Kris Bryant’s Been Playing Pretty Well…For a Borderline Superstar

Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and Mike Oz ignited an online donnybrook when they determined that neither Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant met their respective criteria to be considered superstars. Which, whatever, I guess. You can hear the whole conversation by checking out the Yahoo Sports MLB Podcast, but the tweets below offer a thumbnail sketch.

Listen, I get it, I really do. This is one of those personal preference deals. The term “superstar” is incredibly subjective and probably hinges more on popularity than production, so it’s not a matter of looking at the FanGraphs leaderboards and putting a check next to the top 10 guys.

I mean, look at Joey Votto. Dude has been one of the best players in the game over the last decade or so, but he’s Exhibit A when it comes to elite players toiling in obscurity. Because of that, no one bats an eye when he’s not considered superstar caliber.

With that in mind, it makes sense that KB would slip similarly through the cracks. Like Votto, he plays in a small, unremarkable media market for a team that hasn’t been competitive in a few years. He hasn’t captured two of his sport’s highest awards in his first two big league seasons. What’s more, he has pretty pedestrian looks and isn’t frequently used in both local and national ad campaigns.

Wait, no, Bryant is the opposite of all those things. Perhaps the Yahoo yahoos simply forgot about the World Series championship — which people tend to do — that followed Rookie of the Year and MVP campaigns from the super…good player. Or maybe they just got lost in the limpid pools of Bryant’s eyes, which is as plausible an excuse as any.

So I’ll forgive Passan for biffing this one. Hell, it may not even be his most egregious error involving Chicago sports. Just about a month prior to this whole superstar take, he joined Danny Parkins and Mark Grote on 670 The Score, which somehow led to a conversation about Passan and Parkins rapping on air. Naturally, that turned into Grote absolutely butchering Inspectah Deck’s iconic opening verse on Triumph, easily the most epic track from Wu-Tang Forever.

Damn you, Passan, that was wildly inappropriate has left me feeling like Bruce Banner in The Avengers.

But enough of that, let’s take a look at what KB’s doing to merit — or not, as the case may be — inclusion amongst the best and brightest in the game. Oh, and we’re going to set aside the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, not to mention the myriad endorsements. Stats only for this one.

  • Bryant’s .437 wOBA is fifth in MLB and second in the NL; it’s also 38 points higher than his career-high mark of .399 set last season.
  • His 180 wRC+ has the same ranks as above and is also more than 30 points above his career-high.
  • His .322 BABIP isn’t abnormally high by general standards and is actually 10 points below his career-low to this point, which means he’s not had much “good fortune.”
  • His K-rate has gone down significantly each season and his current 15.9% represents a decrease of nearly 15 points from his rookie year (30.6%).
  • Oh, the triple-slash numbers are all higher than they’ve ever been for a season as well.

What I’m trying to say is that Bryant is not only producing at an elite level compared to other players in the game, he’s out-performing the numbers that were good enough to earn him an MVP nod. And he’s doing it in a sustainable manner that suggests he can not only keep this going, but that he can continue to get better.

We also need to take into account the German Marquez fastball Bryant took to the dome in Colorado when we’re considering his numbers this season. In addition to missing a handful of games, it was clear he wasn’t entirely comfortable in the box during those first two games back. As fate would have it, Bryant started busting out eight days after the beanball, and against Colorado of all teams.

Starting with a triple in that contest, the lanky Las Vegan has tallied 10 extra-base hits (five homers, four doubles, and the triple), scored 13 runs, and driven in eight more. And he’s doing it with a .325 average that isn’t outrageously high relative to his overall mark. The .525 ISO and .850 slugging, on the other hand…

We knew the low power numbers early were just a matter of correction for a guy who grew up repeating the mantra, “Hit it hard and hit it air,” so it’s no surprise to see Bryant bingeing on big flies lately. It’ll all balance out by the time things are through, but the moral of the story is that the list of better baseball players in the world doesn’t equal Bryant’s current home run total.

The only way Kris Bryant isn’t a superstar is if we narrow the definition down to only two of three current players or if we perhaps loop in former players as well. Even in the latter case, the 26-year-old would find himself among the top echelon in Cubs history. It’s not a stretch to say that his career trajectory has him on pace to end up as the franchise’s best ever.

So feel free to set your own criteria and draw your own conclusions as to where KB falls in the pantheon of 2018 superstars. As for me, I’ve got him way up near the top of the list.

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6 Comments

  1. Didn’t bother wasting time listening to his podcast but would be intetested to know who he does consider to be “superstars” and what his criteria is on the subject. The most logical benchmark should be Mike Trout who had a WAR of 27.6 after his fourth year in the league which is about the same amount of games KB has played so far to date (Trout played 40 games in 2011 vs KB playing 35 games this year so far) and he has a 21.6 WAR. Heck even Harper “only” had a 20.0 WAR after his 4th year. I realize there are hundreds of stats to judge players by but WAR seems to be one of the better ways to judge overall value and KB is pretty close to the top. My guess is he is just trolling to become more well known and easiest way to do that is to make fan bases hate you. I could be wrong but that is my perspective.

    1. Agreed. And I think we have to compare players at the same position, and WAR is pretty good indicator. If elite superstar is top 3 at your position, Bryant is an elite superstar, and his WAR proves it. He’s not remotely borderline. Rizzo is probably a different story. Being objective, he’s not top 3 (again, I don’t what the writer considers “superstar” – I go w/ top 3 at the position), probably somewhere between 4-6 at first base. So, in that regard, I agree, Rizzo isn’t a superstar, but he is a very very good first baseman.

  2. On the one hand, who cares who’s a “star” or “superstar” or “uberstar.” On the other hand, Bryant would probably get more respect — and help the team out more — if Maddon would stop hitting Bryant 2nd and allow Bryant the chance to produce RBIs at an Arenado level. Personally only hit Rizzo and Bryant 3rd and 4th (order can vary). Bryant is putting up a career year, but hitting second most of the time just robs him — and the team — of extra RISP opportunities from the team’s best hitter.

    Consider that Bryant is hitting .333 with RISP and .324 with the bases empty. But 6 of his 7 homers have come with the bases empty, partly because he has hit with runners on only 43 percent of his plate appearances, as compared to Javy Baez, who has hit 53 percent of the time with runners on. But this isn’t an either/or situation. You don’t have to choose between Baez or Bryant or Schwarber getting all the RISP chances. Just put Almora and/or Zobrist ahead of Baez/Bryant/Rizzo/etc. and you will increase Bryant’s run-production opportunities without penalizing another bopper.

    1. Also, Maddon’s limiting the chances for Bryant to hit with runners on in the 2 spot is quite paradoxical given his past rationale for hitting the pitcher 8th. His rationale was by hitting a hitter 9th, this would give more run-producing chances for the 1 and 2 hitters.

  3. The only thing I don’t like about this article, Evan, is that it gives Jeff Passan and Mike Oz more “press” than they deserve. Certainly a case can be made that Rizzo is simply very good. Although even at that, there aren’t too many gold-glove first baseman that have hit over 30 hrs 4 years running.

    Granted, Bryant botched one in right yesterday – but incremental to all the offensive evidence, he’s also a guy who can play every position in the field other than catcher and pitcher. I don’t know that you want to plug Harper or Trout at 3b.

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