clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bryce Harper is in the midst of another MVP season

After a disappointing 2016 season hampered by injury, Harper is back to dominating the league in 2017.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Winning a Most Valuable Player award is a delicate process. As much as some in the analytical community would like it to be handed to the player with the highest WAR (which raises a whole other thorny conversation on which WAR), it is far more involved than that. It is, after all, a subjective award, determined by dozens of idiosyncratic voters. Parsing out who is the best player in a given year requires at least a little bias to come into play, whether it be about position, offense versus defense, or the player being on a team that wins games. Bryce Harper is having a season that could appeal to all of those biases and win him another MVP award.

When Harper finally won his first MVP award in 2015, it was on the back of a remarkable season. His slash line sat at .330/.460/.649, which helped make him nearly 100 percent better than the average hitter with his 197 wRC+. It was one of the best offensive seasons, if not the best one, since Barry Bonds was on the field as a player. It was hard to imagine nearly every possible outcome for the 2016 season being anything other than worse, even if Harper had put together another MVP-worthy year; there’s not much room to go up from a season like that.

The context of the tremendous season he had in 2015 only made the disappointing .243/.373/.441 slash line, 112 wRC+ follow-up season of 2016 even more upsetting. There were whispers that he was never fully healthy, but even months later, nothing has been confirmed. What we have seen, however, is that Harper back on his game in 2017. And it should be enough to get him back into the MVP conversation.

To say that Harper has quietly had an impressive season would be unfair, because he’s certainly receiving some press. But as the baseball world obsesses over the debate about who the best third baseman in the National League is, Harper has forced himself into the MVP discussion in more impressive fashion than half of those stars dwelling at the hot corner. It’s still far too early to make a definitive MVP argument about one player over another, and basing any rate stats on what Harper is “on pace” for is bad analysis. Instead, we can focus on the fact that he’s just been very, very good for the first four months of the season.

Over the years, whether it be a function of being pitched around more or Harper’s development of more pure patience, the Nationals superstar has turned himself into a 3.2 percent K-BB% hitter. Doing so while producing an ISO of .298 shows just how special he is. In today’s game anybody with a little buff and the right (buzzword alert) launch angle can become a power hitter. That increase in power is often paired with a drastic increase in whiffs and strikeouts. The mighty Aaron Judge and his 32 home runs come with a strikeout rate to match (30.1 percent). When compared to Harper’s 25 home runs and 18.8 percent strikeout rate, Judge suddenly looks a little less impressive. Not to discount Judge, of course, who is having a tremendous and exciting season. Rather, the comparison shows just how impressive and rare Harper’s talent at the plate is.

While he’s not currently leading the league in wRC+ (only Justin Turner is better in the National League, minimum 300 PAs, and only Judge in the AL), it is Harper’s all-around offensive game that puts him among the game’s best hitters. It’s not simply the power, nor is it simply the plate discipline. It’s all of it compounded into one super hitter. It is his ability to limit strikeouts while taking walks and getting on base. It is his ability to hit the ball for incredible power. It is his ability to hit for average.

Harper enamored us with his near-perfect slash line in 2015. He had everything that appealed to both the analytical minds and the more traditional ones. With some minor drop-offs in production from that MVP season, he’s essentially doing it all again. He once again has the perfect slash line while residing at the top of the wRC+ and WAR leaderboards. He plays for one of the best teams in the National League. It’s far too early to tell, but all signs point toward Harper making a run at his second MVP season before the age of 25. We could all appreciate that a little bit more.


Ryan Schultz is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for BP Southside and BP Wrigleyville. Follow him on twitter @rschultzy20