The day has finally arrived for Nationals slugger Bryce Harper. Somewhere between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern time tonight, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America is expected to honor Harper with the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. The phenom is the overwhelming favorite to win over finalists Joey Votto from the Reds and Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks.
Harper showed up at spring training brimming with confidence and vowing to stay healthy. He wasted no time getting his MVP campaign started, launching a solo homer on opening day. It turned out to be the Nationals’ only run in a 3-1 loss. Little did we know that it would be the start of several themes in 2015 for the Nats.
After a solid first month of the season, Harper exploded in May. The barrage began with a three-homer game. Then two more bombs the next day. And on the third straight day, Harper crushed a walk-off shot at Nationals Park. He slashed .360/.495/.884 with 13 homers, four doubles, one triple and 28 RBIs en route to winning the NL’s Player of the Month honors.
As the season continued, player after player headed to the disabled list. And all of them - Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman - were hitters affecting the top half of the Nationals lineup. While Harper’s power numbers weren’t as robust over the summer as pitchers attempted to avoid him, the slugger proved he was more than just a power hitter.
Harper finished the year batting .330, second-best in the NL and 58 points above his career average over his first three seasons in the majors. He led the majors in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.649) and OPS (1.109).
“You could see throughout the season what this guy meant to the ballclub,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “And don’t forget, this guy carried us throughout the whole the season. When the hitters around him were dropping like flies, this guy was the cornerstone of an offense that every team that we played circled his name and said, ‘This guy’s not gonna beat us.’ And with that said, he beat a lot of teams.”
Harper ended the season on a tear, smacking 11 more homers with 22 RBIs over the final 30 games. His historic season evoked the names of legends like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. Harper, who turned 23 on Oct. 16, became the youngest player since Ruth in 1920 hit 42 homers and walk 124 times in a year.
“It was a remarkable season,” Rizzo said. “It was, as we said, I think, at this time last year, I thought that Harp was just scratching the surface of what he could be. He had a terrific season. I don’t see this being the last terrific season he has and this may not even be the best season he ever has.”
Harper has already received NL honors with a Silver Slugger Award, Hank Aaron Award and was named the league’s Outstanding Player of 2015 by his peers in the Players Choice Awards.