Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

2021 Awards wrap-up and Bryce MVP #2


Harper gets MVP #2. Photo via Phila Inquirer

Normally i take pride in being able to predict the 8 major post-season awards MLB gives out. This year I kind of got a time crunch right when the prediction piece had to go out and gave it a quick guess instead of doing deep analysis. how did I do on predictions nonetheless?

Here’s how my predictions went versus actual:

  • AL MVP: predicted Ohtani, actual Ohtani unanimously.
  • AL Cy Young: predicted Robbie Ray, actual Ray with 29 of 30 1st place votes.
  • AL Rookie: predicted Arozarena, actual Arozarena with 22 of 30 1st place votes.
  • AL Manager; Predicted La Russa, actual Kevin Cash of Tampa.
  • NL MVP: predicted Bryce Harper, actual Harper with 17 of 30 first place votes.
  • NL Cy Young: predicted Corbin Burnes, actual Burnes in a very close vote.
  • NL rookie: predicted Jonathan India, actual India with 29/30.
  • NL Manager: predicted Gabe Kaper SF Giants, actual Kapler.

So, I got 7 of 8 right. Not bad.

Current and former Nats are all over this year’s awards. Harper wins MVP, Ray wins Cy Young. Soto finished 2nd in MVP voting, Scherzer finished 3rd in Cy Young, Lucas Giolito got a 3rd place Cy Young vote, Trea Turner was 5th in NL MVP.

Speaking of Bryce Harper; he wins his 2nd MVP award. Certainly it wasn’t nearly as dominant a season as he had in 2015, but it was still a highly impressive season. He now has 40 career bWAR at the end of his age 28 season and two MVP awards. The list of players who have won 2 or more MVPs (and who are not PED-associated) and are not in the Hall is pretty small:  Juan Gonzalez, Dale Murphy, Roger Maris. One more MVP and Harper basically guarantees himself inclusion into the hall.

I mention this because as he stands now he’s already the 45th ranked RF in baseball history by JAWS, and he’s signed for 10 more years in a hitter’s park. The mean career bWAR for all inducted right fielders in the Hall is just 72 bWAR; Harper’s already well past the halfway point and is now basically entering his prime slugging years in his late 20s/early 30s.

There seems to be a lot of antagonism towards Harper; constant droning that he’s overrated or that he didn’t deserve the contract he got. Maybe you can be “over-rated” when you’ve got just one monster MVP quality season .. but two? His career OPS+ is now 142, just a couple points below none other than Albert Pujols. So, at some point the narrative has to change about Harper right?

Written by Todd Boss

November 19th, 2021 at 1:12 pm

17 Responses to '2021 Awards wrap-up and Bryce MVP #2'

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  1. As enjoyable as it was to see Harper put up good-not-amazing numbers over his first couple seasons in Philly, I think we all expected him to win at least one more MVP. He’s more than capable of it. There’s a reason we were upset when he defected to a division rival, after all.

    Beyond his obvious talent, I’m probably never going to be able to get past Harper not playing all-out in his final season with the Nats. It was obvious from early on that his number-one goal wasn’t to win the World Series with the Nats, it was to not get hurt so he’d get a big payday in free agency. He didn’t dive for balls, he didn’t run hard to first. He was playing for the name on the back of his jersey, not the name on the front. And then he spurned what would have been a record-setting extension deal from the Nats — didn’t even bother to counter! — and ended up signing with literally our most hated rivals.

    So yeah, I don’t like the guy very much.


    19 Nov 21 at 1:58 pm

  2. My take on Harper’s final season here, and the contract negotiations, is far different than your’s Sao.

    Thanks to MLB’s myopic salary structure, players are not incentivized to do anything except get to free agency and sign the biggest contract they can, when they can. Most players get one shot at a big pay day, and I’ll never begrudge a player for guaranteeing he gets that payday. Harper toiled here for 7 seasons and gave everything he had. he was constantly injured and was accused of “playing too hard” and “playing reckless” over and over … then in his walk season you criticize him for the opposite?

    In 2015, the year he had a 10-win season and won the MVP, he was paid $1M. That’s it. $90M of value on the field, $1M in his pocket, and even that figure was probably double what it would have been had he still been under typical pre-arb.

    So finally, he approaches Free Agency. The Nationals offered him 10yr/$300M contract with deferrals that ran through the year 2052. Well below his market value. Then they countered with a SMALLER offer later that off season, 12yrs/$250M with even more deferrals. He signed 13yrs/$330M with no deferrals. So, i’m sorry, but when you say he “didn’t even bother to counter” … would you counter someone who LOWERED the offer?

    Todd Boss

    19 Nov 21 at 3:04 pm

  3. You know, I defended Bryce while he was here. I do think he needed to leave, as he didn’t feel like the Nats were valuing him well enough, or something. He really low-balled himself with the deal he took in Philly, though, plus trapped himself with a bad organization for a long time.

    I don’t know what would have happened if the Nats had negotiated with him. Todd is right that they put a pretty unacceptable offer on the table. Maybe that was a sign that they really didn’t want him that badly. I don’t know. At that time, they already had a number of large and/or pending contracts, although his self-lowballed $25.4 AAV that he took in Philly probably could have fit. The thinking at the time was that the Nats had decided to spend on Rendon instead of Bryce, but then that one didn’t work out either.

    It’s interesting to look at Bryce’s comps on B-R. None of the top 10 are Hall of Famers. And that’s my impression, even with a second MVP: he’s on his way to the Hall of Very Good. He still has only topped 40 homers once. More damningly, his teams in his last four seasons, in the prime of his career (including 2018 with the Nats), have faded terribly in the stretch. Admittedly, the Phils were already chokin’ dogs before he arrived (see 2018), but he hasn’t done anything to collectively lift the team.

    Bryce never learned how to do that, though. He was a travel team creature, literally flying around the territory to play as a hired gun. He never got to be a leader on his high school team because his sophomore season was his last one in high school. He was only a first-year player his one year at JUCO. With the Nats, guys like Werth and Zim were already well established as the elder leaders.

    I’ve also never gotten the sense that Harper works at his game to continue to develop it like the true superstars do, the LeBrons, the Jordans, . . . even Soto. Soto has already shown more improvement in his game in four seasons than Harper has in ten. Harper still strikes out too much. He’s never completely developed that Zen discipline to allow himself to move to a higher level. Soto has already taken some of those steps toward Bonds-level discipline that we thought Bryce would, but didn’t/hasn’t.

    Also, Bryce will turn 30 next year, believe it or not. He’s at his peak right now. But his peak now is generating only 6.6 fWAR. He’s never come close to approaching that 9.3 again . . . and probably never will.

    Just looking through some of the numbers, the seven-year peak bWAR for RF HOF players is 42.5. Bryce’s peak, even including two MVP seasons, is only 35.8. In the five years bracketed by the two MVPs, Bryce actually only got MVP votes ONCE in five years, finishing 12th in 2017.

    Three contract years down for him not making the playoffs, ten more to go . . .


    19 Nov 21 at 10:03 pm

  4. For HOF, I think a big number for Bryce will be 500 homers. After 10 seasons, he has 267. He now plays in a bandbox. He’s signed for 10 more. I would think that his odds of getting 500 are pretty good if he stays healthy, although it’s impossible to predict when natural regression will set in. If he ends up closer to 400 HRs than 500, then they’re going to start looking at other things . . . like his defense that has never lived up to its billing.

    I’m surprised to see that he only has 1,273 hits. He’s got no prayer at 3,000.

    OK, here’s the RF comp I see for where Bryce is headed: Gary Sheffield — 509 HRs, 2,689 hits, 60.5 career bWAR. His WAR 7 was 38.0; as noted above, Bryce’s is 35.8, and that’s probably going to be his best because it includes 2015. Sheffield had 1,676 RBIs, which Bryce isn’t going to approach, 253 SBs, which will be more than Bryce.

    That looks like peak projection for Bryce to reach Shef numbers, and Shef isn’t in (with some extenuating circumstances). Vlad Guerrero is in the same statistical ballpark and is in. He had a much higher WAR 7, though. Bryce’s current WAR 7 neighborhood puts him behind guys like Brian Giles, Dwight Evans, and Dave Parker — the Hall of Very Good. (FWIW, Stanton is plugging along in the same ‘hood.)

    Another contemporary “problem” for Bryce may end up being Mookie Betts. At the same age as Bryce, and two fewer MLB seasons, Betts already has 50.1 bWAR to Bryce’s 40.1, and the 9th all-time RF WAR 7 of 47.7. Mookie isn’t going to be close to Bryce in homers, but he’s probably going to end up with more hits and significantly outdistance him in WAR.

    We’ll see. If Bryce earns it, he earns it. But on current trajectory, he’s headed toward being on the fence at best.


    19 Nov 21 at 10:43 pm

  5. OPS+: Bryce 142, Sheffield 140, Guerrero 140 (Soto 160)

    OPS: Guerrero .931, Bryce .916, Sheffield .907 (Soto .981)


    19 Nov 21 at 10:55 pm

  6. Perhaps at the end of his career his comp will be Sheffield … but right now his #1 comp through age 28 on the player comparison page is none other than Barry Bonds.

    That’s saying something.

    Todd Boss

    20 Nov 21 at 7:39 am

  7. But next on that list is Justin Upton, so it’s a fine line. Bryce’s top similar batter comps are J.D. Martinez and Danny Tartabull.

    Harper isn’t Bonds. He’s nowhere close. There was a time with the Nats where I thought he could move toward/near the level of plate discipline of Bonds and force pitchers to come into his zone, but Bryce never really took that next step. He’s very good, but he still has left a lot on the table developmentally speaking.

    The one who has taken that step is Soto, who has lowered his K rate from 20% to 14% and raised his walk rate over 20%. Bonds didn’t reach that level until age 27, and he didn’t have anything equal to Soto’s 2021 number of 22.2% until he was 31. It’s hard to believe that Soto will just be entering his age 23 season.


    20 Nov 21 at 9:22 am

  8. Of course there are no guarantees for anything. Through his age-28 season, Zim was on track for at least an outside HOF chance as a 3B. He’s had only one full season since, with injuries also forcing a position switch. Andruw Jones and even the very clean-living Dale Murphy completely fell off cliffs in their early 30s. Natural regression doesn’t play fair. Of course neither did the guys who tried to beat it by better living through chemistry. Yes, it’s difficult to see Kershaw, the greatest pitcher of this generation, struggle to stay healthy at age 33. But that’s natural. That’s what Clemens was before he found the magic juice.


    21 Nov 21 at 9:37 am

  9. But at this stage, I’m a lot more interested in who future Nats are going to be than past ones.

    Sao is keen on Eduardo Escobar. I wouldn’t hate that addition, but his low OBP numbers and his total collapse in 2020 concern me. He has continued to play good defense, though, which has kept his WAR strong. At the same time, someone like Josh Harrison, who gets on base more often, might be more what the lineup needs, at a fraction of the price. I’d rather spend $10M on a starting pitcher and $2M on an infielder instead of the other way around.

    And am I the only one who still has this sense of dread that they may STILL keep trying to insist that Kieboom is the starter? They finally gave up on Robles, at least for the short term, but Kieboom was just as bad or worse.

    I really wish they’d just trade Kieboom, Robles, and Fedde so the temptations are gone, and so Rizzo can feel like he got something for them, even if it isn’t much.


    22 Nov 21 at 9:16 am

  10. Fedde is likely a non-tender. I wrote up the draft of the eventual non-tender post (that deadline is 12/1) and will post it soon. Kieboom and Robles have no value; what would we expect to get from them? Who out there would offer us anything in value for them in trade? It’d be better to see if they can rebound and build themselves some value.

    Todd Boss

    22 Nov 21 at 5:11 pm

  11. Starting pitchers flying off the board all the sudden. If Rizzo wants one, he might need to make his move now.

    It remains hard to figure what we do this winter. I’m reasonably confident we aren’t going to be one of the more active teams out there, but we have too many holes to simply stand pat, so we’re going to have to do *something*.


    22 Nov 21 at 6:54 pm

  12. I have to agree with Todd on the non-tenders. What would YOU give up for Kieboom or Robles?
    When you look at the Nats roster there are a lot of players who could be jettisoned but there is no need for that right now.

    If Rizzo wants to add pitching he’d better hurry up. Jon Gray would be a good match.

    Mark L

    23 Nov 21 at 8:56 am

  13. Honestly, is the right strategy for the Nats to attempt to buy their way back into contention for 2022?

    They’ve got around $80M to work with. They could use a decent starter (or two), a major infield bat at 2B or 3B, a corner OF bat, and relievers as always. Certainly $80M would buy that. But

    Todd Boss

    23 Nov 21 at 9:10 am

  14. I want Fedde traded because I want him gone, but then I’ve wanted that for at least three years. I certainly agree that he, Robles, and Kieboom don’t have much value right now. But it also makes no sense to pay Fedde and Robles the collective projected $3.6M in arb salary.

    It also depends on who the trade partner is, and what they’re trying to accomplish. The A’s most likely don’t want to pay Matt Chapman $9.5M, or Sean Manaea $10.2M, among others ($12M to Matt Olsen). If they’re doing essentially a salary dump, then they might be willing to take some failing prospects as part of the return. They’re going to be just as up against the tender deadline as the Nats are.

    I also don’t have that much issue with keeping Robles and Kieboom as long as it’s understood that they’re not going to begin the season as starters. They FINALLY cut their losses and sent Robles to the minors, but they kept putting Kieboom out there, every day. If that was his test, he failed, miserably.

    Weirdly, Steamer projects Kieboom with a 97(!) wRC+; 87 for Robles.


    23 Nov 21 at 11:19 am

  15. I guess a big question is whether the Nats/Lerners are going to be willing to spend up close to the tax line this year, with not-great promise of how well they can do.

    If the available number is $80M, let’s make it $70M since Rizzo generally likes to leave a $10M cushion. For around $25M, they could get Schwarber and E. Escobar. For around another $25M, they could get Stroman and either Gray or Matz. That would leave them $20M to throw at the reliever dartboard.

    Interestingly, Iglesias (who should be off the Nats’ radar with the QO attached) is the only reliever FG projects to post a WAR over 0.6. So it really is a dartboard market, even with several (former) “name” folks among the masses.


    23 Nov 21 at 11:32 am

  16. Wow, the Giants are all over the affordable pitching, a lot of the guys in whom the Nats should have had interest. Instead, Ghost is reporting that he’s heard that they’ve inquired about Scherzer. What the $%&&!!? I love-love-love Max, but he makes no sense for where this team is right now. The Nats have too many holes to fill to devote $30M+ to one starting pitcher.

    I don’t particularly understand what the Nats are doing, or why they’re hesitating.


    23 Nov 21 at 12:49 pm

  17. Sean Manaea would be an interesting addition if the A’s would take something like Kieboom and Millas for him. To my surprise, though, he’ll turn 30 before Opening Day and he’s only under contract for one more season. I think there are better fits.


    23 Nov 21 at 1:39 pm

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