The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt in a tight race for NL MVP

Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper is batting .339 with 26 home runs, 61 RBI and a 1.169 OPS. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Placeholder while article actions load

Bryce Harper has established himself as the best player in the National League in the first half of the season.

Harper, the Nationals’ 22-year-old slugger, is batting .339 with 26 home runs, 61 RBI and a 1.169 OPS. His 84 weighted runs created is 116 percent higher than average after you adjust for park and league effects. In fact, if his 216 wRC+ holds for the season, it would be the single best season by a 22-year-old ever.

It would be the 12th highest mark in the history of baseball by any player at any age and the fifth highest among all National League players.

There is only one person standing in the way of Harper being the unanimous choice for NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Goldschmidt is batting .340 with 21 home runs and a wRC+ of 183. His 4.5 wins above replacement are second only to Harper (5.7) in the National League.

But there is something else that could sway the voters: If Goldschmidt becomes the NL’s first triple crown winner since Joe Medwick in 1937.

It’s happened before. Miguel Cabrera won the 2012 American League MVP award behind baseball’s first triple crown since 1967, despite Mike Trout having a more valuable season according to wins above replacement.

Harper is projected by ZiPS to finish the season batting .322 with 40 home runs and 94 RBI, which would rank him third, first and ninth, respectively. Goldschmidt is projected to finish with a league-leading .323 average and 119 RBI plus 35 home runs (tied for second most).

It’s a long shot, but if Goldschmidt can be the league leader in average, home runs and RBI he could steal the MVP award from Harper, despite having a season for the ages.