When Bryce Harper went off in 2015, posting monster numbers for the Washington Nationals, it was easy to presume that he would be the best player in the National League for the better part of the next decade.
What else could anyone have believed? Harper won the MVP in unanimous fashion last season after posting a preposterous slash line of .330/.460/.649, hitting 42 home runs and scoring 118 runs.
It’s was one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. Harper was 22 years old.
Article continues below ...
There’s nothing to say that Harper cannot reclaim the crown, but the throne has been abdicated this season. No one quite knows what happened to Harper, and he’s not having a poor year by traditional standards, but he’s nowhere near the performer he was last season. In 2016, his OPS is 290 points lower, his batting average is down 86 points and he’s hit 24 homers.
Again, those numbers aren’t poor — but they’re well below the benchmark of last season.
The poor year — no matter the reasons behind it — has logically re-opened the debate over who is the best position player in the National League. There are some exciting new entries into the conversation.
Kris Bryant is 24 years old. Last year he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award (yes, the Rookie of the Year was older than the MVP.) This year, for the best team in baseball, Bryant is going bonkers — he’s hit 39 homers, with a .295 batting average and a .953 OPS. They’re not Harper 2015 numbers, but they’re probably good enough to win Bryant the National League MVP Award this year.
Corey Seager is going to follow Bryant’s lead and win National League Rookie of the Year in November. The Dodgers’ 22-year-old shortstop has arguably sparked the team to the National League West title with tremendous defense and a steady, refined and productive approach at the plate. He’s hitting .312 this season, with 26 home runs and an .890 slugging percentage.
There are a lot of similarities. They’re both young and they both saw almost immediate major-league success. The numbers dictate that if any player was going to take the title from Harper, it would be Bryant. The Cubs third baseman’s and outfielder’s production at the plate is markedly better than Seager’s, even though they have different hitting styles (Bryant is unbridled power, similar to Harper, where Seager is a spray hitter looking to find the gaps.)
But Seager has two big things going for him — he’s a much better defender than Bryant and he is unquestionably the position-player face of the Dodgers.
Bryant might be the best player on his team, but there isn’t much of a gap between him and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who will also get MVP votes this year. As a duo, the two are unmatched, but you can make the argument that Bryant isn’t the best player on his own team (you’d lose, but the argument could be made.) The Dodgers have some excellent players, but no one doubts that Seager is the man in L.A.
Both candidates have strong cases — and we can’t totally count Harper out of the conversation yet. So who wins?
That’s a difficult question. Bryant is definitely in the lead — as the face of Adidas baseball, he’s featured in the company’s ubiquitous ad, he’s on the Cubs, who have never had higher mainstream appeal, and he’s going to win the MVP Award.
If only there was some sort of postseason tournament to figure all this out…
What’s that you say, there is? And it starts next week?
We can venture a guess now, but the answers will probably be determined this postseason. As if they weren’t already intriguing enough.