It’s an absurd thought, but it’s entirely likely that less than a year removed from a campaign in which he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player, all-world third baseman Kris Bryant may be among the least appreciated players in all of baseball. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what has caused it. It could be a lack of power in comparison to last year. Regardless of the case, it stands to question just how a player who has improved in a number of ways has regressed in the level of national attention that he’s receiving.
Comparing his statline from 2016 to that of 2017 presents some interesting elements:
Note to lack of power in comparison to last year: While he’s actually making less soft contact, he’s putting the ball on the ground far more and has experienced a dip in his Hard% to a degree of about nine percent. That’s rather significant, but there’s clearly a tradeoff taking place. His plate discipline numbers lend themselves to more consistent contact, as well as the notable opposite field attention that Bryant had made a priority before the season began, but there’s definitely some element of power being sacrificed there.
Nonetheless, the plate discipline and contact rates certainly appear more favorable for Bryant than they did even in his MVP campaign of last year:
Anybody who followed Kris Bryant during the last two offseasons is unlikely to be surprised by this. His goal prior to 2016 was to generate more contact, while he had a stated goal before 2017 of making more opposite field contact. Both of those objectives have been met, with gradual increases in each element being demonstrated this year.
Not only has he improved in a number of areas, but his defense has also been statistically stronger this year. His FRAA of 2.1 is an improvement from last year and a new career mark. And that comes while continuing to demonstrate the type of versatility that many of his counterparts at the hot corner throughout the league don’t necessarily feature.
Interestingly enough, Bryant’s 6.1 WARP ranks at the top of this year’s third base group to date. Anthony Rendon’s 5.92 mark comes in second at the position. His average ranks seventh among the group, while his ability to reach base trails only Justin Turner. His ISO ranks ninth and his FRAA also comes in the top ten among all Major League third sackers. His TAv trails only Rendon and Turner. Any way you slice it, we’re looking at an elite player at the position (something that was already known) that has somehow managed to slip to a level of becoming criminally underrated.
Nobody at the position features the type of skill set that Kris Bryant does. His OBP skills are among the best the position has to offer, especially with his increased contact and oppo rates. With improved fielding added to an already versatile player, it’s an absurd thought that Bryant has managed to slip out of the National League MVP conversation basically altogether. But to what exactly should we attribute his absence from the discussion?
It could certainly be the fact that other teams have experienced more success over the long-term in 2017 than the Cubs have. Their first half was plagued with inconsistency, potentially causing impressive seasons from Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, etc. to fall by the wayside, in favor of those from Justin Turner, Bryce Harper, and now Giancarlo Stanton. It could be due to the lack of power. Despite managing to continue to find gaps regularly and maintain a strong ISO figure, Bryant is obviously well off of his 39 homer pace from last season.
Regardless of the reasoning behind what has caused Kris Bryant to become overshadowed by a multitude of National League position players, it’s hard to ignore the improvements that he’s made. Sure, there has been a decrease in power, but on a team that possesses such an enormous wealth of it like the Cubs do, it’s hard to be upset. Especially when it’s come in conjunction with drastic improvements in approach and, subsequently, on-base percentage. It’ll be interesting to see how these developments continue to take shape, both for the remainder of 2017 and beyond. But even with the absence of accolades, it’s easy to be impressed with what Kris Bryant has done in 2017, even if he’s done it as quietly as possible.
Lead photo courtesy Caylor Arnold—USA Today Sports