Ever since Bryce Harper signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019, fans had been anticipating the season — the one that wasn’t just elite, but top-of-the-league elite and, perhaps most importantly, recognized as such.
That recognition officially came on Thursday: Bryce Harper is your 2021 National League Most Valuable Player.
Harper edged out division rival and former Washington Nationals teammate Juan Soto for the coveted award:
Harper’s MVP credentials rested in his leading the National League — and all of Major League Baseball, at that — with a .615 slugging percentage, 1.044 OPS and 170 wRC+. Those numbers topped Soto’s by 81, 45 and seven points, respectively. The defense metrics favored Soto — three to negative-six defensive runs saved, for example — but Harper’s bat overruled that difference.
He also led the league in doubles, extra-base hits, OPS+, weighted on-base average (both expected and actual) and win probability added. Harper was the only player in the National League to post a .300/.400/.600 slash line this season.
Harper blasted 35 home runs on the year — including these, which comprise some of Harper’s top big flies from his MVP season.
He’ll have to make some room in his trophy case, if he hasn’t simply bought a second one already. He adds his second career MVP award to a 2021 postseason slate that already included Hank Aaron, Silver Slugger and NL Players’ Choice Most Outstanding Player Awards — each of which he also won in 2015, his first MVP season. (Add in a 2012 National League Rookie of the Year Award to his haul for good measure.)
He becomes the 32nd Major League player to win the MVP Award multiple times and just the seventh to win it with multiple teams.
Of note, Harper’s award puts the Phillies into a tie with the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels for the team with the most unique MVP winners in the 21st century, and a tie for third in 21st-century MVPs overall. Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins won the award in back-to-back years from 2006 to 2007, representing the Phillies’ last MVP recipients before Harper.
The last one before that? Mike Schmidt, who won the award in 1980, ‘81 and ‘86, and who delivered the news of Harper’s honor on MLB Network just after 6 p.m. ET on Thursday. Jim Konstanty (1950) and Chuck Klein (1932) round out the Phillies’ all-time list of MVP winners.
Rewind four months and some change, and this day would’ve been hard to foresee. Harper had missed out on the National League All-Star team, sporting a good but nowhere near MVP-caliber .899 OPS.
Earlier still, it might’ve been even more difficult. After being pulled from an April 28 game in St. Louis following a 97-mph hit by pitch to the face, which ricocheted off his wrist, Harper missed a few games, then slogged through a brutal May while still battling injury. He posted a .634 OPS in the month, which featured an unsightly 0-for-16, 10-strikeout stretch before he was finally placed on the injured list.
But it was his second-half barrage that ultimately led to Harper claiming the trophy. The slugger posted a .338/.476/.713 second-half OPS, the first MLB player to break .300/.400/.700 after the All-Star Break since Howard in that 2006 MVP season.
Another parallel to past Phillies MVPs: As Phillies Nation’s Tim Kelly noted last week, Harper became the second straight Phillie to win MVP without making that year’s All-Star team, as Rollins accomplished the rare feat in 2007.
One final note: two National League MVP winners in the 21st century won the World Series that season, but four claimed the trophy the following year — including each of the previous two winners (Freddie Freeman and Cody Bellinger) and the last Phillie (Rollins).
Will Harper and the 2022 Phillies follow suit? Obviously, that’s unknown. But regardless, Harper etched his name into Phillies history books with his monstrous 2021 season.
On Thursday, he got the hardware to solidify that fact.
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