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As the Season Winds Down, Bryce Harper Makes His Case For a Second NL MVP

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With all of the hype surrounding players such as Shohei Ohtani, Wander Franco, Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Joey Votto and Max Scherzer, certain players have gotten lost in the shuffle of the media frenzy. One such player, despite being one of the league’s most controversial players over the course of his career, is Phillies slugger Bryce Harper.

Bryce Harper, once considered by many to be the league’s most overrated superstar, has been so consistently dominant that perhaps he’s become the league’s most underrated superstar. Still only 28, the 6x All-Star is in his third year of a 13 year contract and hasn’t even been selected to an All-Star game since his final season in DC. Over the first three years of his deal, however, Harper’s been excellent. In 341 games as a Philly heading into play today, Harper has hit 81 homeruns, drew 233 walks and has slashed .281/.400/.557. His 10.5 WPA per BBRef is the highest of any WPA of any 341 span since Harper inked the deal with the Phillies. Coming in second is Braves 2020 MVP recipient Freddie Freeman, who put up a 10.4 WPA from Opening Day of 2019 to 8/22 of this year.

Zooming in to only look at Bryce’s 2021 season, the only thing relevant to the 2021 MVP race, Bryce has been outstanding for a surging Philadelphia club. Bryce’s 183 OPS+ is 83% better than league average, as he’s slashed .313/.427/.626 with 33 homeruns in 441 at bats. He’s drawn 85 walks, stolen 13 bases and posted a league-leading 1.053 OPS. For Harper, he’s the prototypical 2021 hitter as a Statcast darling. His 116.3 max exit velocity is top 3% in the league, complimenting his 92.2 average exit velocity, among the top 10%. His 17.5% barrel percentage is top 4% in the league. His expected batting average is .303 and expected slugging percentage .606. While Harper has slightly outperformed his peripherals, those would still be MVP caliber numbers. His walk rate is among the top 1% of the league, whereas his strikeout rate is lower than the average strikeout rate across the league. Harper’s quality of contact has seemed to improved from previous years, as well. Harper’s 2021 line drive and fly ball percentages are higher than his career averages while his groundball rate is lower than his career totals.

His 6.2 oWAR is second in the NL to only Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis will be Harper’s biggest competition for MVP, but as the Padres falter so may Tatis’ MVP hopes. Comparatively, Harper and Tatis are as close as two candidates could get. Tatis has been worth 1.5 more win shares, per bWAR. However, WAR doesn’t necessarily decide league-MVP, considering the top traditional position player in MLB is Blue Jays’ 2B Marcus Semien. There’s a positional adjustment and shortstops by virtue tend to be worth more than a right-fielder. Heading into play on the eighteenth, the Phillies are only a game behind the Padres for the second NL Wild Card spot. Not only that, the Phillies are only two games back of Ozzie Albies and the Braves for the NL East crown. Should the Padres miss out and the Phillies sneak in, it’s difficult to make an argument for Tatis over Harper. While Tatis has a substantial amount of homeruns (39) and stolen bases (25) on Harper, Harper has played to better rate numbers. Tatis is having an excellent, MVP-worthy campaign himself with a .999 OPS and 173 OPS+, but in every major rate statistic he’s below Bryce Harper outside of his SLG (which is only .03 points higher).

Bryce Harper is unequivocally the best player on a Philedalphia team that on paper shouldn’t go to the postseason. There’s an argument to be made that Fernando Tatis is not the best player on the Padres, as third baseman Manny Machado finished third in MVP voting in 2021 and will most likely end up as a first-ballot Cooperstown lock. Bryce Harper hit 42 homeruns with a .330/.460/.649 slash in his 2015 MVP breakthrough season. Over the course of his career, he’s hit 265 homeruns and worked to a .279/.391/.524 slash. He has over 1200 hits, over 800 walks and a 39.6 career bWAR during his MLB tenure and is still only 28 years old. Bryce Harper is without question one of the best hitters of his generation, but can he add a second MVP to his resume before the age of 30? Only time will tell, but it’s all contingent upon his finish over the last few weeks.

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