Don’t Look Now, Kris Bryant is Making a Push for NL MVP

What an incredible year for bats throughout all of Major League Baseball. Giancarlo Stanton is producing one of the best home run hitting seasons of all time in his chase for 61 bombs. Aaron Judge just set the record for most round trippers in a season by a rookie, surpassing Mark McGwire’s record when he hit his 50th of the year on Monday. Cody Bellinger set the same record for National League players when he hit his 39th dinger. Joey Votto is yet again putting up absurd walk numbers, sitting at 19.1% on the season.

All of those players are making history, but in the meantime another player is making his case for the National League MVP award for a second consecutive season: Kris Bryant.

While I just received more than a few epic eye-rolls from you folks that are going to point at his 72 RBI and his “mere” 28 home runs, let’s first take a look at his numbers in 2017 compared to his 2016 MVP season as well as this season compared to his top competitors making their own bid for the award.

2016 Kris Bryant vs. 2017 Kris Bryant

I have already lost some of the believers in RBI from the beginning of this piece, so I will start off this comparison by throwing that same group a bone by using batting average. Bryant has nearly an identical batting average this year compared to last, up two points to .294, and sits nearly at the .300 threshold that the old-school crowd still uses to this day.

After moving on to other more important statistics, there is even more growth all across the board for KB. He is walking 14.4% of the time in 2017, compared to his 10.7% rate from 2016, which has contributed to his higher on-base percentage this year. He finds himself at sixth in the league with a .405 OBP. On top of his improved walk-rate, he has also improved his strikeout-rate. Don’t look now but Bryant is officially better than league average when it comes to how often he strikes out. Just two short years ago, he was striking out in more than 30% of his at-bats. Now he has worked that number down to 19%, which is just a bit better than the league-average number of 19.4%.

The argument that Mr. KBoom himself no longer has the power that he had last year doesn’t really work either. While he has seen a decrease in the home runs from last year from 39 to his current 28, his doubles and triples have both increased which puts him at a slugging percentage just 18 points lower than his 2016 slugging.

By simply taking a look at his more impressive plate discipline numbers, his improved OPS (.939 vs .944), and his wRC+ that sits nearly identical to 2016 (146 vs 148), it is pretty clear that Kris Bryant is putting up numbers that warrant the serious MVP thought. 2017 Bryant would beat out 2016 Bryant for an MVP, so why is he not being discussed more seriously this year?

It might be that his competition this year is a little tougher, but there is still a compelling argument that he is even better than the Stantons and Vottos of the world this season.

Kris Bryant vs. The Field

The first statistic to take a look at when generally comparing Bryant to other players in the league should be his 6.5 fWAR which currently sits as tied for third in the league behind Anthony Rendon (6.7) and Giancarlo Stanton (6.6) and tied with Joey Votto. In addition, Bryant has a 146 wRC+, which measures his offensive production as better than several MVP competitors including Rendon (141), Charlie Blackmon (140), and Nolan Arenado (127).

While many of his offensive numbers stack up against the top bats in the National League, it is that pesky RBI number that people just can’t seem to overlook. While he currently sits at 72 RBI, which is a significant amount lower than nearly all of the other MVP candidates, Bryant does not have the control over RBI that you would think sluggers would have. Bryant does not get to decide where he hits in the lineup, who bats in front of him, or how many guys there are on base each time he strolls to the plate. That is why RBI just should not be a statistic used to compare these ultra-impressive athletes. If you don’t believe me, check out what John Edwards has to say about it over at Sporting News.

Where KB really shows how worthy he is of another MVP award is in his defensive and baserunning metrics. Fangraphs values him at a 1.9 defensive rating, which is not much above average, but compared to the elite bats also vying for the MVP, he rates as one of the better defensive options. He is considered a more impressive fielder than Stanton (-2.3), Votto (-5.1), Paul Goldschmidt (-7.0), and Justin Turner (1.3) while sitting just behind Blackmon (2.4). This is due to his much improved ability at third base and his versatility to play all over the diamond.

Bryant is better than we expect defensively, but he really blows away the competition is his baserunning ability, which he has proven to be one of the best in all of baseball. After putting up the lowest GIDP rate in baseball history last season, he has put up a 4.7 BsR in 2017, which is better than every other MVP candidate, with the next closest player being Goldschmidt with a 3.2 rating. Bryant proves that you can help your team win games day in and day out on the base paths without stealing many bags.

The writers that vote for MVP after the season is over might get distracted by the flashy home run totals of Stanton or fall in love with the incredibly high walk-rate of Joey Votto. I am telling you that you need to look no further than the reigning MVP. Kris Bryant has put up numbers that are more impressive than the 2016 version of himself and stats that rival each and every one of your “favorites” in 2017. Just make sure that you don’t cause an uproar when he wins the award with less RBI than what you would like to see.