For weeks, Cubs fans have debated whether the National League Most Valuable Player award should go to Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo.
Setting aside the cases for Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager and Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, Bryant has stepped up in what has been a close by-the-numbers matchup.
By Triple Crown stats, Bryant had a .305 batting average, 35 home runs and 89 RBI through Sunday to Rizzo’s .296, 25 and 89 and had scored 107 runs to Rizzo’s 76. Bryant’s .986 OPS led Rizzo’s .946.
When you switch to metrics that include defense, baserunning and position but not team-influenced stats, such as RBI and runs, Bryant’s lead widens.
In the Fangraphs.com wins above replacement calculation, Bryant leads the majors at 7.5; Rizzo is eighth in the National League at 4.2. In bWAR at Baseball-Reference.com, it’s Bryant 6.7 and Rizzo 4.5. Billjamesonline.com shows Bryant with 135 total runs to 113 for Rizzo.
Bryant’s widening lead is partly because of his position and partly because his offensive numbers are somewhat better than Rizzo’s.
All of Rizzo’s games in the field have come at first base. Bryant’s main position is third base, where he had played 85 of his 126 games, along with appearances at all three outfield positions, first base and shortstop.
If you must replace a player, it’s more difficult to find offense at third than at first. The average OPS for NL first basemen this season is .810. It’s .792 for third basemen and .759 for left fielders, Bryant’s second-most frequent position.
Bryant stands further above the average hitter at his position than Rizzo does at his, and that’s accounted for in positional adjustments. To see how it works, let’s run through the total runs categories at billjamesonline.com.
Runs created: In a formula that weights all areas of hitting performance from home runs to double plays, Bryant stands at 110 runs created to Rizzo’s 97.
Runs saved: Rizzo stands at seven runs saved and Bryant at six. Bryant has two runs saved in left field and one each at third base, first base, center field and right field. An average fielder saves zero runs, so any positive number is above average.
Baserunning runs: Stolen bases are included in runs created. Baserunning runs balance bases taken, such as going from first to third on a single, against outs on the basepaths. Bryant is on the plus side at two baserunning runs; Rizzo is at minus-one.
Position: Here’s where Bryant gets the rest of his lead, with 17 runs for position to 10 for Rizzo. Position is important in WAR, too, where Baseball-Reference.com shows Bryant at 0.4 defensive WAR to minus-0.1 for Rizzo and Fangraphs shows Bryant at 7.3 defensive runs above average — position included — to minus-5.8 for Rizzo.
If the MVP is to be decided strictly on offensive performance, Rizzo could catch Bryant with a hot month. If all-around value as expressed by WAR or total runs is to be considered, positional adjustments put an extra hurdle in Rizzo’s path.
Follow me on Twitter @GrochowskiJ.