Just as several National League clubs have come and gone from contention, so have these clubs’ MVP candidates. You could say that the Nationals, in the hunt for much of the season, would have been the home of MVP Bryce Harper – clearly the hands-down favorite to win the prestigious NL award. But now that the Mets have leap-frogged Washington – and looks like they’re there to stay – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to award Harper for his personal success this season.
For sure, Bryce Harper has been baseball’s most elite offensive player in 2015. FanGraphs ranks him at the top of numerous categories, such as fWAR, batting and base-running, runs saved and earned, wRC+, wOBA, and of course batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He leads baseball in each of those categories and ordinarily would be the clear favorite for the Most Valuable Player Award. However, the past thirty days have been a nightmare for fans of Washington after being swept by the Mets who took sole possession of first and are a safe bet not to give it up. The Nationals have gone from potentially the best club in the game to one of the greatest disappointments, and it’s difficult to imagine a player on such a team taking home honors as the league’s most valuable man.
Consider the context: Washington has the same record as Arizona as of August 23, 61-61, both .500 baseball teams. Is there any reason to assume that the voters would shrink from the idea that perhaps a Diamondback should be the National League’s most valuable player? Indeed, Arizona boasts dual MVP candidates of their own, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, who are enjoying perhaps as strong a campaign as Harper, and make the MVP contest pretty competitive. “Goldy” and former first-round pick Pollock each rank in the top five of baseball’s players per FanGraphs.com’s model of Wins Above Replacement.
Of course, we’re not yet out of the month of August and probably shouldn’t even enter into this kind of discussion until at least the close to the end of the regular season. But it really is strange: we’re unable to target a logical candidate who should be awarded MVP. And, if there is one, by what measure can we assess his formidable candidacy. Consider also Zack Greinke, whose possible contract year is one for the ages, as his 1.58 earned run average leads the league by some margin. He leads a division-leading team, and unless the Dodgers fold (which unbelievably is looking entirely possible as of today), Greinke will have additional chances to impact his club. Harper is having a Mike Trout year, and Trout has been the best player in the game for basically each of the past four years. Goldschmidt and Pollock will garner votes but are standing on the bubble. Anthony Rizzo won’t garner many votes, and we can assume that Buster Posey won’t either.
All of that said, there’s really no way to know how all of this will play out in the hands of the voters. We don’t know what they’re thinking, whether they prefer dominant participation on a division-winning ball-club or the sexy statistics that have increasingly convinced them of something they might’ve otherwise have not have considered five or six years ago. What we do know is that we’re currently talking about a pool of four players: Harper, Greinke, Goldschmidt, and Pollock.
I think it comes down to whether the voters are in the mood to give it to a pitcher (Greinke). Outside of Harper, unlike Trout a few years ago, there’s no obvious alternative. Paul Goldschmidt‘s and Joey Votto‘s teams are even worse. Anthony Rizzo plays a similar position and will look obviously inferior to Harper based on stats. Guys with good WAR like Brandon Crawford and A.J. Pollock aren’t the types the voters are usually into. Buster Posey? Good team, but again, he’s just having his normal season. Harper’s been crazy since Opening Day and has gotten tons of press – I think only Greinke could possibly stand in Bryce Harper‘s way, no matter what the Nationals do.
-Dan Szymborski, ESPN.com columnist, ZiPS Prognosticator
So, when I asked Szymborski who he thinks the MVP will be, his answer came as no surprise:
Harper. Dude’s hitting 330/457/642 and it’s not even 2001. Even though he’s a corner outfielder, he’s still playing solid defense there.
As a matter of fact, that is exactly right. There’s a very good possibility that the Nationals suddenly will right themselves before the season ends, now that Anthony Rendon is playing better, Trea Turner is on the major league roster, and they’re less injured than they were a month ago when their slide out of a post-season spot began. Win or lose, it probably doesn’t affect Bryce Harper‘s MVP case too much, although it certainly would’ve added to it plentifully.
Bryce Harper is having a better season than anybody else in baseball. He’s becoming the Mike Trout of the National League, the “best player in the game” really. In fact, as Dave Cameron noted last week, roughly the entire core of the Nationals has been hurt this year sans the 22-year old Harper. So, its pretty silly to bring up the whole “well the MVP brings his team to the playoffs” argument. It’s a non-sequitur.
Bryce Harper will probably win this year’s Most Valuable Player Award. Though Clayton Kershaw has been better than Zack Greinke this year by FIP and fWAR, Greinke’s going to get a whole bunch of votes. There are going to be some old school voters that vote for the big run-knocker, Paul Goldschmidt, but even if things get even worse for the Nationals, it’s Harper’s award to lose.