Chicago Cubs: Is Kris Bryant a clutch hitter in the middle of the order?

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

Many Chicago Cubs fans have debated whether Kris Bryant is a clutch hitter. But what do the numbers say? Let’s take a look.

It continues to be a hot topic of debate among Chicago Cubs fans: How good is Kris Bryant? Go on Twitter and you’ll find his strongest supporters as well as his biggest detractors. Those who think he’s overrated often claim that he doesn’t come through in clutch situations.

Looking at Bryant’s traditional batting numbers, it’s easy to see how he could at least have that reputation. He’s batting .280 this season with 26 home runs, yet he’s only driven in 64. Even in his MVP season of 2016 – also the Cubs’ championship season – Bryant batted .292 with 39 home runs, yet he only drove in 102.

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Defenders will be quick to point out that the Cubs have struggled all season to find a quality leadoff hitter and that he often batted second in the order before the Nicholas Castellanos trade, therefore making it difficult for Bryant to find RBI opportunities. They also point out his overall solid statistics. So what do the numbers say? Let’s dig a little deeper.

According to Baseball-Reference, there are low, medium and high leverage situations. Below you can find Bryant’s slash line in each of those respective scenarios:

  • Low Leverage: .285/.388/.524
  • Medium Leverage: .289/.382/.530
  • High Leverage: .271/.380/.459

So, the numbers do go down slightly for High Leverage situations. But how is he trending? Let’s look at the 2019 numbers:

  • Low Leverage: .253/.351/.454
  • Medium Leverage: .313/.407/.580
  • High Leverage: .299/.420/.552

So, it looks like he actually is better in clutch situations this year. Not only that, but it appears that Bryant is trending in the right direction. Check out the numbers from his 2016 MVP season:

  • Low Leverage: .317/.413/.624
  • Medium Leverage: .276/.363/.525
  • High Leverage: .250/.348/.406

Perhaps in the past, Bryant hasn’t been a clutch hitter, but it appears that this is changing.

How does Bryant compare to some of the other elite third basemen in the league? Here are the low/medium/high leverage (OPS) numbers for Bryant along with the top five WAR third basemen according to ESPN:

Amazingly, Bryant compares favorably with Arenado in OPS in high leverage situations and is beating the other four by a wide margin.

Don’t want to go by these numbers? Here are a few more 2019 stats:

  • OPS in what Baseball Reference classifies as ‘late & close’ situations: 1.160
  • OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position: .975
  • When the game is tied or there’s a score margin of 1, 2, 3, or 4, his OPS is at least .877 in every situation. (When the margin is five or more, that goes down to .779.)

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I’ll admit that when I first started researching for this article, I expected the numbers to show that Bryant wasn’t a clutch player. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he actually has been strong in clutch situations. Hopefully, these stats will convince critics.