Nationals

Nationals

Bryce Harper's historic season officially was recognized Thursday evening when the young Nationals star was unanimously selected as Most Valuable Player of the National League, the sport's highest honor for single-season performance.

Harper received first-place votes on all 30 ballots submitted by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, making the dynamic right fielder only the 18th unanimous MVP since writers began voting for the award in 1931. Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished a distant second, with Reds first baseman Joey Votto in third place.

Thursday's announcement caught no one by surprise; Harper had been widely expected to win since votes were submitted at the end of the regular season. But his runaway victory elevated his 2015 performance to another level.

Harper led the majors in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.649) and OPS (1.109) while leading the NL in runs (118), tying Colorado's Nolan Arenado for the league lead in homers (42) and finishing second to Miami's Dee Gordon for the batting title (.330). His 9.9 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, led all big leaguers and was baseball's highest mark since the Angels' Mike Trout in 2012.

"It was awesome," teammate Jayson Werth said on the final day of the season. "I'm really proud of him. He had a great season. MVP-caliber season."

With those numbers, Harper clearly was the NL's best player in 2015, but his performance stacks up with some of the best in baseball history. Only eight others had ever hit .330 with 42 homers and a .460 on-base percentage in a single season, and most of the names on that list (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds, Todd Helton and Jason Giambi) stand as the greatest hitters the game has ever known.

 

That Harper now joins that group is impressive enough. That he did it at age 22, with a full career still ahead of him, only adds to the significance. He's the fourth-youngest MVP ever, bested only by Vida Blue (1971), Johnny Bench (1970) and Stan Musial (1943).

Harper has dealt with raised expectations from the day the then-16-year-old was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, leaving the entire sports world keenly aware of his immense potential. When the Nationals made him the No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft, the pressure was on to live up to the hype.

Harper's path to the big leagues was swift — he debuted for the Nationals in April 2012, appearing in only 130 minor-league games prior to his promotion — and he made an immediate impact, helping his team to its first-ever division title and earning NL Rookie of the Year honors.

Harper continued to develop over the next two seasons, but injuries to both his knee (2013) and thumb (2014) left him less than 100 percent healthy and (he believed) left him unable to put his entire game together over the long haul. Finally healthy this season, he reached new heights, combining elite power with bat control and unwavering patience that allowed him to draw a club-record 124 walks and not chase pitches out of the zone the way he had in the past.

"That really shows the maturity that he's come around this year," first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said in September following 4-walk, 4-run game by his teammate. "It's hard to take those pitches, because everyone wants to get hits and everyone wants to drive in runs. Walks are good, but obviously it takes a lot of patience and discipline to do what he's doing. I'm proud of him for that."

Along the way, the rest of baseball couldn't help but take notice and recognize what Harper had become. Voted by fellow big leaguers as the sport's "Most Overrated Player" in a spring training poll by ESPN, he wound up being named "NL Outstanding Player" by those same peers in the season-ending Players Choice Awards.

Harper's performance was historic throughout his sport; his MVP selection was historic throughout the town he has played in the last four seasons. He's only the fourth Washington baseball player to win an MVP award, the first since Senators shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh in 1925. Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson twice was honored (1913, 1924).