September 21, 2021

Should Bryce Harper Be the New Favorite for NL MVP?

Whether it was gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, or being the No. 1 pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, it was clear that Bryce Harper was destined to be a superstar.

In 2015, at the tender age of 22, Harper had his official coming-out party when he was named the NL MVP. During that historic season, he led all of baseball in OBP (.460), slugging (.649), OPS (1.109), OPS+(198), and was first in the NL in runs scored (118) and home runs (42). While he may not be leading baseball in all of those categories in 2021, he does lead in OPS (1.047) and OPS+ (181).

Thanks to his stellar season, Harper has officially overtaken Fernando Tatis Jr. as the betting favorite for NL MVP. FanDuel Sportsbook has Harper as a slight -130 favorite as Tatis has fallen to +110. The next closest to Harper and Tatis is the Dodgers' Max Muncy, who is sitting at +2000.

This has become a two-man race and Harper has quietly taken control with two weeks left in the season, and may just lead the Phillies to their first playoff appearance since 2011.

A Hot Summer

Coming into August, Harper was sitting at +1200 to win the NL MVP. An easy schedule and a hot bat by Harper not only put the Phillies in first place in the NL East for a brief moment, but it also resurrected any chance the Phillies had of a playoff spot which put Harper right in the middle of the MVP race.

Since July, Harper slashed .328/.448/.678 with an OPS of 1.126 and added 13 home runs. In the month of August alone, Harper slashed .323/.444/.774 with an OPS of 1.219. If those numbers confuse you, just take my word for it, those are MVP numbers.

A Return To Glory?

This season Harper has a slash of .311/.427/.620 with an OPS of 1.047. He also has 33 home runs, 93 runs scored, 80 RBI, and an rWAR of 5.3. For reference, in Harper's 2015 MVP season, he hit 42 home runs, 99 RBI, 118 runs scored, and had an rWAR of 9.7. He also slashed .330/.460/.649 with an OPS of 1.109. 

Haper became an afterthought shortly after signing a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in 2019. His former team, the Washington Nationals, went on to defeat the Houston Astros in the World Series that season as Harper and the Phillies watched the entire playoffs from home. Ever since his 2015 season, Harper has been on the decline. His stats were well below his career averages and he was striking out at an alarming rate.

Now in his third year with the Phillies, Harper is starting to return to his once-dominant form. The can't-miss-prospect who didn't miss, is suddenly one of the game's top players again.

The Phillies' Playoff Push

During Harper's MVP push, the Phillies now find themselves just three games back of the Braves for the NL East title and 4.5 games back of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot. With no-shot at home field in the Wild Card game, the Phillies have two paths to the playoffs. The easiest remaining schedule in baseball, which includes finishing the season with three games in Atlanta, the Phillies have an excellent chance at grabbing a playoff spot.

The Padres currently have the hardest remaining schedule while the Cardinals have the ninth-hardest remaining schedule. The Phillies have to capitalize on the schedule advantage, especially with just 12 games remaining.

A big part of the Phillies' playoff push will land on Harper's chase towards the MVP. He has been hot since July and has not looked back. In September, Harper has hit 11 home runs and has an OBP of .500. He has also reached base in 27-of-28 games and is on a 15-game on-base streak. If Harper can keep those numbers up, and the Phillies take advantage of the easiest remaining schedule, there is no excuse to not making the playoffs.

It has not been all Harper for the Phillies in 2021. Cy Young candidate Zack Wheeler has a 2.83 ERA with 231 SOs in 200.1 IP, while second basemen Jean Segura holds a respectable slash line of .298/.357/.452 with an OPS of .809. Although star catcher, J.T. Realmuto has had a slightly down-season, and first baseman Rhys Hoskins was lost for the season due to an abdominal injury, the Phillies have been a good baseball team as of late, and that is all thanks to Harper and his climb to the top of the MVP list.

Photo: Getty Images