You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Kris Bryant won't be the MVP this season, but his value to Cubs remains obvious

Sporting News logo Sporting News 10/6/2017 Ryan Davis

© (Getty Images) Kris Bryant has been on a major run of award-collecting. He was the college baseball National Player of the Year in 2013, the Minor League Player of the Year in 2014, the National League Rookie of the Year in 2015, and the NL MVP in 2016. Bryant even topped his MVP season off by fielding the final out in Game 7 of the World Series.

How could he top that in 2017? Well, it doesn't look like he will, at least not with a league-wide honor.

MORE: Ranking MLB's top 50 young players

Bryant isn't going to take home another MVP award this season. There were a lot of players who posted more gaudy statistics, which, for most observers, made Bryant just another player who had a nice regular season. To his fans and teammates, though, it was much more than that.

After hitting 39 home runs with 102 RBIs and 121 runs scored last season, Bryant posted 29 homers with 73 RBIs and 111 runs scored this year. In a season in which offensive numbers spiked, the drop-off might look bad on the surface. But Bryant has been excellent in other ways.

“I feel like the numbers are always going to fluctuate and change, year to year,” Bryant said. “But I feel the jist of it is pretty similar. Certainly, I could do better with runners in scoring position. But I realize that's a product of opportunity and luck, at times.”

Don't let his modesty fool you, Bryant actually improved in some measurable ways this season. He raised his walk rate to a career-best 14.3 percent while lowering his strikeout percentage to just 19.2 percent — well below the 30.6 percent of his rookie year. And after slashing .292/.385/.554 in 2016, he posted a .295/.409/.537 line in 2017.

“I'm pretty proud of taking my walks, trying to make more contact, getting on base for the guys behind me. I'd say (2016 and 2017) are pretty comparable, even of some of the numbers don't show up.”

MORE: Every MLB team's worst postseason memory, revisited

Even if some of his traditional “baseball card” numbers haven't been the best in the league, Bryant's teammates still marvel at what he's doing at the plate.

“He's controlling the zone,” said Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist. “I think (pitchers) have been even more careful with him, coming off an MVP year. … He finds a way to get hits on balls on the edge of the zone at times too, but I think his eyesight and ability to hit all different pitches is so good.”

But Bryant's value is about more than batting lines and strikeout rates. He's quite versatile on defense, playing primarily at third base but also having spent time at all three outfield positions and first base during his tenure with the team.

Bryant is also one of the best baserunners in the game. This season he finished No. 12 in MLB in FanGraphs' baserunning stat, BsR.

“I have a lot of respect for him, the things he can do on the field,” Jon Jay said. “… The way he runs the bases, the way he prepares himself, the way he makes adjustments every day. He's a gamer, he plays every single day. He brings it every single day.”

Bryant played in 151 games this season, avoiding the disabled list and missing only a handful of games with various ailments throughout the year. When it comes to staying on the field, Bryant has been remarkably consistent. He has averaged 152 games played in his three big-league seasons.

“I think the cool thing with Kris is that he doesn't really care about those things,” Jay said. “He and (Anthony Rizzo) have been our MVPs, the way they've carried us all year and been so consistent.”

FAGAN: Astros are playing with a purpose

It's true that Bryant doesn't care about individual awards. His teammates speak glowingly of him as a quiet leader, someone who plays the game hard and cares about wins and losses above individual glory. When asked about the MVP race, Bryant is quick to throw out every name but his own.

“Oh my gosh, some of the guys are having unbelievable years,” he said. “(Giancarlo) Stanton is really impressive, what he's been doing this year. Cody Bellinger from the Dodgers, a rookie coming up on a 100-win team is pretty impressive too. Then there's the staples: (Paul) Goldschmidt, (Nolan) Arenado. (Joey) Votto is my favorite player in the league. So many guys are having some really, really good years. It's just blowing my mind.”

Anyone else?

“Oh, and Anthony (Rizzo) too,” Bryant added with a laugh.

The prohibitive favorite has to be Stanton, who clubbed 59 home runs and drove in 132 runs, leading the league in both categories. He also ended up tied for first place in the National League with 6.9 WAR. But even with all the big numbers, he was barely ahead of Bryant's 6.7 WAR.

Has Bryant’s quiet nature somehow turned him into one of the more overlooked players in the game, despite all the early success?

“Not around here, for sure. And not with our fan base,” Zobrist said. “The only people who could be underrating him is probably the media this year, because he's not hitting as many homers as he did last year. Or because you have other guys, like Stanton hitting 59 homers this year or Cody Bellinger hitting a bunch as a rookie. There's Aaron Judge in the American League. There are a lot of other stories that have taken precedent in the media this year.”

Yes, Bryant's success won't soon be forgotten by his teammates and fans, even when others find it easy to look past him.

Related slideshow: Best of the MLB postseason (Provided by photo services)\

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 19: The Los Angeles Dodgers pose after defeating the Chicago Cubs 11-1 in game five of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 19, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Dodgers advance to the 2017 World Series. Best images of 2017 MLB playoffs

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Sporting News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon