Can Bryce Harper win NL MVP as a DH?
It’s been exactly one month since Bryce Harper last played the outfield for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Thanks to what turned out to be a small tear in his UCL, he’s been serving as the lineup’s designated hitter, a position that the National League finally and fortuitously adopted this year. He’ll continue to DH for the foreseeable future, as he’s barred from throwing for at least another month.
Coming into this season as the reigning and defending National League MVP, the question of whether or not Harper could repeat what he did in 2021 – lead MLB in slugging, OPS, and doubles – was a hot-button topic.
Now, it’s not just a question of whether he can replicate his numbers, but the issue of his role on the team.
Can Bryce Harper win NL MVP again as the Phillies’ designated hitter?
Designated hitters get a bad rap.
They’re faulted for doing a job that does not require defense, even though they’re not the ones who invented the role. It sounds pretty ridiculous to tell someone “Well, you only hit,” as if it’s easy to make solid contact with a blazing fastball. But no matter how well they hit, they’re still somehow unworthy of praise, because they don’t play the field, even though there are plenty of excellent defensive players who can’t hit off a tee.
Since Harper is usually an outfielder, people will try to claim that his season is easier now that he’s ‘only’ hitting, as if switching roles isn’t an adjustment. It can’t be easy to sit in the dugout for the majority of the game and then be expected to hit one out of the park every at-bat, especially if you’re used to the flow of playing the field every half-inning. The DH is essentially a light switch, expected to turn on at the drop of a hat.
The historical precedent isn’t ideal, either. No player in MLB history has won the MVP award when they’ve spent the bulk of the season as their team’s DH. As JD Martinez so aptly put it in 2019,
"“For a DH to win MVP, they’re going to have to walk on water.”"
That’s essentially what Shohei Ohtani did in 2021 to become the first DH to ever win MVP, which he was awarded by unanimous vote. Of course, he also pitched; Harper doesn’t pitch.
However, Harper’s offensive value to his team cannot be overstated. He only played nine games before moving to the DH spot, so the sample size is too small to judge, especially after a prolonged offseason, lockout, and shortened spring training. But the difference in his numbers since moving off the field is significant, and there’s a chance he can outdo some of the metrics that won him MVP last year.
Harper is hitting .305 with an MLB-leading 29 runs scored, 14 doubles, and 83 total bases. He’s leading the NL with nine home runs and a .634 slugging percentage. Over the weekend he made Dodger Stadium history as the first visiting player to homer and record two or more extra-base hits in three consecutive games.
All with a tear in his UCL.
So, could Harper win MVP as DH? Hopefully, his UCL tear will heal (he had a PRP injection on Sunday) and he’ll be able to return to the outfield before the All-Star break.
Regardless, if he keeps hitting this way, he should be in the conversation.