Kris Bryant was already putting up monster numbers through the first four months of the season: .286/.383/.548 with 26 home runs, 68 RBI, and 82 runs. His aggregate offensive production was 46% greater than the average MLB hitter and his weighted on-base average was 45 points higher than league norm. Bryant could have maintained that pace in August and he would still have been the been the MVP favorite.
He’s already the leader when it comes to popularity, that according to recent Q Score results from a poll of 2,000 sports fans nationwide. If you think stuff like that doesn’t play a role when it comes to postseason awards, you’re kidding yourself. While the MVP is a little different from crowning a homecoming king, I’m just saying that exposure and notoriety make a difference. The stats matter more, though, and Bryant has bolstered his candidacy in a big way in that regard.
Over the last month (27 games), the best player in baseball slashed .383/.472/.748 with 10 homers, 22 RBI, 29 runs, a wRC+ that rated out 119% higher than average, and a wOBA that was 153 points above the league standard. We can talk all day about small samples and getting to play weak opponents like Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, but those numbers are a freak show either way.
Bryant’s 7.8 fWAR on the season is a full win ahead of Corey Seager, the only other NL player who’s even above 4.9 wins. His 8.52 WARP paces the field as well. Interestingly enough, it’s here that his corner counterpart, Nolan Arenado, comes closest to Bryant, with a 6.69 WARP that’s nice enough for 3rd in the NL (Buster Posey, 7.20). The Cubs phenom isn’t quite as highly rated by bWAR, but his 6.5 is 3rd in baseball and easily tops the NL.[beautifulquote align=”right”]I’m scared as hell of this monster who threatens to either hammer my next pitch onto Waveland or drown me in the limpid pools of his eyes.[/beautifulquote]
Much of the criticism of Bryant’s game — pretty much all of it, actually — came from his looping swing that put a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. To wit, he struck out 199 times in 151 games last season, a 30.6% K-rate. After leveling things out in the offseason, that rate had been reduced to 23.4% through July. In August, however, he struck out at only a 16.5% clip, while walking slightly more at the same time. If he maintains his 21.9% season K-rate, we’re looking at roughly 50 fewer strikeouts in 2016 (perhaps fewer due to playing more games).
Let’s see: he can hit for average and power, he’s one of the best baserunners in the league, can play all over the field, and has Paul Newman’s arresting baby blues. If I’m an opposing pitcher, I’m scared as hell of this monster who threatens to either hammer my next pitch onto Waveland or drown me in the limpid pools of his eyes.
Pump the brakes on Bryant all you want, it won’t do any good at this point. I mean, Jack Crews ain’t coming through that door and I don’t think even he could manage to bury this hype truck in one of those emergency arrest turnoffs even if he was around. Besides, why would you want to stop the ride just as it’s getting started?
The chants of “M-V-P, M-V-P” are coming with greater frequency, both at Wrigley and on the road, as Bryant and Cubs head for October with a 15-game division lead and more than a decent chance at the team’s first 100-win campaign in 81 years. There’s no doubt that it’s been a great season so far, but as Adam Duritz can tell you, it’s August and everything after that matters now.