Few players have burst onto the major league baseball scene the way Kris Bryant did: 2015 Rookie of the Year, 2016 MVP and world champion.
Last season, the Cubs fell short of the World Series, and some of Bryant’s numbers also took a slight dip.
But not by much, and Bryant – almost defiantly for him – said he believes he had a great year in 2017.
And he did.
Bryant put up a line of . 295/. 409/. 537 with 29 homers and 73 RBIs. The batting average and on-base percentage were career bests, but not so for the home run and RBI totals. Bryant hit 39 homers and drove in 102 during his MVP season.
“I guess I brought it upon myself,” he said. “It’s always good to have success early. There’s a downside to it. I want to be the best player in the league. There’s nothing that’s in my mind that’s going to stop me. This is how I think. I’m excited to get back out there on the field and get even better and improve in many more areas. There were areas last year that I improved on and some that I didn’t, but year to year, that’s that whole cycle of baseball that makes us happy and kills us at the same time.”
Oh, there was plenty to be happy about for Bryant after last season:
• His 94 career homers are the most by a Cub in his first three major league seasons and tied for eighth-most among all big league players.
• Bryant is the first Cubs player to hit 25 or more homers in each of his first three MLB seasons. He’s also the first Cub to play at least 150 games in each of his first three seasons.
• He led the Cubs with 95 walks, 111 runs scored, a . 409 OBP, a . 537 slugging percentage and a . 946 OPS.
Maybe the most impressive number is that he played in 151 games last year despite pain from finger and ankle injuries. Those injuries, particularly the finger, may have contributed to the drop in power.
“Last year in terms of that, that’s where I really had some adversity I had to get through,” he said. “Nobody really wants to go through times where you don’t feel right, but it was enough for me to push through it. I feel that if I can go, I’m going to go, and I felt like I could. It’s just one of those things that I had to go through, but I feel great now.”
Bryant’s strikeout numbers reflect great progress, going from a league-leading 199 in 2015 to 154 in 2016 to 128 last season. He also walked a career-best 95 times last year.
The stats site fangraphs.com offers this assessment of Bryant’s fantasy-draft possibilities: “The only gripe may be that Bryant traded off some power (HR/FB dropped from 19 percent to 16 percent) for more contact (contact percentage from 73 percent to 77 percent and then BB/K from .49 to .74). Bryant is still a top-10 bat and should be drafted as so.”
Bryant’s wins above replacement (WAR) of 6.7 was third in the National League behind Washington’s Anthony Rendon and Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, both of whom weighed in at 6.9.
As for this season, the ZiPS projection system at Fangraphs likes Bryant for a line of . 272/. 381/. 522 with 34 homers and 95 RBIs.
The PECOTA system of Baseball Prospectus has Bryant with a .280/.380/.518 slash line with 30 homers and 89 RBIs.
That should satisfy even the pickiest of Bryant’s critics.