Bryce Harper was a lock to win the NL MVP award at the all-star break. The Nationals had a 87.3 percent chance at winning the NL East and the 22-year-old slugger was batting .339 with 26 home runs, 61 RBI and produced a league-leading 5.7 wins above replacement.
Then the second half flipped that all upside down: the Nats find themselves 6 1/2 games behind the Mets, barely staying above .500, and out of the playoff picture — taking Harper out of the MVP conversation, as well.
Since the divisional era began in 1994, there have been 41 MVPs awarded. Of those, 35 came from playoff teams, and all but one came from a winning team. The six MVP winners to come from a team that watched the playoffs in October, and their league rank in wins above replacement that year, were:
- Larry Walker, 1997 Colorado Rockies, second
- Barry Bonds, 2001 San Francisco Giants, first
- Alex Rodriguez, 2003 Texas Rangers, first
- Barry Bonds, 2004 San Francisco Giants, first
- Ryan Howard, 2006 Philadelphia Phillies, ninth
- Albert Pujols, 2008 St. Louis Cardinals, first
With the exception of Howard, who hit 58 home runs that year, the pattern is clear: be one of the best two players in your league per fWAR. And for now, Harper qualifies. But so does Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s hard to vote for Goldschmidt, also on a non-contender, over Harper, but Kershaw is again making a case for most valuable player consideration.
The reigning NL MVP and Cy Young winner has recovered from his underwhelming first-half and is again looking like the most dominating pitcher in the league.
Since the break he is sporting a 1.00 ERA (supported by a 1.40 FIP, which estimates what his ERA should be using his peripheral stats) and is perhaps pitching better this season despite hitters having better luck on balls put in play.
Kershaw is posting a .290 batting average on balls in play, his highest since his rookie season in 2008.
His home run-to-flyball ratio (11.6 percent) is also the highest it has been in eight years despite six straight years being under 8.1 percent.
In other words, Kershaw has the fifth lowest ERA (2.29) despite batters having better results in any of his other Cy Young or MVP campaigns. And he is doing it for a team that has an 88.8 percent chance at making the postseason.
His teammate, Zack Greinke, has also been dominant, but is still 1.4 wins above replacement worse so far this season.
If Kershaw does get the votes for MVP, he would become the first back-to-back pitcher to win the award since Hal Newhouser did it in 1944 and 1945 for the Detroit Tigers. No pitcher has ever repeated in the National League, but Carl Hubbell (1933) and Dizzy Dean (134) were the last two consecutive pitchers to earn the honor back to back.