Even as the Cubs struggle at near .500, their fans are partying at the ballot box almost like it’s 2016.
In an update released Monday and with National League All-Star voting scheduled to close June 29, Kris Bryant is leading at third base, Jason Heyward is clinging to the third outfield spot and Cubs are running second or third at the other positions.
If you’re going to base your vote strictly on 2017 performance, then no Cub is a by-the-numbers leader. The closest is Bryant, whose 2.4 fWAR at Fangraphs.com is in the same ballpark as the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado and the Dodgers’ Justin Turner (both 2.7) and the Nationals’ Anthony Rendon (2.6).
At Baseball-Reference.com, which puts more emphasis on defense in its bWAR calculation, Arenado is the easy leader at 3.2, leading Turner and Rendon at 2.7. Bryant is sixth at 2.1.
For Rockies fans, seeing Bryant lead the All-Star voting is a rerun of the 2016 NL most valuable player vote. Irate Coloradans took to Twitter and message boards to wonder how Arenado could win the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards yet finish fifth in an MVP vote won by a player at his own position.
There’s more than metrics to the baseball writers’ votes last year and to the fans’ ballots in 2017, but there is a metric case to be built for Bryant.
By traditional numbers (through Sunday), Arenado is the clear leader. Bryant’s .264 batting average with 15 home runs and 28 RBI lag behind Arenado’s .299 average, 15 homers and 55 RBI.
Bryant narrows the difference with a league-leading 47 walks to Arenado’s 22. That means that despite Arenado’s edge in batting average, Bryant has a .396-.352 edge in on-base percentage. That leaves a small gap in OPS, with Arenado leading .925-.919.
RBI aren’t factored into advanced metrics because they are strongly affected by teammates’ performance and batting-order position. With both more than capable of driving in a runner from first with an extra-base hit, Arenado has batted with 184 runners on base to Bryant’s 146.
The elephant in the room — or is it an Apatosaurus? — is park effects. The Rockies and their opponents have combined to score 11.03 runs per game in Coors Field against 8.37 runs in other parks. The Cubs and their opponents have combined to score 9.49 per game in Wrigley Field and 9.42 in other parks.
Each run scored is a smaller percentage of the total needed to win in Coors than in other parks. That’s accounted for in park-adjusted stats. By OPS+, Bryant takes a 141-122 lead. By Fangraphs’ offensive runs above average, Bryant leads 14.7-8.0. Baseball-Reference shows offensive WAR at Bryant 2.4 and Arenado 1.7.
There are similarities to last season, when Arenado’s .294 batting average, 41 homers and 133 RBI were more than a match for Bryant’s .292/39/102. But with park effects, Bryant led the NL with a 7.7 bWAR and 8.4 fWAR; Arenado was at 6.6 and 5.5.
Arenado is a fantastic player having a terrific season. But any by-the-numbers comparison that involves a Rockies player must include park effects, and that tightens a Bryant-Arenado race.
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