Since 2009, when he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at the ripe age of 16, Bryce Harper has faced a flurry of doubters and unrealistic expectations.

He made his major league debut in April 2012, after a little over a year of minor league action, and was immediately inserted into the Nationals‘ starting lineup.

Prior to the start of 2015—after three MLB seasons—Harper was already labeled a bust by some, even though his numbers weren’t half bad. He hit at least .270 in each of his first three seasons, but he wasn’t producing at Mike Trout’s level, so he was somehow a “disappointment.”

It’s easy to forget he is only 22 years old and that most professional baseball players his age are still shelved in the lower levels of the minor leagues.

Through 41 games in 2015, Harper has certainly silenced his many critics.

He started the year with a bang by hitting a home run on Opening Day off Bartolo Colon, and then put together a solid April that consisted of a decent batting average, plenty of doubles and RBI and a ton of walks.

But then he took it to another level on May 6. That day, he hit three home runs against the Marlins. Then he hit two the very next game and followed that up with a homer in the next game for a total of six blasts in three games.

Since that three-homer performance, Harper has put together an out-of-this-world .535/.630/1.349 slash line. He has been red hot since the calendar flipped over to May, and he has been a pivotal part of the Nationals’ recent surge, which has them in first place in the National League East.

Not only is Harper a tremendous hitter, he is also incredibly fun to watch because you know he can make anything happen at any time with his violent swing. Will Leitch of Sports on Earth recently wrote an article comparing Harper to Babe Ruth, and one line really stuck out:

“He is the most exciting, dominant hitter in the sport,” Leitch writes. “When I watch him hit, I fully expect every pitch he swings at to end up on the moon. Its amazing to watch. And Ruth did this for 22 years.”

So he is ridiculously in the zone right now, but is he a legitimate MVP candidate?

At this point, it would be crazy to say no. He leads the league in home runs, runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases. He also ranks first in wOBA, wRC+ and WAR, per FanGraphs.

Other clubs are catching on, too. Harper has been intentionally walked five times so far this season, which is tied with Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday for the most in the NL.

Those numbers scream MVP, but it seems impossible that he can sustain this madness, right? 

According to Matthew Kory of Vice Sports, if Harper continues to hit like he has hit since May 6, he will have 113 homers by season’s end. While that number is certainly a testament to how awesome Harper has been over that time, there is no way he is going to get close to reaching that number of big flies—he will likely not even reach 50.

Grant Paulsen had some high praise recently for Harper on 106.7 The Fan (via Chris Lingebach of CBS DC):

Right now, he’s the MVP in the National League. And one step further, he’s the best player in Major League Baseball this season. Period. 

What we’re seeing now, this is who this guy can be. And no one else on this team can be this guy for a stretch of a few weeks. No one else in this division—except for maybe one or two guys, like Giancarlo Stanton—can really be the guy that he’s been. You can count on one hand the number in Major League Baseball that can have a month, and a couple of weeks—a sample—the likes of which what Bryce Harper has.

Wow, Paulsen is obviously a big fan of the star that people have called “cocky” and “polarizing.” But he is absolutely right; Harper can do things on the field few others can.

Back to the MVP discussion. The voters look for a few things when voting: personal stats for that season, track record for that individual, how well-rounded the player is and the success of the team.

Harper has three of those right now. He certainly has the stats, as of right now, to win baseball’s most coveted award; he has three other productive seasons under his belt; and he is the most important player on a Washington team that will undoubtedly finish the season with one of the best records in MLB. 

Harper has also made strides with his defense. James Wagner of the Washington Post outlined this improvement in a recent article. Harper is tied for the most defensive runs saved among right fielders, and he is getting more comfortable in right field after playing mostly left field the past two seasons.

We will have to wait and see how Harper does for the rest of the season. He obviously cannot maintain this epic pace, but can he finish with 35 or more home runs, a solid batting average and above-average work in the outfield? I think so.

Harper has always been a true five-tool player, and those skills are finally coming to fruition in his fourth year in The Show. It is impossible to predict what the MVP voters will do—Trout should have won the award in 2013—but to this point, Harper must be the front-runner in the National League.


All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

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