Kris Bryant has followed up an All-Star first half with a second-half start that puts him in the thick of the MVP race.
Coming into last night’s game – in which he homered again – Bryant was in the midst of a 13-game stretch in which he is slashing .415/.483/.755 with a .515 wOBA and 227 wRC+. It represents the most recent part of a post-All-Star break run where Bryant owns a .333/.415/.527 slash line that has helped his season slash climb to .299/.393/.563. He sits in the top-10 in several premier categories on the MLB leaderboard including fWAR (3rd, 6.5), wRC+ (6th, 152) and wOBA (5th, .403).
And according to Dave Cameron at FanGraphs, Bryant might be the best all-around player in the National League. It’s a good read for your Sunday morning.
Bryant’s success isn’t limited to a good batting average, strong plate discipline and majestic home runs. Cameron points out there is more that meets the eye when it comes to putting Bryant in the upper echelon of NL players.
Bryant has shown to be a plus base runner, as Cameron notes that Bryant has taken an extra base while on the base paths 56 percent of the time when the league average is 40 percent by Baseball Reference’s standards. Bryant ranks 18th this season in BsR (3.5) and 12th in UBR (4.8) which is used to measure a base runner’s value beyond stolen bases. Notably, Mike Trout (4.9 UBR) ranks one spot ahead of Bryant in that particular category.
Few players avoid double play grounders like Bryant, who has stepped to the plate with the fifth most chances to hit into a double play but has rapped into the sixth fewest in baseball. Part of that is due to Bryant’s ability to put the ball in the air (44.7 percent fly ball rate with runners on) but it should be noted that his underrated speed keeps him out of double play scenarios. Cameron highlights Bryant’s league leading +3.8 wGDP, which means Bryant’s ability to avoid ground ball double plays has added nearly four runs to the Cubs’ offense. This is no new trick for Bryant, who led the league in this category as a rookie in 2015.
Cameron suggests that numbers that prove Bryant’s defensive prowess at third could be linked to the abilities of Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks to induce weak contact. Even then, Bryant still has strong UZR numbers (3.1 UZR, 12th; 7.1 UZR/150; 11th) at third base. Bryant also sports a 20.7 UZR/150 as an outfielder, which ranks eighth among outfielders who have played at least 350 innings in the field.
There is value in Bryant’s defensive flexibility, too. Bryant has started games at first base (3) and right field (11) to go with the 628 innings logged in 80 games (74 starts) at third base and 291.1 innings in 29 starts (52 games) in left field. Bryant also has played exactly one inning at both shortstop and in center field.
There’s always a but …
For all the praise Bryant is garnering, there is one aspect in which he is technically the worst in baseball.
Bryant has shown a weakness in hitting to the opposite field. In a fascinating article, Mike Petriello notes Bryant’s league-worst .313 OPS to the opposite field, which rates behind the light-hitting types of Derek Norris (.357), Ben Revere (.411) and Eduardo Escobar (.433). It represents a stark contrast to the results Bryant gets to his pull field, in which he owns a league-leading 1.523 OPS. Bryant ranks ahead of some of baseball’s best hitters in this regard, including sluggers Trevor Story (1.495), Mookie Betts (1.428) and Yoenis Cespedes (1.426).
MLB.com’s hit chart shows the difference one year has made with regard to Bryant’s dip in success going the other way:
Bryant has faced 177 traditional shifts (29th most in baseball) and for non-traditional shifts, according to FanGraphs’ data. That means Bryant has faced a shift in 34 percent of his plate appearances in 2016.
As for why Bryant is going the other way less and why he’s seeing little success when he does, there are a variety of plausible explanations, from swing changes to improve contact, to how he’s being pitched inside, to wind patterns at Wrigley Field.
It will be interesting to see how the league continues to adjust to one of the game’s best players and how he counters whatever the league throws his way.
In any case, it’s obviously not holding him back much this year.