We have all heard it way too much this season, “Kris Bryant is having a down year.” That couldn’t be further from the truth, well, unless you’re the last person who believes RBI are important. Kris isn’t having a down year, not in the slightest, he is actually having a better season than he had in his 2016 MVP season. Don’t believe me? Well, keep reading.
Patience and selection
One of the biggest changes in Kris Bryant v.2016 and Kris Bryant v.2017 is the patience he has brought to the plate. He had always seen a lot of pitches, but in 2017 he has become much more selectively patient at the plate. This has transformed a good, but not great 10.7% BB rate to 14.4% this season. This has also helped him raise a very good .385 OBP in 2016 to .411 in 2017. That’s nearly a 30 point jump!
What is interesting is his pitch selection. While he is still swinging at 28% of the pitches out of the zone, he is making contact with 62.4% of those pitches, up from the 55.4% he made contact with in 2016. This tells me that Bryant is selecting to swing at pitches that he has the ability to make contact with, and isn’t truly getting fooled on pitches out of the zone. This speaks to his growth as a hitter, showing that he understands how a pitcher will try and get him out.
Overall he has increased his contact rate by 5% over 2016, and by nearly 12% over his 2015 season. He is showing that he isn’t the all or nothing hitter he was when he set a rookie record with 199 strikeouts in 2015. In fact, Bryant was striking out in 30% of his at bats just two years ago, and now with a league that K’s at a 21.6% rate, he has cut it to an 18.9% clip.
So, of course, we will talk a little about RBI’s. This is the stat which almost anyone that follows and tracks the game has deemed utterly useless. The reasoning? It requires your teammates to be on base at the time you are hitting.
A lot of fans, and embarrassingly baseball writers, have declared that Bryant is having a down year because his RBI totals in 2017 (73) aren’t as impressive as his 2016 totals (102). Sure triple digits in RBI looks good next to anyone’s name, but look at the hitters that have been in front of Kris this season and you’ll find a new respect for what he has been able to accomplish.
Until mid-May Kyle Schwarber was the Cubs lead-off hitter and lone hitter in front of Kris. When leading off the game, Kyle had a .190 AVG and a .312 OBP. Schwarber had 28 hits as a leadoff hitter, and 24 more walks. This means Kris walked up to the plate with Kyle on base in only 52 times. There were other opportunities throughout the year, but in total Kris has hit with runners in scoring position only 149 times and has recorded 73 total RBI.
I might lose some of you here
wRC+ is a measurement of a player’s total offensive value. Here is Fangraph’s explanation.
So knowing this a player has an 100 wRC+ they are average, a player with a 75 wRC+ would be 25% below league average and of course a 125 wRC+ would be 25% above league average. Bryant has a 148 wRC+ which matches his 2016 mark, and MVP candidates Anthony Rendon, Cody Bellinger, Charlie Blackmon, and Nolan Arenado are all ranked lower than Kris.
So while guys like Arenado have gotten more MVP attention, Bryant’s offensive contributions have been more valuable than his.
WAR, what is it good for?
Well apparently a lot of folks use it to determine a players overall value. I happen to be one of those, but I also recognize some of its flaws.
Well the 2016 NL MVP has found himself back on top the NL in WAR with a 6.7. This will undoubtedly flip-flop a bit over the course of the next week, but Bryant has quietly overtaken the top spot. In fact, Bryant is now third in all of baseball in WAR, outpacing the likes of Charlie Blackmon (6.4), Giancarlo Stanton (6.4), Corey Seaver (5.6), Paul Goldschmidt (5.5), Justin Turner (5.4), and Nolan Arenado (5.4).
Both wRC+ and WAR don’t take into account RBI, at all. And I don’t bring that up as a negative. It isn’t factored in because the stat is irrelevant to what we’ve learned about the game. They do reflect a players impact and importance to a team.
While there are flaws in WAR (most notably it being context neutral, not associating value to the leverage in which a player performed in) and there are misconceptions on what a replacement level player is. All that aside, WAR is still the best measure of value of a player we have today.
I believe as long a season Kris Bryant plays baseball he’ll be heads and shoulders above others in terms of the intangibles. From being able to play all around the field, being one of the more astute players, to being the best base runner in the game – Bryant brings more to a game than any other player today.
Bryant’s versatility cannot be highlighted enough. He has played every position besides catcher and pitcher, and somehow I think he could do either if asked. This versatility is something that isn’t measured, but certainly helps the Cubs win games.
Bryant is also sneaky fast and he pairs it with being an incredibly smart base runner. If you took a look at Fangraphs and the BsR rating, the only players that rank better than Kris (4.7) are your base stealing speedsters. The only other MVP candidate within 15 spots of Bryant is Goldschmidt (3.2).
Why bring this up? Simply put, Kris Bryant does more to help his team win than any player in baseball. This has to be taken into account.
There’s a romance in baseball with the homerun. This is why we still holding Babe Ruth to such a high esteem. The homerun is what brings fans to the sport, the homerun is an instant game changer. Playing high school and semi pro ball, when a homerun was hit against you it would break your spirit a bit where if you hit a homer it picked up your team.
Kris Bryant is a real MVP candidate, but the story and the eyes and the publicity have all been on Stanton. The 2017 NL MVP will be Giancarlo Stanton, and Bryant might not get much more than fourth or fifth place nods.