Harper's MVP case not reliant on postseason

Girardi: 'Does the Cy Young need to be on a team that makes the playoffs? I don't think so'

September 16th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- ’s 2015 Nationals missed the postseason, but he still won the NL MVP Award.

There are other recent examples of players winning the MVP, despite playing on teams that failed to make the postseason: Mike Trout (2016 and ’19), Giancarlo Stanton (’17), Albert Pujols (’08), Ryan Howard (’06), Barry Bonds (’04) and Alex Rodriguez (’03). Harper is drawing NL MVP consideration this season, but the Phillies entered Thursday night’s game against the Cubs 3 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and three games behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card with only 17 games to play.

The Phillies have an 18.1 percent chance to make the postseason, according to FanGraphs.

Harper’s chances to win MVP likely improve if the Phillies make the postseason. Many voters still believe the winner should come from a playoff team, even though it is not a requirement. It’s no surprise that Phillies manager Joe Girardi thinks the best player in each league should win the award, not the best player from a postseason team.

“I think it’s the guy that’s been the most valuable in the course of the season,” he said. “Does the Cy Young need to be on a team that makes the playoffs? I don’t think so. It’s the guy that’s pitched the best. It’s hard to define what is the ‘most valuable’ player at times. But somehow they figure it out. They iron it out at the end of the year.”

Harper entered Thursday slashing .309/.424/.614 with 34 doubles, one triple, 32 home runs, 73 RBIs and an MLB-best 1.038 OPS. His top competitors for MVP might be Fernando Tatis Jr., Max Muncy, Juan Soto and Freddie Freeman.

Among that quintet, Harper ranks first in OPS+ (180), WAR (5.9, according to FanGraphs) and extra-base hits (67). He is second in batting average, on-base percentage and total bases to Soto; second in slugging percentage to Tatis; and third in homers behind Tatis and Muncy. Much has been made about Harper’s RBIs (or lack thereof), but he has hit with runners in scoring position in only 18.3 percent of his plate appearances.

Is that low?

Well, there have been 4,605 players since 2008 who have 125 or more plate appearances in a season. Harper’s plate-appearance percentage with runners in scoring position is tied for the 129th-lowest mark in 14 years.

So, yes, that’s low.

Only three Phillies have slashed .300/.400/.600 since 1900 (minimum 500 plate appearances): Howard (2006), Chuck Klein (1929-30, 1932-33) and Lefty O’Doul (1929-30). Harper’s 180 OPS+ is the third-highest by a Phillies player since 1900. Only Mike Schmidt (198 OPS+ in 1981) and Dick Allen (181 OPS+ in 1966) have done better.

Girardi was asked if there is any additional motivation to play well down the stretch to not waste Harper’s season?

“I don't think you need extra motivation,” Girardi said. “I don't ever think about it like we don't want to waste someone's season. Because we're all involved in this, right? And the game is always, to me, about our team. But he's a big reason why we've hung around, just because of the season that he's had and the last 2 1/2 months, whatever he's done. It's been incredible to watch.”