Baseball

We Know Your Nature – 2019 Cubs Player Reviews: Kris Bryant

Folks, I’m gonna be honest with you. I fear the end of the World Series. And I fear it because the day after and every single day after that I’m going to wake up thinking, “Today is the day the Cubs are going to do something truly stupid.” And really, what I’m thinking of, at the top of the list at least, is that they’ll trade Kris Bryant. It would be just about the biggest mistake the Cubs could make, save Mookie Betts coming the other way and being signed long-term. Which won’t happen. You do a rebuild, and flog whatever you can for prospects and picks hoping that just one of those picks or prospects will turn into a Kris Bryant. You don’t keep doing that cycle. They don’t come around that often. You can’t just find another one because you want to. They are unicorns, which is possibly why Bryant sparkles in the way he does.

Was Bryant’s year the best? No. For the second year in a row he dealt with nagging injuries which hampered his production. Once again, he was forced to play through it because the rest of the team was too helpless to pull away or then even compete in the division. And the Cubs medical staff working its magic again. Is this the new normal? I doubt it, but I guess you can’t eliminate it. Anyway, let’s run it through.

2019 Stats

147 games  634 PA

.282/.382/.521

31 HR  77 RBI

11.7 BB%  22.9K%

135 wRC+  .379 wOBA  .903 OPS

-4.1 Defensive Runs Saved  4.8 WAR

Tell Me A Story: Well, first of all, 2019 was a huge improvement on 2018. Slugging up 60 points, wOBA up 20 points, 18 more homers. Also played 45 more games. But also for the second straight season, Bryant’s season did not measure up to his first three years in the league where he was Galactus, Eater Of Worlds. How much his knee problem played into that, we just don’t know for sure. But we can guess.

April was a bit rough for Bryant. He only hit .230, but had a high walk-rate and one of his lower K-rates. He was also undone by some fiendish BABIP kung-fu treachery, with a .263 mark. That would be by far the lowest mark of any month in the season. And that explains most of it, as Bryant was carrying a hard-contact rate of just about 40% in the season’s opening, and a line-drive rate over 20%. He was just unlucky.

We know that, because everything corrected over the next three months. In May, June, and July, Bryant ran wRC+ numbers of 193, 140, and 132, the kind of dominance and destruction you know and love from #17. He slugged .719, .480, and .547. This is what it’s supposed to look like.

And then it goes to shit in August, right about the time Bryant hurt his knee. A 95 wRC+. His walks basically disappeared to a 8.5% mark. His hard-contact rate dropped to 25%, and his line-drive rate was simply a sad and lonely (Secret Machines rule!) 12.7%. And yet he played through it. He shouldn’t have, but he did.

Now his September numbers look like they rebounded. But there’s a caveat there. His numbers in September are buffeted by simply going Donkey Kong on PCP and no one took the mallet away on the Pirates in that three-game series where it looked like things might actually come correct. He went 7-for-14, with three homers. After that, he had three hits against the Reds and Cardinals and then his season was over. The knee was still a problem.

There’s a lot of teeth-gnashing about Bryant’s contact numbers, because the team as a whole didn’t make enough contact. But the thing is that Bryant made the same exact amount of contact this year that he did in his MVP year. Had he not gotten hurt in August, and carried out his middle three months the final two, and ended up with 6.0 WAR or so, no one would give a shit about Bryant’s contact rates.

When looking at how Bryant did against certain pitches, most everything in 2019 is in line with what he did in his career before. There’s been basically no change except for health. So unless the Cubs know or heavily suspect that his body is never going to be quite right, he’s going to be an MVP candidate again very soon as long as something doesn’t go TWANG!

If there’s one area of concern other than his health, it’s his defense. It was negative again, though not as bad as the previous season. Still, Bryant was a plus 3rd basemen in his first three years, and one wonders if health was a part of his not being so again. There is a worry about a 6-5 dude playing third long-term. But Bryant isn’t much better in the outfield either, even though his athleticism keeps him from being anything like a disaster out there. Again, we won’t have an answer on this until he completes another full season healthy.

Contract: 3rd arbitration year of four, projected at $18.5M

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Welcome back forever. Go to Scott Boras and hand Bryant $30-$35M a year until he’s 35 and don’t ask any questions. The idea that the Cubs “can’t” re-sign Bryant is simply ludicrous. Just hand him the most money, which he deserves. There are maybe four players you’d trade him for? Betts is one. Trout’s another. They’re not coming. Neither is Jose Altuve. I can’t stress this enough. Since he came into the league, the only more valuable players than Bryant–even with the injuries–are Trout and Betts. That’s it. You don’t let these players leave unless you’re insane or insanely greedy or both (and the Ricketts family is very likely both of those). He should be here until he retires, and then his jersey should immediately go up the left field foul pole. No waiting around. You simply don’t cut these guys adrift.

There is no way, none, where this team gets better without Bryant. At least not one that’s even a possibility. I’m fairly sure Theo knows this, but the question is can he sell that to the owners? That’s the only obstacle. Hold me to this, but if Bryant is ever allowed to leave, it’ll be at least twice as bad as when Greg Maddux was. I’ll wear it, and so will the rest of us if it happens.

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