Philadelphia Phillies’ outfielder Bryce Harper has been one of MLB’s premier outfielders over the last decade, with a .276/.387/.513, 232 home runs, and a 138 weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), a stat that encompasses offensive contributions like no other.
Those kinds of numbers at 28 years old have Harper on the trajectory to be elected as a member of the Hall of Fame one day.
Harper was brilliant in 2020, with a .268/.420/.542, a 151 wRC+, and 13 home runs for the Phillies, yet he didn’t receive votes for the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
Speaking of the MVP, Harper already has one to his name, which he won in 2015 back when he was the face of the Washington Nationals franchise.
That year, he hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs and a 197 (!) wRC+.
Does Harper have what it takes to win at least another MVP award before he retires as a major league player?
Harper Still Has an Eye-Popping Statistical Profile
It’s important to note that Harper performed at an MVP-level during two seasons so far: 2015, which he won, and also 2017.
That year, he slashed .319/.413/.595 with a 155 wRC+, 29 home runs, 95 runs scored, and 87 runs batted in (RBI.)
He did that over 111 games, and couldn’t play the whole year because of injury; he could have contended for the award with a full slate of games.
Having said this, let’s assess Harper’s chances of winning the award again.
Harper hasn’t surpassed the .300 threshold in batting average for three years in a row, but luckily, voters now prioritize other stats that the slugger provides aplenty.
For example, Harper has six straight seasons with an OBP (On Base Percentage) above .370, and led all qualified batters with a 20.1 BB% last year.
In other words, Harper has power and gets on base like few other hitters in the National League, so he has a chance of getting another MVP.
Did the "Bryce Harper is overrated" narrative get beaten into the ground so badly that it caused him to become underrated? Since the start of 2015 (min. 400 games), only two players in MLB have gotten on base at a better clip than Harper (.403) — Votto (.425) and Trout (.434). pic.twitter.com/5wFGliViaO
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) August 15, 2020
He also punishes the ball: in 2020, he finished in the 93rd percentile in average exit velocity, 92nd percentile in hard-hit rate, 99th percentile in expected wOBA, 96th percentile in expected batting average, 99th percentile in expected slugging, 97th percentile in barrel percentage.
Bryce Harper's homer reached the seats in no time 🚀
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) July 26, 2020
The only thing working against Harper as of now, besides his relatively modest batting average, is his defense.
Per Statcast’s Outs Above Average, a relatively new defensive metric, Harper was just in the 36th percentile.
Harper, after having -24 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 2018, worked hard on his defense and had +10 in 2019.
However, he regressed again in 2020 to finish with -1.
In any case, it seems like a fixable problem for a very good all-around athlete still in his prime and with above-average sprint speed (74th percentile) and a good outfield jump (67th percentile.)
The star power currently ruling the National League presents more of an obstacle for Harper winning another MVP than his own limitations.
Harper is an elite major leaguer, but so are Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña, Francisco Lindor, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Christian Yelich, Mookie Betts, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and others.
It’s evident that Harper would need to have a year like 2015 or 2017 in order to have a chance of adding a second hardware to his cabinet.
He remains an elite performer, but he would have to take it up a notch in order to compete with the aforementioned names.
In conclusion, Harper can win a second MVP, but he will have to have a nearly flawless season and improve his defensive metrics.