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Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant will win another MVP award in 2017

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May 2, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17) receives the National League MVP Award before the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17) receives the National League MVP Award before the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports /
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Even after a hot start, some people believe Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant will not win the MVP award in 2017; those people are wrong

Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant is a special talent. Bryant has the skill to hit 39 home runs, leg-out 35 doubles, and score 121 runs. Those numbers, of course came last year during his MVP campaign. Bryant’s .292/.385/.554 slash line, his 102 RBI, and 149 OPS+ won him 29 out of a possible 30 first place votes for the award last season.

After racking up the accolades last season, which included an All-Star Game appearance, World Series title, and of course MVP award, Bryant set out to improve upon his already stellar play. To do that, Bryant started focusing on hitting the ball to the opposite field.

According to Fangraphs, in 2016, Bryant did not hit a home run to the opposite field. In 2017, three of Bryant’s 11 home runs have been sprayed to the opposite field. Already, Bryant is showing improvement upon his MVP season of a year ago.

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Through one-quarter of the 2017 season, Bryant is slashing .292/.400/.571 with 11 home runs and 23 RBI. His stellar numbers through the quarter mark of the season means that he is on pace to hit 41 home runs. In addition to that, he is on pace to drive in 87 runs, and score 124 more. The 25-year-old Bryant is also on pace to strikeout 154 times, walk 105 times, and record 185 hits.

If Bryant can maintain his current pace, he will better his totals in hits, walks, home runs, and runs scored from a year ago.

Bryant’s defensive versatility

Perhaps an overlooked part of Bryant’s game is his defensive versatility. Last year, Bryant played 857 innings at third base, his natural position. In addition to that, Bryant logged 453 1/3 innings in the outfield, and 55 1/3 innings at first base.

One would not expect an MVP caliber player to log innings all over the diamond. Bryant, however, did and he did it well. At every position he played last season, Bryant was average or above average in defensive runs saved. He saved four runs at third base, and five combined in the outfield (three in left, one in right, one in center). On a lesser note, he saved one at first base, and zero at shortstop (in one inning).

How Bryant stacks up

Bryant’s defensive versatility is unrivaled by any of the other top five finishers in the NL MVP race a year ago. Daniel Murphy, who finished second, logged innings at first, second, and third base last season. Murphy was below average at second and third base in defensive runs saved, while being just average at first base.

Corey Seager finished third in the MVP race last season, and did not stray from shortstop for the Dodgers. Despite logging over 1,300 innings at the position, Seager managed to play average defense. Bryant’s teammate, Anthony Rizzo finished fourth in voting and won a Gold Glove at first base. Even though Rizzo displayed great defensive ability at first base, that’s the only position he displayed it at.

Finally, Nolan Arenado, who could challenge Bryant for the MVP award this season, never moved away from third base last season for the Rockies. Perhaps it was because he saved 20 runs defensively. In fact, Arenado has logged over 5,000 innings over five major league seasons. Not once has the 26-year-old Arenado moved away from third base.

New challenges will arise

This season is an entirely new chapter in baseball. Thus, Kris Bryant will have to prove he is MVP worthy all over again. Through the first 43 games, he is proving that he is worthy.

There is no doubt the voters look at more than just offensive numbers when making their decision for the award. For many, the definition of most valuable player is one who can impact the team the most, and do whatever his manager asks in order to win ball games. In 2016, Bryant impacted his team in the biggest way possible, earning him an MVP award for his troubles. In 2017, however, new challenges will present themselves. Those challenges may prevent Bryant from capturing his second MVP award in as many seasons.

Could the return of Bryce Harper (.340/.450/.673), or the resurgence of Ryan Zimmerman (.362/.401/.699) be enough to knock Bryant off the top? Perhaps it could be, but once again, both of these players lack the ability to play all over the diamond like Bryant can. That will mean the voters could have a difficult time deciding who is worthy of the award the most.

Next: Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo has been better than his batting average looks

With just over 25 percent of the season played, it is too early to foreshadow who the winner of the NL MVP award will be. You can bet on one thing though. Kris Bryant will be near the top, if not at the top of the leader-board once the votes are tallied.

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