Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant hitting leadoff will help fans see his value
For whatever reason, since 2016 Chicago Cubs fans have regularly questioned Kris Bryant’s makeup and value. This season, he will change those perceptions.
It’s pretty hard to live up to the hype that surrounded Kris Bryant by the time the 2017 season dawned. He came up early in 2015 without missing a beat, leading the Chicago Cubs to an improbable run to the NLCS in a Rookie of the Year campaign.
Bryant followed up that performance by not only taking home NL MVP honors in 2016, but helping erase a century-plus championship drought in Wrigleyville.
You literally cannot set the bar higher than it was set for the Cubs’ 2013 first-round pick. He ascended to the top of the mountain quicker than almost any player before him and in the wake of all that greatness, fans somehow expected more out of the slugger.
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After a World Series hangover-impacted 2017 showing, Bryant battled through a shoulder injury that sapped him of his ability to drive the ball in 2018 before turning in a solid, yet hardly eye-popping performance last year.
All winter long, we heard the trade rumors surrounding Bryant, which led to even more folks questioning just how valuable he was – both as a member of this Cubs core and as a trade piece.
But he’s in camp in Arizona with Chicago and made his Cactus League debut as the team’s leadoff hitter on Saturday, going 1-for-2 with a two-run single in his second at-bat of the night.
More and more, we’re seeing teams move their best hitters to the top of the order. A prime example? Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., who appeared in the leadoff spot 118 times last year en route to a fifth-place finish in National League MVP voting.
The Cubs dabbled in this line of thinking under former manager Joe Maddon, who repeatedly turned to All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo to set the table when the offense was struggling. While he may be the self-proclaimed ‘Best Leadoff Hitter of All-Time’ – Bryant is a far better choice.
First, he hits well against both left and right-handers. That’s not a knock on Rizzo, but a fact. Bryant hits southpaws better, of course, but holds his own against righties, as well. Secondly, he runs better than maybe anyone on the team with the possible exception of Javier Baez, depending on what you’re looking for.
But above all that – Bryant hitting leadoff gives him the opportunity to change the narrative. For whatever reason, fans think he’s soft, not good under pressure or flat overrated. All of those are horribly biased and ill-informed takes – but they exist nonetheless.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Bryant evaluated solely on his lack of runs batted in the last two seasons (he averaged just 64 RBI over the previous two campaigns). Anyone who bases their opinion on just one number has an outdated, antiquated understanding of the game, plain and simple.
Out of the leadoff spot, people shouldn’t focus as much on that and maybe, at long last, we, as a collective fan base, will finally understand just how impactful a healthy Kris Bryant is. As he gets things going for the lineup on a day-in, day-out basis this season, we’re going to see a guy ready to put a stressful offseason behind him on display.