It’s hard to believe Kris Bryant‘s last game was June 22. A minor shoulder concern developed into a DL stint, one that’s lasted over two weeks. With Bryant’s rehab work in Tennessee now complete, and the expectation he rejoins the roster for Wednesday afternoon’s tilt in San Francisco, it’s a perfect time to reexamine both what he means to the Cubs and why I believe he’s underrated.
An MVP is Underrated?
I get the incredulity that comes with attaching this word to KB, as he’s won award after award each step of his career. Ironically, however, that expectation — he’s going to be elite because he’s Kris Bryant — is precisely what creates his underrated status. He’s assumed to be elite so much so that his sustained success is taken for granted, even criticized if he’s not producing at GOAT levels. It’s hard for someone like Bryant to move the needle simply by performing at an All-Star-caliber level.
Even this year, slashing .280/.383/.481 with a 2.1 fWAR in 311 plate appearances has been questioned, from lamenting his apparent power struggles (just nine long balls to-date) to still maintaining this fanciful notion that he’s ‘not clutch’.
These claims are short-sighted and, frankly, bogus.
Bryant’s ISO is .201, which, while down from his career ISO of .234, is still miles ahead of the MLB average (.161). His wOBA is .369, he boasts a wRC+ of 131, all of which mitigate situational stats such as RBI (though he’s still driven in 36). Aside from the latter, these numbers are markedly better than league average and in line with the top-tier of the league — and yet they are still below his career norms.
Has Anything Changed?
Bryant is pulling the ball more often, complete with a hard contact percentage in line with career averages. Aside from that, however, there aren’t too many hairs to split concerning his numbers. His stats this season represent what you’d expect from a player of his caliber — with the lone exception his lack of home runs — and there’s always the promise of improvement in the second half.
Simply put, nothing of note has changed about KB’s approach. His launch angle of 19 degrees continues to outpace league averages, even if his infield fly ball percentage (IFFB%) is slightly higher than average. His exit velocity is within career norms. And his swing looks the same as it ever was. To this end, not only has nothing changed, there’s nothing to be concerned about.
What to Expect in the Second Half
I am insanely bullish on Bryant moving forward. We’ve already witnessed his comeback after being hit in the head with a pitch earlier this season, a much more troubling reality than the sore shoulder he’s nursed back to health. He’s going to be just fine.
Unsurprisingly, the Cubs have continued their inconsistent ways since Bryant’s last appearance, netting a 9-7 record. KB’s return should spark an already potent offense, coming at a time — a week before the All Start Break — that just might propel the team’s momentum into the second half of the season.
There’s a determination and a quiet swagger about Bryant that exudes confidence. You know he’s going to succeed, that he’s one of the best. Upon his return Kris will more than pick up where he left off; he’ll spearhead the offensive surge that the Cubs will ride to their fourth straight postseason appearance.
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