Kris Bryant dominating NL MVP race as Chicago Cubs continue to dominate MLB

Kris Bryant is taking all the fun out of this year’s National League Most Valuable Player debate. The Chicago Cubs 24-year-old star can’t help himself. He has been too good, and so has his team.
Tannen Maury / EPA
Tannen Maury / EPA

Kris Bryant is taking all the fun out of this year’s National League Most Valuable Player debate. The Chicago Cubs 24-year-old star can’t help himself. He has been too good, and so has his team.

Usually, after baseball’s pundit class finish their video reviews and put away their advanced metrics slide rules, the food fight over MVP credentials goes like this:

• Player A deserves the award because he has the best overall numbers of anyone in the league.

• Player B deserves the award because he is the best player on a superior, contending team.

Bryant, barring a huge September collapse, should end up as The Guy in both camps. Starting play this weekend, the second-year slugger is among the league leaders in the traditional Triple Crown categories — home runs (36), runs batted in (91) and batting average (. 302).

More statistically importantly with modern MVP voters, Bryant’s Wins Above Replacement rating (7.11) ranks him fourth among all players, and the only National Leaguer in the top nine.

As for the best player on the best team, that would be Bryant, too. The Cubs have made a mockery of the pennant race, holding a 15 1/2 game lead in the NL Central with 23 to play. Their .640 winning percentage is the only one over .600 in the Majors.

In Chicago, the media has portrayed Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo as duelling MVP candidates. The pair have been dubbed “Bryzzo,” a nod to the buddy show which brands the team.

In the context of the MVP debate, however, it’s largely a sympathy play. Rizzo is the popular veteran leader who suffered through some of the Cubs’ recent humiliations before Bryant arrived. Rizzo has also put up raw offensive numbers that are comparable to Bryant’s.

But there are significant differences in their value. Rizzo plays first base, a less demanding job, while Bryant has been a remarkably versatile and proficient fielder at multiple positions. Responding well to manager Joe Maddon’s ever-evolving, mad scientist line-ups, Bryant has played every position on the field except catcher and second base. Usually a third baseman (93 games), he has also logged 64 games as an outfielder while Maddon fidgets with his roster to attain matchup advantages.

And, of course, for those who use WAR as the be-all and end-all of every MVP argument, Rizzo has a lot of ground to make up. His 5.26 puts him 19th overall, the kind of ranking that virtually disqualifies him in this day and age of metrics. At least Rizzo isn’t Daniel Murphy, who is having a tremendous year in traditional categories for the NL East’s runaway leaders, the Washington Nationals. But WAR measurements disqualify Murphy as a defensive liability at second base, ranking him 56th.

Should Bryant falter the last month, however, Rizzo might have a chance. Rizzo’s chief competition would be Nolan Arenado, currently the second-best statistical candidate who ranks 10th overall in WAR and leads the NL in home runs and RBI. Arenado also is a multiple Gold Glove winner at third base.

But Arenado plays for the Colorado Rockies. That’s a double liability. The flailing Rockies are again not contenders this year. And despite the reputed impartiality of WAR ratings, there remains widespread scepticism of anyone with big numbers who plays half their games in Denver, a notorious hitter’s nirvana. Some day, Arenado may convince doubters he is not simply a product of his home field. Just not this year.

So, the award is Bryant’s to lose. The rest of us have already lost the pleasure of yapping about it.

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Published: September 9, 2016 04:00 AM

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