseball, does that seem like an MVP to you?

Maybe if we look at who stands in Harper’s way it could help make things more clear. I don’t think the Cardinals or the Mets have an MVP candidate as they simply have stacked rosters of good players. If another Dodgers pitcher wins an MVP Award I won’t watch NL baseball ever again, but Zack Greinke is definitely going to receive some votes.

Anthony Rizzo has the best numbers on the Cubs, but let’s face reality. Despite leading the MLB in strikeouts, Kris Bryant is the face of this franchise. Can you give him the MVP Award? His numbers aren’t screaming MVP, but they are outstanding for a rookie. This Cubs team hasn’t seen .500 or higher than fifth place in FIVE YEARS, so you better bet that the rookie that everyone waited for will garner some attention come MVP voting time.

I think Harper’s real competition is Andrew McCutchen. If you were to ask who the best position players in the NL were, I don’t think there is any question that McCLUTCH and Harper along with Paul Goldschmidt reign supreme (unless Giancarlo Stanton were healthy, of course). McCutchen’s numbers are deceiving. They are great numbers, but merely good for him. When you take away the unbelievably slow start he had at the beginning of the season as he adjusted to No Dreads Life, you realize he has been one of the best players in the game over the past few months. Oh, and the Pirates are likely heading to the playoffs.

So where does that leave Harper? When it comes to voting for awards, your guess is as good as mine. Unless the Nats put together one hell of a run here in the last few weeks, I think this will be the year that goes down as theĀ Year that Bryce Harper was Robbed of the MVP.

What do you think? Is Harper the MVP?

8 thoughts on “Bryce Harper and the MVP enigma”

  1. So no Cespedes for MVP? I know he spent 3/4 of the season in the AL but you can’t deny what has happened to the Mets since he arrived 8/1. He’ll likely have played around 55 games or so with the Mets by the time the season ends, which is 1/3 of the time. CAll me a homer, but if there’s any question as to Harper’s MVP candidacy, Cespedes should be right there in the talks to take it away from him.

    1. You know I was torn about including him, but I just couldn’t do it because he has only been in the NL for a month. But also look at this:

      11-2, 1.65, 7 complete games and 3 shutouts

      Those were CC Sabathia’s numbers in 2008 when he was acquired at the deadline by the Brewers. No Cy Young and no MVP.

      Baseball is a sport that is mired in its history and precedents. If CC got nothing that year, then I don’t think any deadline acquisition could.

      At the end of September, I would reconsider it. Right now, Cespedes is amid a hot month in New York, and it’s a big one that has provided a spark to an otherwise lackluster Mets offense. But I don’t know if that gets him the MVP right now.

      Love the insight though, thanks for reading.

  2. I would agree with Fee. It pains me to say this, but talk about must watch tv. I’m actually turning the channel to watch Cespedes bat, and it’s usually followed by a text from my mom, who at times I think loves the Mets more than me. The kid has taken NY by storm and put the Mets on his back. He has hit 14 hrs in 36 games with the Mets which equates to about 1 hr every 11 at bats. In the last three games alone his stats were: 6-for-14 with two homers, three doubles and seven RBI. Those scream MVP numbers when you are talking about games the Mets had to have. Cespedes prob won’t win because of his limited National League playing time but I expect him to grab some votes that may make this race closer than expected.

    1. Thanks for chiming in.

      Again, as I commented to Fee, is 36 games enough to win someone an MVP Award? Cespedes is a beast, but I just don’t know if a hot month erases what Harper and even McCutchen has done all year.

      Like I said, let’s revisit at the end of September. If he hasn’t cooled off, he may make some noise in the voting. But don’t forget, NY is a bittersweet town. If he goes into an ice cold funk for the next two weeks, people will be begging to bench him and put Conforto back in.

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