Despite leading the Chicago Cubs to the best record in baseball, slugger Kris Bryant is far from a lock to take home his first National League MVP award at season’s end.
If all the voters for the league’s top honors came out of the North Side of Chicago, it could be unanimous. Well, no. Not even then. Across the diamond, Anthony Rizzo – the other half of Team Bryzzo – himself will likely draw votes from Chicagoland baseball writers.
This alone hinders the candidacy of the Cubs’ sophomore slugger, coming off an outstanding 2015 season that culminated in an NLCS berth and National League Rookie of the Year honors.
In fact, Rizzo outperforms Bryant in strikeouts (just 99 compared to 146), and has a higher on-base percentage and more walks, runs batted in, doubles and triples than his corner infield counterpart. He’s within striking distance in both home runs and OPS, as well – on top of giving the Chicago Cubs stellar defense at first base on a daily basis.
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Personally, I’d love to see Rizzo take home the league’s top honors. He is one of the few remaining pieces of the dark days (along with left-hander Travis Wood). The lovable left-handed bat saw this franchise through the rebuild that has culminated in the club’s first National League Central title in the better part of a decade.
But that’s another argument for another time.
Are Bryant’s numbers enough for the voters?
Bryant entered play on Tuesday with 37 home runs, which trails only Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies amongst NL hitters, to go along with an impressive 96 runs batted in and an NL-leading 7.2 WAR.
That 7.2 is more than a full win better than the next-closest player in the National League, Freddie Freeman. He’s arguably the best offensive player in the game – and he’s done this in just his first full big league season, appearing in games at six different positions.
The biggest threat to Bryant’s quest to win the Chicago Cubs’ first MVP award since Ernie Banks in 1958 isn’t the lovable slugger across the diamond, though. That man has beleaguered National League East pitching all season long in Washington infielder Daniel Murphy.
The second baseman, who Cubs fans will remember from last October’s National League Championship Series with the Mets, jumped ship from New York last year via free agency. New York no doubt looks back on that move with a heavy heart.
Murphy regularly terrorized Mets’ pitching this year – to the tune of a .413/.444/.773 line over 75 at-bats. You can’t say that’s an isolated incident either. The slugger belted 25 long balls, driving in 104 runs so far to go along with a staggering .348/.391/.597 slash-line, while leading the league with a .989 OPS.
He ranks in the top five in the National League in hits (184) and doubles (47); and may very well very win the NL batting title.
Team’s success will be advantageous
When you put Bryant and Murphy side-by-side, the latter takes top dog status in all three triple-slash categories, runs batted in, hits, doubles, triples and runs batted in. Bryant outperforms Murphy in just two main statistical categories – home runs (37 to 25) and WAR (7.2 to 4.6).
The biggest thing the young Chicago Cubs star has working for him is the narrative surrounding his exploits and the accomplishments of a team that is heavily favored to win the World Series next month.
Bryant quickly joined Rizzo as the face of the Cubs’ franchise – coming up in the clutch time and time again. In Sunday’s loss to Milwaukee at Wrigley Field, the 41,000-plus fans packing the confines started chanting ‘MVP’ chants in the ninth when he stepped to the plate. Bryant draws fans unlike any slugger since the days of Sammy Sosa – and it’s a chilling sight to behold.
That being said, one would have to think that given the people who select the Most Valuable Player are, in fact, baseball writers, numbers matter more than a story.
What will win out? A talented young superstar on the North Side of Chicago who leads the league in WAR or a veteran middle infielder with a chip on his shoulder?
Only time will tell.