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June 03, 2024

Bryce Harper is making an MVP push after red-hot May

Bryce Harper was named the National League Player of the Month for May. Does he have a chance at a third NL MVP?

Phillies MLB
Bryce Harper 6.3.24 Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

May 2024 was an eventful month for Bryce Harper -- a controversial ejection and near-skirmish, a walk-off, plenty more big hits, and now another National League Player of the Month honor.

Phillies first baseman Bryce Harper was named the National League's Player of the Month for the month of May on Monday morning, capping off what was a very successful -- albeit chaotic -- page on the calendar for the two-time NL Most Valuable Player and his club.

The two moments involving Harper from this past month that will be most remembered the most might be his perhaps premature ejection in Colorado and his near-brawl in San Francisco. Harper was visibly frustrated at a few different points during the month, shifting the discourse away from his tremendous production.

Looking back, however, Harper's numbers truly were remarkable:

StatHarper in MayNL rank

*A quick note: the player tied with Harper for most Wins Above Replacement in the National League last month, according to FanGraphs? Phillies infielder Edmundo Sosa.

After a shaky April in which Harper was mostly disappointing but uplifted his statistics with a three-homer game against the Cincinnati Reds, it seemed inevitable that the cornerstone of the Phillies' lineup would get into a groove soon. And when Harper locks in at the plate, there is perhaps no hitter in the world more dangerous.

Oftentimes in sports, there is a cliché that a team goes as one of its player goes. In baseball, it is often overstated: no individual batter can carry an entire lineup (just ask Mike Trout, or Harper before 2022, for that matter). 

But Harper's splits across wins and losses this season heading into Monday night's series-opener against the Milwaukee Brewers -- courtesy of baseball-reference -- paint a picture that is both exciting and jarring. Of course, the Phillies are better and more likely to win games when Harper is thriving at the plate, and the sample size is small, but the discrepancies here, even while acknowledging those facts, are a bit extreme:

Harper in wins (38 G)Harper in losses (17 G)
.336 AVG.115 AVG
.433 OBP.229 OBP
.685 SLG.148 SLG
14 HR0 HR

Harper was the National League's best player in May. The natural follow-up: does he have a chance at being the National League's best player over the course of the entire regular season? Harper notching a third MVP seemed impossible after his relatively slow start in March and April. Now it is conceivable, even if unlikely.

Harper remains playing a game of catch-up. There is a crowded field of candidates at this juncture, but two players are leading the pack: Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Betts, a one-time American League MVP during his time with the Boston Red Sox -- got off to one of the best starts to a season in many, many years, and despite tailing off a bit recently, currently has a strong lead among National League Players in fWAR (3.3). Betts enters Monday slashing .313/.412/.515 while seamlessly transitioning to shortstop -- a brand new position for the long-time outfielder and occasional second baseman -- at the last minute. Perhaps the most impressive part of Betts' statistical profile in 2024 is that he is only striking out 9.4 percent of the time -- his K% hovered around 16.0 percent for six years predating this one.

Rather than be overwhelmed by the hype surrounding the biggest free agency contract in the history of baseball and a scandal involving his former interpreter and confidant, Ohtani has stuck to mashing baseballs every day. Ohtani, who won two American League MVPs during his time with the Los Angeles Angels, did so because he was arguably the league's most dominant slugger while also mowing down hitters on the mound. No player exclusively serving as a designated hitter has ever won an MVP, but if anyone can, there is no doubt that it is Ohtani. 

We are long past the days of MVP trophies going to the best player on the best team by default. And, of course, Betts and Ohtani's Dodgers have an outstanding win-loss record as well. But as what has been a dream season for the Phillies so far continues, if Harper stays hot, name recognition alone could have him very firmly in the conversation.