For the first time in 18 years, the Cubs have a National League Most Valuable Player. Kris Bryant, who learned of his victory while on camera from his batting cage festooned with memorabilia and (somewhat hilariously) a cardboard cutout of himself, takes home the award just one season after winning Rookie of the Year unanimously, and two short weeks after powering the Cubs to their first World Series championship in over a century.
After a rookie campaign in which he hit .275/.369/.488 with 5.9 WARP, and finished 11th in MVP voting, Bryant improved across the board. Flirting with a .300 batting average for a good chunk of the year while mashing 39 home runs, the 24-year-old Bryant finished with an astounding 9.1 WARP, powered by a .292/.385/.554 batting line. He also topped the 100 RBI plateau, a milestone at whose precipice Bryant found himself last season, when ultimately he drove in only 99. Most reports on his defense were good, if not glowing, quelling some of the doubts that analysts had about his third base play when he was called up last season.
Bryant garnered 29 of 30 first-place votes, besting Daniel Murphy—who received the other first-place vote—and Corey Seager, who also took home Rookie of the Year honors. His friend and counterpart across the diamond, Anthony Rizzo, finished fourth, edging the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado. Bryant’s Las Vegas youth baseball friend Bryce Harper won the award unanimously last season, and Bryant nearly became the third NL player in the past two decades to take home the hardware with no dissent. For perspective: the other two are Barry Bonds (2002) and Albert Pujols (2009). He’s the 9th Cub to win the BBWAA award, and the first since Sammy Sosa in his miraculous 1998. Since Ernie Banks’ back-to-back victories in 1958-1959, only Ryne Sandberg (1984), Andre Dawson (1987), and Sosa have won the award for the North Siders.
BP Wrigleyville covered Bryant’s MVP season with aplomb from the beginning. Rian Watt and I focused on Bryant’s substantive changes in his swing and approach this season, which resulted in both more home runs and a higher average. Isaac Bennett profiled Bryant’s improvement from 2015 to this year, and Leigh Coridan captured some of the psychological factors that led to his 2016 domination, replete with quotes from the man himself. Ken Schultz examined the “vanilla” personality of Bryant, and how it spurs him on.
Flanked by his father and his fiancée, Bryant appeared elated, donning his characteristically cipher-like smile. This time, however, that grin emoted quite a bit. He’s now achieved a number of feats in a few short years: the Golden Spikes award for best college player, the MiLB Player of the Year, NL Rookie of the Year, NL MVP, and World Series champion. Oh, and he gets married in two months. For the man who had the assist on the play that secured the Cubs’ World Series victory, it was a fitting capstone to a season that neither Bryant nor us will forget.
Lead photo courtesy David Richard—USA Today Sports.