Bryce Harper's 2-Home Run Opening Day Just the Beginning of His 2013 MVP Season
OK, I'm sold. Bryce Harper is winning the National League Most Valuable Player award this season.
It's the only logical conclusion to draw after what Harper did in the Washington Nationals' season-opening 2-0 win over the Miami Marlins. The 20-year-old slugging outfielder provided both of Washington's runs with a pair of solo home runs to right.
If you missed either one of them, MLB.com has the moving pictures. The first just barely cleared the fence, while the second reached the seats with plenty of room to spare. The home crowd appreciated both of them equally, though Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco was none too pleased.
Make no mistake, we did just witness the start of something special, and the end will involve Harper walking away with an MVP award in his clutches.
By now, I'm guessing many have already bolted straight down to the comments section with the word "overreaction" and its derivatives in mind. This is the Internet, after all.
But here's the truth: I am not overreacting. All I'm doing is staying true to my National League MVP prediction for the season. I tabbed Harper as my MVP pick in a video I did last week and, naturally, stuck with him when it was time for myself and my fellow B/R writers to turn in our picks for a collective assessment.
So really, what I'm doing here is puffing out my chest, popping my collar and various other things that arrogant jerks have a tendency to do. Sorry, but the instant gratification is just too great, and there's not a doubt in my mind that Harper isn't done wowing us this season.
Just think back to what he did as a 19-year-old rookie last year. He put up a .270/.340/.477 batting line with 22 homers and 18 stolen bases, numbers that were good enough to earn him the National League Rookie of the Year. WAR agreed that Harper deserved it, as he rated as the most valuable rookie in the NL by both Baseball-Reference.com's and FanGraphs' reckoning.
All of this is impressive enough, but Harper's success last season gets even more impressive once you take a look at things from two different perspectives.
First and foremost, there's really no overstating how ridiculous it is that Harper did what he did as a freakin' 19-year-old.
That's an age when most are adjusting to life without mom and dad away at college. As far as ballplayers go, that's an age when most are toiling away in the lower levels of the minor leagues.
It's not an age that goes hand-in-hand with stardom in the The Show.
Per Baseball-Reference.com, Harper posted the highest WAR ever by a 19-year-old. Only Tony Conigliaro hit more homers at the age of 19, but Harper stole 16 more bases than he did and played the majority of his games at a premium defensive position: center field.
He played very well there, too, posting a 10.4 UZR and 13 Defensive Runs Saved (see FanGraphs).
Best season ever by a 19-year-old? You bet.
What's even more absurd is how Harper was hardly treated by opposing pitchers. Per FanGraphs, only two hitters saw fewer fastballs to hit than he did in 2012: Josh Hamilton and Alfonso Soriano. The kid got a variety of curveballs, sliders and changeups—off-speed pitches even the most seasoned veterans have nightmares about.
Harper had his struggles, but he figured things out eventually. In his last 44 games, he posted a .327/.384/.660 line and hit 12 home runs. That's a 45-homer season over a 162-game sample size.
Harper came into the league as the most hyped prospect to come along in a very long time. He was the guy who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a teenager. He was the guy who was picked No. 1 overall in 2010. He was the guy who was regularly being compared to all-time greats like Mickey Mantle.
He was the guy with all the potential, and that's what we got a glimpse of down the stretch in his rookie season.
Over the offseason, Harper went to work on further untapping his potential, lifting every heavy weight in sight and reporting to camp 20 pounds heavier. He then proceeded to rake during the spring, posting a .478/.500/.716 batting line with three homers.
You ordinarily don't want to pay spring training numbers too much mind, but Harper's hot spring had the look of the next step on his path to superstardom.
And now here he is sitting on a pair of crucial home runs one game into the 2013 season. It's early, but you have to look at Harper's Opening Day performance as the latest chapter of a longer narrative. It had a slow beginning, but we're getting into the good stuff.
Think a baseball version of The Avengers: lots of hype, lots of "meh" and then lots of "whoa."
There's plenty more good stuff to come from Harper, and not just by way of the long ball. He's going to be a key part of many more Nationals wins, leading the team to another postseason appearance.
Are you ready to buy Bryce Harper as the eventual NL MVP?
Also in his future: The Most Valuable Player award.
I had it down in pen before Opening Day, and now I'm about ready to take a hammer and chisel it into the Great Pyramid of Giza and all four of the presidents' faces on Mount Rushmore.
Or I could just invite every last one of you on board the bandwagon. When Harper is named the National League MVP much later this year, we can all proudly boast that we saw it coming.
Don't worry, you can trust me. I've never had an Opening Day MVP declaration go south on me before.
Just don't ask how many I've made.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.
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