Kris Bryant is the Clear Choice for the NL MVP

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Labor Day has come and gone and there are just a few games left in the regular season. The minor league season wrap-ups have begun and annual promotions happened weeks ago. The MVP and Cy Young races are about to hit the finish line. Who deserves consideration and who should win? Dave McCullough presents his choice for the 2016 NL MVP Award who have very little time left to impress voters and separate themselves from the rest of the field.

The instruction sheet for voters to consider before finalizing their Most Valuable Player award ballot reads:

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

  1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
  2. Number of games played.
  3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
  4. Former winners are eligible.
  5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, including pitchers and designated hitters.

Over in the AL, the MVP race is a bit cloudy because the best – and, as I analyzed earlier, the most valuable – player is mired on a last-place team that has already been eliminated from postseason consideration. However, there is no such troublesome detail in the NL MVP race: the best, and most valuable player, on the senior circuit is also the best, and most valuable, player on the best team – one that punched its ticket for the playoffs with weeks to spare. The Chicago Cubs are now reaping the rewards of several seasons of tanking which  secured several high draft picks – one of which turned into Kris Bryant.

Bryant was the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft out of the University of San Diego. The six-foot five-inch chiseled athlete had shown prodigious talent as a high schooler, having been drafted previously by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010’s 18th round. However, he did not sign with the Jays and instead went to college, where his power stroke blossomed and he became one of the most highly sought-after amateur players in the country. When the Cubs tabbed him atop the 2013 draft, most prospect watchers predicted he would not require much minor league seasoning before making an impact in the major leagues.

The burly third baseman-slash-left fielder blazed his way up the Cubs minor league ladder, spending fewer than 20 games at three different levels in 2013, ascending to High-A by the end of his first professional season. He then played 20 more games in the Arizona Fall League, where he put up a .364/.457/.727 line with six homers. In 2014, he appeared in 68 games at the AA level and 70 more at AAA, recording a combined 43 homers and 34 doubles, with a .325/.438/.661 triple slash line. Famously, he began the 2015 season with the Iowa Cubs, appearing in 7 games – just enough to delay his arbitration clock – before making his Chicago debut in mid-April.

Since reaching the big leagues, Bryant has not stopped hitting – he won the Rookie of the Year award last season with a .275/.369/.488 line in 151 major league games. The precocious youngster blasted 26 home runs and 31 doubles while securing 77 walks and a league-leading 199 strikeouts. He played a majority (144) of his games at third, with appearances at each of the outfield positions as well.

In 2016, he has played far fewer games at third base – just 98 –  and more in the outfield  – 66 thus far – because of injuries to other Cubs players, as well as the whims of manager Joe Maddon. However, Bryant’s defensive prowess is still a work in progress and definitely remains the area of his game most in need of improvement.

What needs no improvement is his power: Bryant’s swing generates a ton of loft and distance when he makes contact – something he has also improved mightily in his second major league season. He cut his strikeouts from 199 last year to 146 this year – a reduction of 22.2% percent. He has raised his game in nearly every respect this season: blasting 37 homers – an improvement of 15 – notching 33 doubles and improving his plate discipline, raising his OBP from .369 in 2015 to a robust .389 in 2016.

Bryant has been the unquestioned best player on the best team (as illustrated by my NL MVP Landscape article) – often a combination that MVP voters find irresistible. The Cubs have dominated the NL from wire to wire and their faithful fans believe this, finally, could be the year to end more than a century of suffering. October’s crucible will prove whether that is true, but what is undeniable is that without Bryant the Cubs would not be nearly as formidable. Sure, their pitching is outstanding – and playoff-tested – but their offense suffered a blow with the loss of slugger Kyle Schwarber for the season in April. However, Bryant has filled the void admirably and his across-the-board improvements at the plate from an award-winning season in 2015 bodes well for his MVP candidacy.


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David R. McCullough is founding editor of SoSH Baseball. He has a B.A. in journalism from Antioch College, where the lack of a football team is proudly proclaimed on shirts sold in the bookstore, and might someday finish his M.A. at Boston University. He lives in the Boston area with a toddler and a very understanding, patient wife.

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