Kris-mas in August: Bryant’s Big Month Drives Cubs, Boosts ROY Credentials

I have already made the case for Kris Bryant being the Cubs’ most valuable player in terms of performance relative to pay, but the numbers he’s put up lately indicate that he may their best hitter, period. This is a pretty distinct change from early August, when Bryant’s performance had led me to declare that the phenom had hit a wall and might be in need of a mental break. I should have known better than to doubt the power of sparkle.

Looking back at Bryant’s July numbers, though, I still believe my worries were completely valid. For the month, he slashed .168/.270/.368 (.638 OPS) with a wRC+ of only 74, which means he was roughly 26% worse than an average hitter. Drilling a little deeper into some supporting metrics, however, may have given some clues as to Bryant’s potential to pull out of this little slump.

His batting average on balls in play was an unsustainably low .214 (.367 for the season), which means he was the recipient of some bad luck, while his ISO (measure of raw power) was .200, only a few points below his season-long mark. Bryant’s strikeout rate was up and his walk rate was down, though neither had fluctuated to an alarming degree. It was as if he was just slightly off, that all it would take to get rolling again was a minor tweak.

Well, he certainly appears to have made that tweak, as he just finished an absolutely torrid August that included a .330/.422/.620 slash (1.042 OPS), 186 wRC+ (86% better than average), and a .290 ISO that was bolstered by 14 extra-base hits. It should be noted that at the heart of this production was a .456 BABIP that was the highest in the majors over that stretch. Of course, that’s just a little more than the necessary correction for July’s anemic number.

Bryant leads all rookies in RBI (82) and runs scored (73), is second in home runs (21), and third in OBP (.370). He also leads the way in FanGraphs’ aggregate offensive (Off) metric, with a 26.9 mark that is nearly 41% better than second-place Jung-ho Kang (19.1). And the kicker: Bryant has put up a WAR of 5.1, a total that might have gotten you laughed at had you predicted it in the pre-season. And he’s still more than a month to add to it.

Oh, and that part about Bryant being the Cubs’ best player, relative monetary value notwithstanding? That WAR total is a half-game ahead of Anthony Rizzo, whose 4.6 is firmly in what is considered All-Star-level production. Both Bryant and Rizzo should be able to increase those totals over the last month of the season, but it’ll take some doing for the veteran to surpass the rookie at this point.

If Bryant just settles in and has a month of production that falls between what we’ve seen from him over the last two, he’ll end the season with nearly 30 homers, 100 RBI, roughly a .270/.370/.480 slash line, and somewhere close to 6 WAR. My pre-season prediction was .285/.345/.550 with 24 homers (was thinking maybe a slightly later call-up and more pop early) and the ROY, so I’m feeling pretty good about that at this point.

What I’m feeling far better about is the Cubs’ chances with Bryant moving forward. We all knew the kid would be good, but I’m not sure anyone thought he’d be this good this early. And to bounce back the way he has after hitting that wall in July speaks volumes for strength of his mental game. The more he plays, the more I feel his presence in the lineup will eventually reap presents in October.

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