With just four days left in the regular season, the division races are all won and done, but not one Wild Card spot has been clinched yet. We’re going to have to wait just longer to start freaking out about Wild Card games. One thing we can talk about with a certain amount of clarity at this point, though, is awards, so we’ll continue down the path we’ve been on for a few weeks.
First, though, it’s been a rough week for baseball and I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention it. The loss of Jose Fernandez stunned and saddened us all. I am not going to dig in deep here, as I was travelling when the news broke and much has already been written, but, if you don’t mind tearing up a bit, I highly recommend this article. In his short time here, Fernandez was not only one of the best players to ever play the game, but also an amazing person and a singularly excellent personality, and he will be missed sorely by us all.
Returning to more trivial matters, we already covered the rookie awards of both leagues and that doesn’t seem to have changed, with Corey Seager still looking like the only option in the NL, and the AL winner is still looking like it’s a tough call. We did the American League MVP last week, and I still suspect that Mike Trout is going to get robbed (yet again) by Mookie Betts. Since we gave the AL its turn at MVP, it’s the NL’s turn, with the caveat that this article is going to be more like the Rookie of the Year award for the NL. If you’re expecting intrigue, you might want to head back over to the AL MVP (or, really, the AL Cy Young).
As we did with the AL, we’ll take a quick look at the different flavors of WAR, but whichever flavor you prefer, it’s going to taste like Kris Bryant. Bryant is in first at Baseball Prospectus with 7.6 bWAR, followed by Max Scherzer (6.6), Freddie Freeman (6.5), and Nolan Arenado and Seager (both 6.2). If we head over to Fangraphs, we see that Bryant has a similar lead, with 8.4 fWAR, followed by Seager (7.6), Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard (both 6.5) and Fernandez and Freeman (both 6.2).
In terms of just looking at Bryant, the 2015 Rookie of the Year winner basically did everything better this year. He cut down on strikeouts (from 30.6% to to 22.1%), hit for more power (from a .213 to .268 ISO), put up an even better slashline (.295/.389/.564) and has hit exactly 50% more home runs in the same number of games to put him with 39 (just one short of Arenado’s NL-leading 40 home runs). As a pure hitter, Bryant is near the top of the NL by wRC+ (152) and OPS+ (152). But it’s not just that Bryant is one of the best hitters, it’s that he does everything else well.
Bryant is a plus-defender, whether by DRS or UZR, something that can’t be said for the hitters who are ahead of him on by either wRC+ or OPS+. And he’s also the third best baserunner in the NL by BSR, despite the fact that he does not steal a lot of bases (8 this year). Not making outs once once you’re on the basepath is important and it’s something that Bryant has excelled at, just like everything else.
In terms of the pitchers who are right behind him in terms of value, there’s Scherzer, who is probably the best bet to take home the NL Cy Young this year. While it’s certainly not impossible for the a pitcher to take home the MVP, as it just happened in 2014 with Clayton Kershaw, it’s a relatively rare event, reserved for years where such a pitcher is so dominant that he leads all of baseball in WAR despite the fact that he only plays once every five days. While Syndergaard might offer Scherzer some of his only competition for the Cy Young Award, none of the pitchers who are up near the top have been dominant enough to unseat Bryant. To be fair, Bryant should probably tip his cap to Kershaw’s back, as we might have seen a repeat of 2014, considering how valuable Kershaw was despite the fact that his back issues limited him to 142 innings.
In terms of position players, Daniel Murphy, Freeman and Joey Votto have all been better pure hitters than Bryant, but all of them suffer from being defensively less than optimal. Freeman and Arenado probably come the closest to being as valuable as Bryant, but they aren’t quite there and they both play for non-contenders, so it looks like that caveat which keeps Trout from taking home the AL award almost every year is actually going to work out for the best in this instance. Seager has been very good, but he hasn’t been as good as Bryant and the Rookie of the Year award will probably be enough to placate him and the voters.
The fact that Bryant plays for the team with the best record in baseball is the icing on the cake in terms of his taking home another award. While it’s a shame that this sort of thing really matters when we’re trying to figure out who is the best, it works out in this instance, at least, since Bryant is the best player in the National League who also happens to play for the best team in baseball. Now we just have to wait to see who is going to have the fun task of facing them in the NLDS…