Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant was even better than you thought

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

It’s hard to envision a better first three seasons for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant – an MVP, World Series champion and two-time All-Star.

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant has been everything one could hope for since before the days of his 2015 big-league debut, quite possibly exceeding his own hype.

In 2015, he was named NL Rookie of the Year. Bryant followed that up with the MVP in 2016, and though he didn’t hit as many home runs or knock in as many runs in 2017, he had arguably a better season than his MVP-campaign.

In each of Bryant’s first three seasons, as good as he has proven thus far, he keeps improving. Strikeouts have decreased each year, and he walked 95 times in 2017, up from 75 in 2016. His OPS improved to .946, by far a career-high to-date, and up from .858 in year one.

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Not bad company

Since Bryant’s debut, his fWAR of 21.6 ranks second – only behind Mike Trout (25.0). As Trout is widely regarded to be the best player in the game, it’s quite a barometer for the three-year vet in Bryant.

And I’ve gotta say. That tired debate of who’s better, Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado? They’re both great, and each team, the Cubs, and the Rockies, plus their fanbases are lucky to have either.

But since you asked.

In 2017, Bryant’s slash line was .295./409/.537 .946 OPS, with 29 home runs, 73 RBI, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts. He had 146 WRC+ versus Arenado: .309/.373/.586, .959 OPS, 37 homers, 130 RBI, 62 BB, 106 K. His WRC+ was 129.

The latter statistic quantifies weighted runs created, adjusting for ballpark and era, so Coors Field puts Arenado at somewhat of a disadvantage at that point.

Technically, Bryant outdid his 2016 MVP campaign. He had fewer home runs and RBI, but he also hit second in Joe Maddon‘s lineup more frequently than any other spot (411 AB). Actually, it’s interesting how much more effective Bryant was on the road this season, versus his Wrigley Field splits.

Put the debate to rest

At Wrigley, Bryant slashed .261/.383/.519 with a .902 OPS. Away from Chicago, the slashes were markedly better: .331/.437/.556, .993 OPS. If you’re curious, Arenado was better at home. Splits are .336/.392/.644, 1.036 OPS. On the road, .283/.355/.531/ .886 OPS.

Bryant also was fifth-best in road batting average.

So yeah, if you’re looking at things face value, player A had more home runs, RBI, and was a monster at his home ballpark. Which so happens to be Coors Field. Player B had fewer homers and RBI, but was even better on the road, began to walk more, strike out less and has the ability to play multiple positions in the field. Ken Rosenthal explains more in 2016.

Everyone’s got an opinion

As an athlete, I wouldn’t question Arenado’s potential to play other positions, and while he doesn’t have to be utilized in such a way, Bryant can. It leads to another topic. Recently, a man on Instagram had this for Bryant.

"“Man, hit the weight room instead the green pretty boy. You could have the power of Judge or Stanton if you put on another 20lbs, and you’d still look pretty. What a waste.”"

Bryant had the following response: “I think I’ve had a pretty decent 3 years all while looking pretty doing it. Save it pal.”

Anyway, let’s check it out. American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge put up a monster 2017 campaign. But he was a .256 road hitter, led the league with 208 strikeouts and had 19 homers away from the Bronx. Wil Myers – remember though, homers aren’t everything – had more road homers than Judge. Thus, using just home runs to evaluate a player like Bryant makes zero sense. Zero. Especially when there’s a clear improvement in KB’s overall plate discipline.

He’s alright

Overall, the NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, was a .281/.376/.631, and fWAR of 6.9. Bryant’s fWAR was 6.7. Not bad. Stanton was also just a .240/.326/.489 hitter in 2016, in just 119 games, and had fWAR of 1.8. He turned in quite a performance in 2017, rightfully an MVP, but he doesn’t walk nearly as often and strikes out more than Bryant. Just different styled hitters.

Judge, Stanton, Arenado, and Bryant are all MVP-potentials. Time will tell who is the better player or has the better all-around resume. But Bryant, who supposedly had a down year in 2017, was still every bit as good as his 2016-MVP season. Probably better. Away from Wrigley, his numbers are quite good, and he has formed a level of overall consistency to date.

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While pure home run hitters like Judge and Stanton are great, how will their bodies age? One underrated attribute of Bryant is his all-around versatile ability. Bulking up for 10 more home runs is not necessary, as things have played out just fine so far. He could probably have a 50-home run season as is.

In the end, debates are fun, but statistically, Bryant isn’t bad himself. To say the least.