Originally written on The Baseball Page  |  Last updated 9/29/12

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has been crowned “The Chosen One” since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old. His talent has forever been impressive, but his God’s-gift-to-baseball status has rubbed more than one traditional fan the wrong way. His haircut, mustache, and tenacity are unfamiliar to a game so often accused of being boring. He’s the anti Derek Jeter in that he wears his emotions on his sleeve and plays the game with a ferocity that The Captain’s cool demeanor never betrays (whether it burns from within or not). Baseball veterans frown upon most teenage phenoms who receive national recognition before their first Major League hit, and Bryce Harper has been hit, poked fun of and hazed in his rookie campaign. Throughout, the veterans on his team backed him up and seem to think of him as their crazy-talented/crazy, talented younger brother. I have had my own criticism of Bryce Harper and was careful not to get too excited before he did something to deserve it. Well guess what? In 2012, just 19 years after his birth on October 12, 1992, Bryce Harper deserves a spot on most MVP ballots.

I’m certainly not suggesting that Bryce should win the award, but given that ballots contain spots for up to 10 players, he should be in the top 10. What he has meant from a clubhouse perspective has been valuable, as has his flexibility and his multi-dimensional talent in filling the two spot in the Nationals’ order. The Harper-centric media frenzy has actually kept some of the pressure off the team as a whole–a team that is in line to win its first division title ever (in a non-strike year).

Harper has also gotten the national recognition that has become a prerequisite for MVP consideration, and he plays on a high profile team. Now, let’s look at what he’s done statistically and evaluate what that means in an MVP discussion.

Young Mr. Harper has put together the first 15 HR, 15 SB 19 year old season since Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey seems like a perfect player comparison for Harper at this stage. Both are phenom center fielders with surprising power and baserunning acumen (in Harper’s case bravado, if not acumen). In 1989, Griffey didn’t get an MVP vote, and he only finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting. Harper’s putting together a better season, as evidenced by his 1.1 WAR advantage.

Shane Victorino’s campaign a year ago provides a fairly good comparison as well. Victorino was the spark plug on a very good Philadelphia Phillies team and sported a .277/.355/.491 slash line to go with his 17 homers and 19 steals. Harper is the spark plug for a very good Washington Nationals team and sports a .258/.330/.449 slash line to go with his 19 homers and 16 steals. It’s even noteworthy that Victorino had two Phillies finish ahead of him in the voting (Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard) and that Harper likely will as well (Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond or Ryan Zimmerman).

Additionally, I argue that national writers have a greater appreciation for the all-around game than they did in 1989, when no player in the top 8 in MVP voting had above 20 steals. My point is this: these days national writers are fans of 15-15 type players.

Of the 43 players to go 15-15 over the last two years in either league, 17 have made it onto at least one MVP ballot. That’s a full 40%. Now, I know that the number is skewed by outstanding performances by the likes of Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp a season ago and that MVP voters care more about enormous home run tallies than the total package on most occasions, but it’s still 40%. So we have to figure that the same will apply for young Mr. Harper, who’s got all that other stuff going for him, too.

My MVP Ballot for the NL:

Andrew McCutchen Ryan Braun Yadier Molina Buster Posey Jason Heyward Clayton Kershaw David Wright Gio Gonzalez Bryce Harper Ian Desmond

-Sean Morash

Stat of the Day: In 1987 Tony Gwynn stole 56 bases and hit .370 and finished 8th in MVP voting.

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