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Harper collects first NL Silver Slugger Award

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was named a National League Silver Slugger Award winner in the outfield for the first time in his career, it was announced Thursday.

Harper, who turned 23 on Oct. 16, is the only player in Major League Baseball history with at least 42 home runs, 124 walks and 118 runs scored at age 22 or younger, and is the youngest player in MLB history with at least 42 home runs and 124 walks in a season. The previous youngest was Babe Ruth, who hit 54 home runs and had 150 walks in 1920 at the age of 25.

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"I'd like to say 'Thank you' to the managers and coaches who awarded me with this incredible honor," Harper, who won the Players Choice Award for NL Outstanding Player on Monday, said in a statement. "Most of all, I'd like to thank my teammates, the Nationals' coaching staff and the training staff. I am humbled by their unwavering support and sacrifices, without which this would not be possible. It is a privilege and an honor to be recognized alongside this group of great players."

Harper, one of three NL outfielders chosen (Pirates' Andrew McCutchen and Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez), was the lone Nationals honoree. This marked the fourth consecutive season that at least one Washington player won a Silver Slugger Award, presented by Louisville Slugger, and the club has seven total awards over that span. 

"We are proud to see Bryce earn his first Silver Slugger award," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement. "Watching Bryce play the way he did this year was a true pleasure.

"His historic season at the plate is a tribute to the type of talent he is, and I know I'm not alone when I say that I cannot wait to see what is next for this young man."

Shortstop Ian Desmond did not take home an award at his position for the first time since 2011. Desmond, now a free agent, had been tied for the Majors' longest active Silver Slugger streak, at three straight. 

Harper became the seventh National to win a Silver Slugger, joining Desmond, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman ('09-10), third baseman Anthony Rendon ('14), first baseman Adam LaRoche ('12), pitcher Stephen Strasburg ('12) and outfielder Alfonso Soriano ('06).

The Silver Slugger Awards began in 1980 and are presented annually to the best offensive players at each position in both leagues. Votes from managers and coaches determine the results.

Harper also is among three finalists for the BBWAA's NL MVP Award, joining the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt and the Reds' Joey Votto. The MVP winner will be announced on Thursday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network. No Nationals or Expos player has won the MVP.

Additonally, Harper is a candidate for Best Major Leaguer and Best Everyday Player in the Esurance MLB Awards.

Despite playing the whole season at age 22, Harper posted a 197 weighted runs created plus (wRC+), an advanced metric used by FanGraphs to measure a player's total offensive contributions, compared to league average (100) and adjusted for park effects. Angels outfielder Mike Trout ranked a distant second in the Majors with a 172 wRC+.

In baseball history, the only player age 22 or younger to produce a better wRC+ than Harper was Hall of Famer Ted Williams in 1941. Other than Barry Bonds, Harper was the first player of any age to reach a 197 since Mark McGwire in his home run record-breaking season of 1998.

During an interview on MLB Network on Monday, Harper credited his success this season to staying healthy for the first time since his rookie year of 2012.

"I truly think it's always been there," Harper said. "I just think I was healthy this year. I think that's the main thing. I was able to stay on the field this year and not have those little nagging injuries, like sliding into third base and [hurting] my thumb or running into a wall in Dodger Stadium. Just trying to be as smart as I could out there and just play the game the right way. It just comes with the experience of knowing when to go hard, when not to go hard, and just being able to be smart about everything I do."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.
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