Chicago Cubs: Old-school metrics stealing Kris Bryant’s thunder in 2017

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 12: Kris Bryant /

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is, by a lot of measures, having a season comparable to his 2016 MVP campaign. Yet no one thinks he’s matching that high level of performance.

If the baseball world needed a reminder about how good Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is, the reigning National League MVP delivered just that on Thursday night.

After teammate Javier Baez tied the game against the rival Milwaukee Brewers in the top of the ninth, Bryant connected on a game-winning two-run homer in the 10th to cut Chicago’s magic number down to six. But, despite garnering headlines the next day, baseball writers – and fans – continue to look past Bryant in the race for NL MVP.

According to Fangraphs, Bryant is one of just five players in the league with a WAR north of 6.0. Anrhont Rendon leads the league at 6.7 WAR – with Bryant tied with Giancarlo Stanton at 6.4 WAR. Joey Votto of the Reds comes in at 6.3 WAR and Charlie Blackmon rounds out the list with a 6.2 WAR.

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So, by that logic, KB is the second-most valuable player in the National League. Funny, because you’d never know that listening to bar room discussions about the battle for NL MVP. Why? Because baseball fans are desperately clinging to an antiquated way of valuing players – runs batted in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I miss the days where players drove in 150+ runs in a season. (Remember when Sammy Sosa drove in an average of 149 runs from 1998 to 2001?) But baseball has progressed to a point where there are more efficient ways of measuring a player’s value.

Personally, I like to start with OPS and, in turn, slash-lines. Last season, en route to MVP honors, Bryant slashed .292/.385/.554 – good for a .939 OPS. This year, granted there are two weeks left, he owns a .292/.406/.536 line (entering Friday). In other words, his OPS is three points higher than when he won the league’s top honors in 2016.

Bryant hitting with power again

Last year, he hit a career-high 39 home runs, driving in 102 runs. This season, he’ll likely fall short of that home run total. Thursday’s game-winner was his 28th long-ball of the year. As far as runs scored, he crossed home plate 121 times in 2016. So far in 2017, he has 105 runs to his credit – as well as a career-high 36 doubles.

Coming in to the 2017 season, Bryant wanted to improve his approach at the plate. Now, that’s a scary concept for opposing pitchers given the fact he slashed .554 last year. But, he still somehow managed it. After striking out in 22 percent of his at-bats in 2016, he’s cut that down to 19 percent. Not only is he striking out less, he’s walking more. He’s raised his walk percentage from 10.7 to 14.4 percent year-over-year.

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I’m not here to say Kris Bryant should win a second-straight MVP. But baseball fans everywhere are doing him – and the game – a disservice by simply eliminating him from contention based on one singular statistic. He deserves better – as he stands on the brink of delivering the Chicago Cubs to their third-straight postseason berth.

How rare is that feat? Ernie Banks never did it. Neither did Ron Santo or Billy Williams. Nope, not Sosa either. It hasn’t been done since 1908 – so there’s some ‘perspective’ on how valuable Kris Bryant is.