Profiling each Chicago Cubs player for 2017, we discuss the historical impact of former Rookie of the Year and reigning NL MVP: Third baseman Kris Bryant.
Hank Aaron Award
Led NL 3B in OBP — .385
Led NL 3B in OPS — .939
First among NL in WAR — 7.7
Well, Kris Bryant is good. Very good. What else can you say about an individual that seems to have it all, and by the ripe ole age of 25?
Turns out, plenty. I guess the question should be, what can’t you say about the player who has it all? A World Series run capping off an MVP-campaign, and as if that’s not enough, getting married in the offseason.
Only through two seasons, I dared thought aloud that the Chicago Cubs third baseman could be on a, dare I say, Hall of…well, a trajectory towards something very special.
It’s not the traditional praise you just throw out there. Not five years into a career and definitely not through a 25-year-old’s two-year old career.
However, Bryant is not your typical 25-year old, and the slugger’s first two MLB seasons have been anything but the typical start to a big league career.
— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) November 17, 2016
Getting Started Young
It probably shouldn’t come as a shock that Bryant has started off his career the way he has.
A winner at every level — the only player to win the Golden Spikes Award, Minor League Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and MVP — Bryant has already begun to ingrain his footprint all up, and within, the Cubs franchise.
People around sports — sports writers, commentators — like to cast comparisons. I’m merely a fan of the game, so I’m probably significantly less-qualified in saying it’s really not fair to measure the potential of young players up against the games’ giants.
However, Bryant’s beginning to carve that caricature himself.
When’s the last time a player’s career got off on such a heralded and decorated note, including at least one of, Rookie of the Year honors or MVPs, and World Series wins, by at least their second season? Derek Jeter? Buster Posey, Miguel Cabrera?
That’s not bad company.
In 2016 Bryant hit the most home runs (39) of any Cub since Derrek Lee‘s 35 in 2009 and is the first Cub to surpass that total since Aramis Ramirez‘s 38 in 2006. Bryant set a Cubs franchise record for the most home runs through a player’s first two years (61).
That’s also good for the ninth most all-time in MLB history.
Alongside Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, Bryant is the second player with at least 35 homers in a Cubs’ first or second season, and the second Cub to hit at least 35 homers at age 24 since Banks.
He scored 121 runs for the season and was the first player in the majors to reach the 100 plateau in 2016, doing so in the Cubs’ 124th game. Sammy Sosa did it in three fewer games in 2002.
Bryant’s the 10th Cubs player to score 100 runs in 124 games.
There are few players in the game that transcend the sport. You know they’re going to be stars before they even make their debut — Posey and Mike Trout — but how often can you say the best player and the best team won?
On a team stocked with MVP-caliber players, Bryant wasn’t really a surprise to do what he did in 2016. And as par the course of the Maddon-managed Cubs, Bryant can play a multitude of positions between third base and the outfield.
He’s even played innings at first and shortstop.
Going Beyond the MVP … Award
So just how good was Kris Bryant for the Cubs in 2016? Going beyond the actual hardware, Bryant was the team co-leader in games played with Anthony Rizzo, 155, the leader in at-bats, runs, hits, home runs, average, slugging, OPS, total bases.
His .308 BA led baseball’s postseason. He tied for the team lead in runs, doubles and home runs, and led in hits, walks, OBP, slugging and OPS.
Bryant also led the team in strikeouts, so apparently, he does still have an area to further refine. (Insert snicker).
But Bryant knows there’s always hard work to be done:
“There are a lot of areas where are I know I can get better. I feel great about that aspect of the game, and the work never stops. My offseason was short but full of good work. I am now looking forward to kind of getting back into the swing of things here. To me, taking ground balls and working on my hitting is all fun stuff.” – Kris Bryant via Bruce Levine, CBS Chicago
And as far as sabermetrics?
“I didn’t need any metrics to know what I want to improve on — those pitches that are middle away. I want to do a better job about hitting them the other way.” – Kris Bryant via Bruce Levine, CBS Chicago
Bryant has also found an October flare for the dramatics, getting the party started early, well, late, when still facing elimination during Game 5 of the World Series.
Of course, there’s that aforementioned 5-5 game against the Cincinnati Reds, when he became the first player in modern history with three home runs, two doubles in a game. He’s now the youngest Cub with a 3-homer game, and his 16 total bases in a game is a Cub’ first.
“He enjoys the moment, but he doesn’t go over the top with it. He’s very old school. He doesn’t spike the ball in the end zone. He just lays it down or hands it to the official.” — Joe Maddon on Bryant, ESPN
Also in that game, Bryant played all three outfield spots, becoming the first player in at least 100 years to do that, and homer thrice in a game according to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, by way of ESPN Stats and Information.
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) June 28, 2016
And of course Bryant’s foot would slip, yet he would still throw a strike to Rizzo for the final World Series out. For any other Cub in history, that slipping foot would just signal doom.
But fate has been different for Bryant.
A 2017 Repeat?
Heading into the 2017 season, it would be a surprise for No. 17 to produce anything less than 35, 100, .290, as the reigning MVP is sure to replicate those modest totals.
Like so many on the Cubs roster, the potential for Bryant is astronomical.
Among the rarified aspects to Bryant’s game, and as goes the underlying theme among Maddon and his rosters, is the fact that Bryant can play defense literally anywhere on the diamond, and be very good doing so, no matter the spot.
He finished 34 games at a different position than where he started the game during the 2016 regular season.
2016 Around the Diamond
According to Ken Rosenthal, only nine players since 1931 — when the award was formally introduced by the BBWAA — went on to be named MVP while starting 30 or more games at two different positions:
- Stan Musial — started 40+ games among all three outfield spots in 1948; Started 114 games at 1B, 42 in LF, in 1946
- Harmon Killebrew — 1B, 3B in 1969
- Mike Schmidt — 1B, 3B in 1986
- Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson, George Foster, Dale Murphy covered two OF spots in years they won the MVP
Already through his first two major league seasons, the third baseman is already a superstar talent in Chicago, with an MVP and a World Series ring in tow.
The only Chicago Cub to say that.
When it’s all said and done, Kris Bryant might have a whole lot more to talk about. But for now, relax.
He is just a 25-year-old entering his third MLB season after all.