Bryce Harper's 10 Biggest Threats to the 2013 NL MVP Award

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIApril 17, 2013

Bryce Harper's 10 Biggest Threats to the 2013 NL MVP Award

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    Bryce Harper certainly has MVP-caliber numbers through the first two weeks of the 2013 regular season, but the road to the MVP award is a difficult one.

    Several players and personal pitfalls stand in the way of anybody capturing their respective league's MVP award, and Harper's case is no exception. That being said, his numbers thus far are spectacular.

    He already has five home runs and 10 RBI through 13 games. That's essentially one-fifth of his 2012 home runs and one-sixth of his 2012 RBI—through just one-tenth of the number of games he played last season.

    After doing some very rudimentary projections, that would give him near 45 home runs and 90 RBI should he keep the same trends up. The RBI total is a tad low, but those are MVP-caliber numbers for sure.

    His batting line has been stellar as well. At .320/.382/.640, with a 1.022 OPS, it's clear that he's made improvements from his rookie season. The sky's the limit for Harper.

    There are plenty of others who stand in the way of him capturing an MVP award, though. A divisional foe is proving that he'll be particularly hard to surpass, but that's why they play the games.

    Note: All statistics as of the completion of games on Monday, April 15.

Justin Upton

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    2013 Numbers (through 12 games):

    .348/.415/.891, 1.306 OPS, 7 HR, 11 RBI, 4 2B, 12 R

    In Justin Upton's first season with the Atlanta Braves, he has been a force to be reckoned with at the plate. Upton's gaudy numbers are a huge reason why the Braves are off to an 11-1 start, especially when you consider that B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward have underperformed and that Brian McCann is currently on the disabled list

    Carrying the team out of the gate could earn Upton some MVP votes later in the season, and that's an advantage he has over Harper. His inconsistency is something to look out for, however.

    If Upton can stay consistent, then there's no reason to think he can't win the award. He's already playing like the best player on the team and could even establish himself as a team leader early on in his Braves career.

    In the end, I think the player with the advantage will be the one on the team that finishes the highest. The Nationals and Braves will be neck and neck all season long. Harper and Upton each have the potential to change the landscape of the NL East.

Ryan Braun

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    2013 Numbers (through 8 games):

    .333/.429/.633, 1.062 OPS, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 3 2B, 5 R

    When talking about NL MVP candidates, it's literally impossible to leave Ryan Braun out of the discussion. He finished first in the voting in 2011, second in 2012 and has been an All-Star/Silver Slugger in each of the past five seasons.

    The only year he wasn't an All-Star or Silver Slugger was his rookie campaign in 2007 when he won the Rookie of the Year award. Simply put, Braun is one of the best hitters in baseball.

    Braun is as complete a hitter as they come. He hits for a high average (.313 lifetime), hits for power (204 through just over six seasons) and can even steal bases (30-plus in each of the past two seasons).

    The left fielder is even pretty good in the outfield. While not a Gold Glover, he can hold his own out there.

    Braun has gotten off to a relatively slow start in the run production category, but there's no doubt that he'll turn it on—that'll likely happen when Corey Hart returns from the disabled list. Without anyone hitting behind him, pitchers have been wise to be careful with Braun.

    Come season's end, he'll have the huge numbers we've come to expect.

Clayton Kershaw

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    2013 Numbers (through 3 starts):

    2-1, 1.16 ERA, 23.1 innings, 25 K, .686 WHIP, 1 CG (shutout)

    If Justin Verlander can win an MVP, then so can Clayton Kershaw. Arguably the game's top lefty, Kershaw has been nearly unhittable early on. Not that wins and losses necessarily matter, but that one loss can be attributed to a poor offensive performance by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Kershaw has the ability to top 230 innings while striking out near 250 batters. This type of strikeout talent is unheard of in today's game. There are only a select few others who can say they have this potential—Verlander, Stephen Strasburg and Felix Hernandez, just to name a few.

    His ability to keep men off base is a huge reason for his success. He's led the NL in WHIP in each of the past two seasons (.977 in 2010 and 1.023 in 2011). This has led to extraordinarily low ERAs (2.28 in 2010 and 2.53 in 2012). Both of those marks led all of baseball.

    It's not impossible for a starting pitcher to win the MVP award. If there's no clear-cut winner among the position players come season's end, then expect the voters to look toward Kershaw.

Craig Kimbrel

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    2013 Numbers (through 6 appearances):

    6 S, 6 innings, 6 K, 0.00 ERA, .500 WHIP, three baserunners allowed

    Craig Kimbrel is the most dominant closer in the game today—period. The numbers he has put up each of the past two seasons have been incredible.

    He's saved 46 and 42 games, respectively. Consider that he had an ERA of 2.10 in 2010 and a minuscule 1.01 ERA in 2011, and you've got yourself as dominant a reliever as they come. His performance early on this season shows that he's been more than a two-year wonder.

    His numbers last season earned him an eighth-place finish in the NL MVP voting. It's extremely difficult for a closer to win the award, though not impossible. The four winners are as follows:

    Jim Konstanty saved 22 games with a 2.66 ERA in 1950; Rollie Fingers saved 28 games with a 1.04 ERA in 1981; Willie Hernandez saved 32 games with a 1.92 ERA in 1984, and Dennis Eckersley saved 51 games with a 1.91 ERA in 1992.

    Kimbrel can most definitely put up MVP numbers. Don't be surprised if 2013 is his year.

Joey Votto

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    2013 Numbers (through 13 games):

    .317/.556/.463, 1.019 OPS, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 10 R, 21 BB

    Joey Votto is an on-base machine. He's leading the league with 21 walks through 13 games, and it's not out of the realm of possibility for him to produce an OBP of over .500 this season.

    He's led the NL in OBP each of the past three seasons with marks of .424, .416 and .474, respectively. Last season's numbers were especially impressive. Despite playing in just 111 games, he led the league with 94 walks.

    Simply put, the man knows how to get on base.

    This likely explains why his run production is pretty low so far in 2013. As you can see from the picture above, opposing pitchers are simply afraid to throw him strikes. He's one of the best at sifting through pitches—he lets balls go and capitalizes on strikes.

    His ability to hit to all fields makes him one of the most complete hitters in the game today. He won the NL MVP in 2010, and he could add another one to his collection in 2013.

Andrew McCutchen

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    2013 Numbers (through 13 games):

    .255/.321/.489, .810 OPS, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 5 SB, 5 2B, 10 R

    Andrew McCutchen is quickly establishing himself as a superstar in the MLB. His 2012 performance resulted in a third-place finish in the NL MVP voting, and there's no reason to believe that he can't improve upon that standing in the years to come.

    He has power, speed and the ability to hit to all fields. This results in great numbers across the board.

    Unfortunately, McCutchen's fate likely rests on his Pittsburgh Pirates teammates. On a team like the Pirates, one superstar performance may not be enough to make the playoffs—or finish .500, in the case of Pittsburgh.

    If McCutchen can help take his team and teammates to new heights in 2013, then he'll garner more votes than he did in 2012. But, like I said, his teammates will have to help him out.

Buster Posey

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    2013 Numbers (through 12 games):

    .231/.333/.333, .667 OPS, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 2 2B, 4 BB, 8 K

    How could we forget the 2012 NL MVP winner?

    Buster Posey has struggled mightily thus far. He's still a member of the "no home runs club," certainly not a place that he wants to be. He's really not much of a home run hitter anyway, but Posey has the power to hit 25-plus.

    Posey is the best catcher in baseball and will likely be in the MVP discussion (so long as he stays healthy) for the next several seasons. This makes him an obvious threat to Harper.

    Posey is the heart and soul of the San Francisco Giants (not to mention the team's best player) and will have a huge impact on how far his team goes in 2013. If the Giants fail to make a playoff push, then Posey may not earn the votes he did last season when he led his team to a World Series victory.

    If his team is successful, then Posey could raise the MVP trophy yet again.

Harper's "Swing for the Fences" Mentality

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    Harper's monstrous swing has become famous over his first calendar year as a major leaguer.

    If the pitch is a strike, then you can be sure that the young phenom is going to try his best to hit the ball out of the stadium. While this will likely result in big home run numbers, it's generally not conducive to hitting for a high batting average.

    He's hitting well so far, but his high strikeout total (11 through 50 at-bats) scares me quite a bit. Harper's (and any batter's, for that matter) best chances of driving in runs comes from putting the ball in play—especially hitting third in the Washington Nationals' lineup. 

    Jayson Werth and Denard Span both have the propensity to get on base hitting ahead of Harper. This should give him plenty of opportunities to get runners home. All he needs to do is put the ball in play on a consistent basis.

    Again, this really hasn't been a problem for him just yet. It could develop into a major problem as the season progresses, though.

The Sophomore Slump

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    It may not have hit him just yet, but the dreaded sophomore slump could have an impact on Harper's 2013 campaign.

    Just look at Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim star Mike Trout. His rookie season in 2012 was arguably the best of all time. He's struggling mightily so far, hitting just .286/.333/.464 with one home run and two RBI. That first home run didn't come until just a few games ago.

    There have been other notable second-year players who have slumped in the past, as well. Carlos Beltran's 1999 rookie season was fantastic. He hit 22 home runs and drove in 108.

    His sophomore season left much to be desired. He played in less than 100 games, hit .247, hit just seven home runs and drove in only 44.

    More recently, Geovany Soto put together a strong rookie season in 2008. He mashed 23 homers and drove in 86 en route to an NL All-Star selection. He hit just .218 with 27 RBI the following season in 102 games.

    The sophomore slump is real, and Harper will have to try hard to avoid it.

Difficulty Living Up to Astronomical Expectations

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    Harper already got past his initial season in the bigs, winning the Rookie of the Year award and proving to his doubters that he was ready to take on major league pitching.

    Not all of his doubters have been silenced, however. There are plenty of fans out there that still don't believe in Harper's prowess. Their lofty expectations from the star could hinder his chances of winning the MVP.

    Even if he hits 30-plus home runs and drives in 100-plus, there may still be people out there seeking more. This isn't so much a problem of Harper's but a potential problem of the voters'.

    Harper does have the potential to do more, but it may not happen in his second season. There are plenty of obstacles in his way to winning the MVP, both his own flaws and the other competition.

    The Nationals don't necessarily need an MVP-winning campaign from Harper in 2013, however; they just need Harper to improve upon his 2012 season.