What Would it take for Bryce Harper to be MVP

A good part of analysis is knowing when numbers are useless. I was going to look back at the last five rookies of the year and inform you of their average decrease in OPS, but two of the five are Geovany Soto and Chris Coghlan. On top of that Posey got injured his second full season after only 45 games and Ryan Braun hit like a madman in his rookie season with an OPS of 1.004. It did drop from that to .888, but seriously he OPS'd 1.004 in his rookie season. The only one of the last five position player rookies of the year to not suffer any drop was Hanley Ramirez who saw his OPS rise from .833 in 2006 to .948 in 2007. If we go back one more season to the 2005 rookie of the year, Ryan Howard, his OPS rose from .924 in 2005 to 1.084 in 2006 when he won the MVP (Pujols had a 1.102 OPS that season, the third highest of his career and tops in the NL, but the vote went to Howard).  

It is no longer 2006 and the highest OPS in the NL in 2012 belonged to Ryan Braun at .987; Joey Votto did have a higher OPS at 1.041, but did not play enough games to qualify. Those two top my list of potential 2013 MVPs along with Buster Posey (2012 OPS of .957), Matt Kemp (.906), and Andrew McCutchen (.953). For the record Bryce Harper had a 2012 OPS of .817 in route to winning the rookie of the year award. If his OPS jumps the way that Hanley Ramirez and Ryan Howard's did their sophomore years then he is looking at a 2013 OPS of .954 which would put him in the conversation. The other parts of Harper's game such as his base running, throwing arm, and flat out enthusiasm for the game might push him over the top, but right around that number would put him in the conversation.  

Winning the MVP and being in the conversation are two different things. With a .954 OPS Harper would be in the conversation, but as a left fielder his OPS is going to have to be a little higher than what Andrew McCutchen, a center fielder, and Buster Posey, a catcher, could put up. The last five NL MVPs Posey (.957), Bruan (.994), Votto (1.024), Pujols (1.101), and Pujols (1.114) have an average OPS of 1.038. In order for Harper to do that his OPS would have to rise by .221. That would be quite an increase in his second year and would destroy any notion of a sophomore slump. While it is hard to imagine Harper, or any player, doing that MVP awards are reserved for the best of the best having a career season. Harper is projected and predicted to be mentioned alongside great names when his career is done and many believe an MVP award is in his future. An OPS over 1.000 is rare, but only one out of 724 players won the NL MVP in 2012. Without including any context Harper has a 0.00138% chance of winning the 2013 NL MVP award.   

So while the increase it would take for Harper to be a near lock to win the MVP award seems on the borderlines of the realistic, so are the chances for any one player to win an MVP award. Harper proved in 2012 he isn't just any player. His name is up there with Mel Ott and Tony Conigliaro for the best seasons by a 19 year old. Most of those great 19 year olds saw an increase in their OPS from age 19 to 20. The average being .033 which puts Harper at an OPS of .850, and not in the MVP conversation, but Mel Ott had an increase of .163 and Mickey Mantle, .132. Either of those increases would put Harper into the MVP conversation and with his other abilities being in the conversation may be all it takes for him to win it. 

A perfect, magical, great season is unlikely, but so are the chances that anyone runs away with the MVP award. The 2012 AL MVP award was, and still is, one of the most highly debated topics in baseball. Mike Trout was the more complete player, but Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter in baseball. In the end the voters chose offense over everything else, and that is how it is likely to be for any MVP award. So what does an MVP level batting line for Harper look like? His 2013 Spring Training batting line of .444/.459/.806 would certainly get the job done, but it would be the greatest baseball season since Bonds hit .362/.609/.812 in 2004. For Harper to win the 2013 MVP a batting line of .327/.411/.562, an OPS of .973, the same display of intensity on the bases as he had in 2012, and around 15 outfield assists should get the job done. And if he has the age 20 increase of Mel Ott or Mickey Mantle or the sophomore season increase of Ryan Howard or Hanley Ramirez then those numbers don't seem all that improbable.    

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