Is Kris Bryant Doomed for Regression?

Kris Bryant’s continued progression over the last three seasons has been nothing short of incredible. He’s got the hardware to prove it with Minor League Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and MVP awards all being added to his shelf in each of the past three years. All we’ve seen from Bryant since his start in pro ball is improvement.

However, after a 9.1 WARP season there are questions about how much further up the young third baseman can go.

But first, let’s take a look at what exactly Bryant did so well in 2016 that allowed him to reach such an astronomical WARP. Nearly all of his value came from offense. Despite a change intended to level out his swing and reduce strikeouts, Bryant didn’t lose any of his power. By nearly every metric you could think of, Bryant was among the best in baseball, if not the very best. He was top 10 in wRC+ (149), ISO (.262), TAv (.350), home runs (39), and OPS (.939).

On defense, Bryant didn’t add a lot to his WARP with just a +0.7 FRAA. However, the eye test and other metrics (+10 DRS, +12.4 UZR) certainly thought he was excellent on the defensive side of the ball as well. All of this culminated in a breakout season for a player that some had pegged for a sophomore slump.

Bryant’s 2014 was really good, his 2015 was even better, and his 2016 was best of all. Natural progression combined with Bryant’s age seems to tell us that his 2017 season could be beyond belief.

PECOTA outright disagrees with that premise.

Bryant is expected to see one of the top five largest drop-offs in WARP of any player in 2017. One huge reason is that a WARP over 9 is hardly ever reached by anyone. A drop off to even an excellent, above-average player worth 5-6 WARP (PECOTA has Bryant pegged at 5.4 currently) is still 3.7 WARP worth. Achieving a WARP of 5.4 is certainly still very, very good, but even Bryant’s 2015 season was worth more than that.

Is PECOTA right about Bryant? Or is our intuition about his potential correct?

Well, at risk of it being called a cop-out, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It’s inconceivable that Bryant would have his worst season at age 25 with only success on his resume. It’s also inconceivable that Bryant could improve on a 9.1 WARP season. Either scenario could happen, but both are extremely unlikely.

More likely is that Bryant will have another MVP-caliber, excellent season that is similar to what he did in 2016 but falls just short of 9.1 WARP.

Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports


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1 comment on “Is Kris Bryant Doomed for Regression?”

Good stuff

If KB really has a Kobe-like discipline to continue adding to his skill arsenal as his dad says, I don’t see any justification for NOT continuing to project improvement for another year or two.

Just because the numbers become other worldly – isn’t a sound reasoning justification IMHO.

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