Make no mistake. The Chicago Cubs have a long-term superstar on their hands in Kris Bryant, despite what some are calling a ‘down’ season in 2017.
Since the Chicago Cubs drafted Kris Bryant in 2013, the baseball world assumed he would become a franchise cornerstone. After posting a .275/.369/.488 slash-line and hitting 26 home runs during his rookie campaign, those hopes were accelerated.
For his efforts during the 2015 season, Bryant earned NL Rookie of the Year honors and made his first All-Star team. With that instant success in the big leagues, fans were expecting big things from the power-hitting third baseman in 2016.
Bryant did not let Cubs fans down. At 24 years old, Bryant appeared in 155 games and slashed .292/.385/.554. In addition to that, he also slugged 39 home runs and logged 102 RBI. For that performance, Bryant was named the 2016 NL MVP and made his second All-Star team in as many years.
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Despite finding success in his first two seasons, Bryant did little to impress during the 2017 season, instead turning in just an ‘alright’ season.
Bryant leveled off in 2017
Coming off an MVP season, the expectations for Bryant in 2017 were huge. Personally, I thought the 25-year-old would hit 50 home runs and set a new career-high in RBI. Instead, Bryant got off to a slow start, recording just one hit through the first four games of 2017.
While Bryant did manage to post a .289 batting average for the month of April, he failed to hit more than seven home runs in a single month in 2017. To put that into perspective, Bryant had two months in 2016 where he hit 10 or more home runs in each month.
Due to his decreased home run production, Bryant managed just 29 long-balls in 2017. Despite the drop in home runs, Bryant still logged a .537 slugging percentage, perhaps due to his career-high 38 doubles.
Perhaps the most interesting number in Bryant’s 2017 season was his RBI total. After recording 99 and 102 RBI in 2015 and 2016 respectively, Bryant drove home just 73 runs in 2017. The drop in RBI could be contributed to Bryant’s increased usage in the two-spot in the line-up last year (411) compared to 2016 (325). Or, it could be because of the Cubs’ lack of production from the leadoff spot for much of the year. Whatever the cause, the Cubs need to find a way to get Bryant back to pushing runs across the plate with his bat.
Bryant settles in at third base
In each of Bryant’s first two major league seasons, he played at least 10 games at a position other than third base. In fact, in 2016 Bryant made 69 appearances in the outfield compared to 107 at third base. This season, the number of outfield reps dropped to nine. That drop can likely be attributed to the return of Kyle Schwarber and the ability of Ian Happ to fill in when needed.
Despite the additional time at the hot corner, Bryant did not shine with the glove like in previous years. He only recorded one defensive run saved and logged the lowest fielding percentage at third base in his career.
However, Bryant’s 2017 fielding percentage of .949 falls right in-line with his career average of .951. In addition to that, Bryant’s range factor of 2.31 per game was the best of his career at third.
Outlook for the slugger
There is no doubt Kris Bryant will be a Chicago Cub for a long-time. In his first three seasons Bryant has lived up to the hype that surrounded him prior to his first big league game.
With that being said, I think a nice bounce back year for Bryant would be great for him and the team.
Entering his age-26 season, Bryant has a lot on his shoulders in 2018. The Cubs’ window of winning is wide open and it is largely his responsibility to get the Cubs back to the postseason. According to Baseball-reference.com and their projections for the 2018 season, Bryant will have a similar season to the one he had in 2017. They predict Bryant will slash .289/.390/.533 with 29 home runs and 81 RBI.
Reason for the grade
If you noticed, I gave Tommy La Stella a higher grade than I gave Bryant. Don’t worry, I have my reasons for that. First off, La Stella always seemed to come through when the Cubs needed him to, making him a valuable tool coming off the bench. Despite his small role, he preformed it well and did his best to help his team win ball games.
It is my opinion that Bryant took a small step back in 2017. Statistically, Bryant was an average defender at best who failed to hit 30 home runs. In a game dominated by home runs, you cannot take a step back in that department from year-to-year.
Bryant set the bar so high for himself in 2016 that it would have been very hard for him to top that mark in 2017. Still, in baseball if you are not getting better, you are getting worse and I am afraid Kris Bryant just did not have as good of a season in 2017 as he did in 2016.