Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant Can Make History with MVP

Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant is on the verge of a historical season. He won the Golden Spikes and Dick Howser awards as a junior at the University of San Diego in 2013, the Minor League Player of the Year award in 2014 and the Rookie of the Year last season. He can become one of only a handful of players to win a ROY and MVP award in his first two seasons in the major leagues.

The Chicago Cubs selected Kris Bryant with the second pick in the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft. Bryant was picked after the Astros selected Mark Appel with the first overall pick. Appel had been the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft by Pittsburgh, but they couldn’t sign him. Appel has yet to appear in the major leagues. The Cubs took Albert Almora with the sixth pick in 2012 and the A’s took Addison Russell 11th.

Bryant’s awards year after year are beyond impressive and have a chance to be historic. No player has ever won the College Player of the Year, Minor League Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and MVP, let alone in succession.

The MVP is the oldest award in baseball dating back to 1911. The Rookie of the Year began in 1949 and there have been a few “groups” to give out a Minor League Player of the Year award. The primary MLPOYs have been given out by the Sporting News and Baseball America. TSN gave theirs out from 1936-2005 and BA has given one out from 1981 to the present. The Golden Spikes and Dick Howser award were inaugurated in 1978 and 1987, respectively.

Fred Lynn in 1975 and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 are the only players to win the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in the same seasons. Fernando Valenzuela won the ROY and Cy Young awards in 1981.

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In his final year with the University of San Diego Toreros, Bryant hit .329 with 31 home runs and 62 RBI to win the 2013 Howser and Golden Spikes awards. The 31 home runs were ten more than anyone else in Division I. He hit .366 as a sophomore and .365 as a freshman.

Bryant’s stint in the minors didn’t last long. He moved up extremely quickly through the Cubs system. He played 2013 with the Cubs’ Rookie level team and then with Class A Boise and Daytona. He hit .336 with nine home runs and 32 RBI in 36 games.

He started 2014 with the Double-A West Tennessee Smokies. He was promoted to Triple-A Iowa halfway through the reason. Bryant finished 2014 hitting .325 with 42 home runs and 111 RBI in 138 games to more than earn his Minor League Player of the Year award.

The only reason Bryant didn’t start the 2015 season with the Cubs was so that they could keep him under control for another season. Bryant made his Cubs debut on April 17. After going 0-4 in his first game, Bryant caught fire in the second. Through his first 11 games with the Cubs, Bryant hit .341 with 10 RBI. He didn’t hit any home runs but did have a .439 slugging percentage and .910 OPS.

Bryant has a lot of competition for this year’s MVP. He is second in the National League in home runs with 36. Nolan Arenado leads the NL with 37. Arenado also leads the NL with 118 RBI. His closest competitor is Washington’s Daniel Murphy with 98. Bryant is fifth with 91. Both are far down in the rankings in batting average. Bryant is hitting .302 and Arenado .294. Bryant has a better on-base percentage and OPS, while Arenado has a better slugging percentage.

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The defensive statistics skew Bryant’s way. He is a far more versatile player. Bryant has played at least one inning at five defensive positions this season. He has primarily played third base and the corner outfield positions. Arenado has spent the entire season at third base. Their defensive WAR is a wash. Bryant’s is 7.9 and Arenado’s is 7.8. Bryant has a sizable 7.7 to 4.5 overall WAR advantage on Arenado. They are first and second in the National League in WAR among third basemen.

The other main competition will come from Murphy and Bryant’s teammate Anthony Rizzo. Murphy has picked up where he left off in last year’s postseason.

Bryant and Rizzo saw firsthand how Murphy almost single-handedly carried the Mets offense to the World Series with their stellar pitching staff. Murphy leads the NL in Batting Average, slugging and OPS in addition to being second in RBI.

It’s hard to quantify clubhouse leaders. Rizzo has the distinction of being the best player on the Cubs that could be classified as a veteran. In many, if not most years, he would be an MVP candidate. He’s hitting .294 with 28 home runs and 94 RBI. He leads the National League with 38 doubles. He might take votes away from Bryant. Rizzo has had a great season, but what he has done doesn’t stack up to Bryant, Murphy and Arenado.

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Bryant is the only National Leaguer in the top five in runs scored, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. Add that to his versatility, his high level of play defensively despite being shuffled around and Bryant should come away with the award. If it does happen, he will have set standards that will be hard to match.