PHILADELPHIA — Should Bryce Harper be the National League’s Most Valuable Player? He certainly has got a chance to win the end-of-season award. At 22, he is producing like few ever have at his age, leading the National League in batting average, home runs, runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and WAR as of Wednesday night. Some say the most valuable player must be on a winning team, and Harper is — though his team may not win as much as some thought it would. The odds suggest he will not play in the playoffs. Given all that, should he win MVP?
Max Scherzer, who played with Tigers’ superstar Miguel Cabrera when he won the Triple Crown, thinks so.
“I’ve seen some great seasons, but what Bryce has been able to accomplish this year has been pretty remarkable considering how he’s had to do it,” Scherzer said. “He’s the one player I’ve seen — like, Miggy’s Miggy, from Day 1 to 162, he’s the same guy — but I feel like we’ve seen Bryce get better as the year keeps progressing.
“And it’s not necessarily just home runs, but the ability to pick up RBI, do the little things right, make himself as good a player as he can get. If I take anything from this season of watching him, it was the fact that he was able to get better.”
Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who Harper leans on heavily, said Harper’s case for MVP is “about as valid as it gets.” Desmond leads the Nationals with 140 games played. Harper is second with 137. In counting stats and average stats, Harper leads the Nationals in nearly every offensive category. He has never gone more than two games in a row without a hit.
“Throughout the course of the year, with so many injuries, with me struggling, with other guys struggling, he basically carried us,” Desmond said. “In a sense, we didn’t help him out, but for him to be able to do what he’s doing and thrive under circumstances is completely worthy, in my opinion.”
As Desmond spoke about Harper, sitting in a chair in the visitor’s clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park, he pointed out a magazine that featured Harper on the cover and said he thinks the league is probably grateful to have such a visible star — which “takes a lot of work” because of “the energy it takes away from baseball.”
“The MVP is the most valuable player,” he said. “The player that brings the most value, not only to his team but to the league. I think value can be described in many different ways. I don’t know if you’re watching TV or not, but this guy’s been an incredible ambassador for the game of baseball over the last three-plus years. He’s 22. The game relies on him, along with others, because there are a select few guys that have become the face of MLB, and he’s one of them. And he’s delivering.”
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman said Harper would have his vote as well.
“With the things he’s done, obviously there’s been a lot of injuries,” Zimmerman said. “So he’s been keeping us in the race the majority of the season.”
Nationals Manager Matt Williams has said repeatedly he doesn’t want to focus on the MVP award yet because he doesn’t want Harper to focus on it, and that among the things that stand out is the “impact he has on a game every day for us.” That impact extends to defense, where Harper has saved the third most runs above average of any National League right fielder, according to Fangraphs. He has eight outfield assists, a total that probably would be higher if runners did not hesitate to run against him because of the strength of his arm.
“His reputation precedes itself a little bit, and certainly you want that as a player, knowing that when a guy leaves the batter’s box on a ball down the line, he’s thinking twice about throwing to second,” Williams said. “He’s got a strong arm, he’s accurate, and that’s one of the reasons we moved him [to right], because he’s so dynamic.”
But if Harper is the most valuable player, it will be largely because of his offensive numbers, which have come despite the adversity of ever-shuffling lineups and missing stars that meant he got pitched around almost constantly for most of the season. As of Tuesday night, 38.3 percent of pitches thrown to him were strikes, the lowest percentage of any hitter in baseball.
“I think he’s definitely the MVP,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “Doing what he’s doing with the change in the lineups we’ve had, so many guys on the disabled list, being pitched around like he’s been … it’s just a testament to how really good he is. At his age, he’s putting together numbers only Hall of Famers are approaching. So I think, without a doubt, he’s the MVP of the league.”