For the first time since 2015, all three NL MVP finalists were eliminated from playoff contention. Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. were the leading vote getters, all of whose teams had a disappointing 2021. There is a case to be made for each, with pros and cons to each candidate.
I’ll start with the only one of the trio that has an MVP under his belt. Harper had another stellar campaign in 2021, hitting .309 with 35 homeruns, while also leading the NL in slugging percentage and OPS. His RBI count is a tad low at 84, but he made up for that by scoring 101 runs. The Phillies success can make or break Harper’s case here. They they finished with an 82-80 record and second in the NL East. That shouldn’t hurt him too much, as Soto and Tatis Jr. weren’t in the postseason mix either. One could argue when the Phillies got hot in late August into September, Harper was the centerpiece. One interesting note: If Harper brings home the award, it will be the first time the NL MVP wasn’t an All-Star since 2007, when Jimmy Rollins won it with the Phillies.
Soto may be the best hitter in all of baseball, which is scary when you realize he just turned 23. The big knock against Soto is Washington’s last place finish at 65-97. The only other time a NL MVP has finished last was in 1987, when Andre Dawson won it with the Cubs. However, Soto isn’t to blame for Washington entering a rebuild. He lead the league in WAR at 7.0, and in OBP at a ridiculous .465. Add that to his 29 homeruns, 95 RBI, .313 average and 145 walks, and Soto has a strong case for winning his first MVP.
Fernando Tatis Jr.
If Soto isn’t the best hitter in baseball, it could very well be Tatis Jr. He lead the paced the NL in homeruns with 42, and drove in 97 to go with them. He also added on 25 stolen bases, which made him one of the games best dual threats. Unfortunately for Tatis, his teams performance will hurt him more than the other candidates here. The Padres were expected to battle it out with the Dodgers for the best record in baseball, but finished under .500 at 79-83 and lost their wild card spot late. Tatis isn’t all to blame, since bad management and pitching were the downfall of the Padres. His spotty defense and September dugout exchange with Manny Machado are going to be the talking points of how the Padres and Tatis let 2021 slip away.
And the Award Goes to…
In what this author sees as being a very close finish, Bryce Harper takes home the award with Soto and Tatis Jr. finishing second and third, respectively. The teams success won’t be factored in as much as usual, and Harper’s numbers were slightly better than his competition. In a somewhat disappointing Phillies season, Harper could be the bright spot.