Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: National League MVP? It’s Harper, hands down

There is no case to be made for the New York Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes as National League MVP.

There is a case to be made for Cespedes as the best acquisition at the trade deadline. There is a case to be made for Cespedes for a lucrative free-agent deal after this season with the team of his choice.

But he’s not the MVP of the National League. Bryce Harper is the MVP of the National League. Open and shut.

Now, if you want to get into semantics, we can do that. What is an MVP, anyway?

Well, MVP stands for, of course, Most Valuable Player. It’s a highly-subjective term and it the words really don’t convey what the award sometimes has been over the years.

Value, even in this age of baseball sabermetrics, is difficult to determine. The most valuable player in the National League in 2015 is probably Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke. Imagine where LA would be without him.

But there’s already an honor – the Cy Young Award – that goes to the best pitcher in the American and National leagues. So unless there’s a really crazy set of circumstances, pitchers are usually not MVPs.

Now, where would the Mets be without Cespedes? Would they have overtaken Harper and the Washington Nationals in the National League East race for first place?

Maybe not. Probably not. Cespedes has brought life to the Mets’ offense. He’s been a wrecking crew.

Finally, where would Washington be without Harper? Or is that even a pertinent question?

At 78-71 and six games behind the Mets in the NL East, the Nationals have been the biggest disappointment in baseball this season. Their manager, Matt Williams, is likely to be fired within minutes of the end of the season.

When the Nationals added right-hander Max Scherzer to an already-potent pitching rotation during the offseason, the question wasn’t whether Washington would win the East. It was determining the course for the November ticker-tape parade to celebrate a world championship.

So how can Harper, who plays for the under-achieving Nationals, be considered as MVP?

What is his value?

Every year at this time we who love baseball get hung up on the word “value.” It’s the MVP, we preach, not the most outstanding player. Value must stand for something.

Except every year, the voters who pick the MVP usually give it to the offensive player with the best statistics. Often, that player is with a first-place team. But more than occasionally, he is not.

Harper is not with a first-place team. Again, he’s on a team that has let its fan base down. On paper, this is a great team. On grass, just so-so.

Harper, though, is anything but so-so. He’s batting .343 with 41 homers and 95 RBI even opposing teams rarely give him anything to hit because the rest of the Washington lineup is flimsy. Harper has drawn 115 walks.

He has a 1.143 OPS, which would be the 49th best in baseball history. Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto has the next best OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentages) at 1.058. Harper’s on-base percentage is .470 and his slugging percentage is .674 and he leads MLB in both categories.

To boot, he’s an outstanding outfielder and baserunner, plays the game with aggression and as he approaches his 23rd birthday in October, looks as if he’ll be a part of these MVP discussions for years to come.

This season, any discussion of the NL MVP should be short.

And that’s giving tremendous credit to Cespedes, who has batted .284 with 17 homers and 42 RBI in only 46 games for the Mets since arriving in a trade with the Detroit.

Cespedes has provided an incredible boost to the Mets. But Harper is the MVP.

It’s been interesting to look at single-season OPS leaders in the major leagues and to see some of the players who rank highly.

Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams combine for the 10 highest OPS seasons of all-time. Bonds goes 1, 2, 4 and 8. Ruth goes 3, 5, 6 and 9 while Williams has the seventh and 10th best OPS marks in history.

Four players from the 1894 season – ah, I remember it well – are among the top 100 in all-time OPS: Hugh Duffy, Sam Thompson, Bill Joyce and Joe Kelley.

The overall batting average that season was .309 and the pitching ERA was 5.33, which might explain the success of those hitters.

Here’s a rundown of the players with the 100 highest OPS seasons in MLB history:

Babe Ruth (13)

Lou Gehrig (7)

Ted Williams (7)

Barry Bonds (6)

Jimmie Foxx (6)

Rogers Hornsby (6)

Mickey Mantle (4)

Albert Pujols (4)

Hank Greenberg (3)

Mark McGwire (3)

Manny Ramirez (3)

Larry Walker (3)

Albert Belle (2)

Ed Delahanty (2)

Jason Giambi (2)

Harry Heilmann (2)

Todd Helton (2)

One each: Jeff Bagwell, George Brett, Norm Cash, Carlos Delgado, Joe DiMaggio, Hugh Duffy, Luis Gonzalez, Travis Hafner, Bryce Harper*, Babe Herman, Bill Joyce, Joe Kelley, Chuck Klein, Nap Lajoie, Edgar Martinez, Willie McCovey, Kevin Mitchell, Stan Musial, Tip O’Neill, Al Simmons, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Sam Thompson, Arky Vaughan, Hack Wilson.

*Harper, 2015

Notable names not on the Top 100 single-season OPS list: Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Yastrzemski.