Cubs

How Kris Bryant topped his MVP season with Cubs

Kris Bryant won the National League MVP Award in his sophomore campaign, then promptly went out and got better in his third big-league season.

Bryant's career is off to one of the greatest starts in baseball history and is already one of the best players in Cubs franchise history.

And he won't turn 26 until January.

Bryant posted a .946 OPS in 2017, seven points higher than his MVP-winning 2016 OPS (.939). He didn't hit 30 homers or drive in 100 runs (in fact, he only drove in 73), but he improved in almost every other offensive category.

Bryant set new career highs in average (.295), on-base percentage (.409), walks (95) and doubles (38) while lowering his strikeout percentage for the third straight year.

He scored 111 runs, good for the fifth-highest total in the NL and eighth-highest in MLB. He led all third basemen in runs and walks while finishing third in OPS, just behind Colorado's Nolan Arenado (.959) and Cleveland's Jose Ramirez (.957).

Bryant is also the 12th Cubs player to score 100 runs in multiple seasons, becoming the first to do so since Sammy Sosa from 1998-2002.

Only Giancarlo Stanton (7.0) and Anthony Rendon (6.9) have a higher WAR (FanGraphs) in the National League and Bryant (6.8) is fifth in all of baseball, with Aaron Judge (8.2) and Jose Altuve (7.5) leading the game.

"Everybody's been critical of KB, but he quietly is one of the top WAR-mongers in the league right now," Joe Maddon said. "Everybody's like, 'What's wrong with KB?' Nothing!

"Everybody looks at the fact that his RBI total isn't what it could've been, but everything else is in play."

There are several explanations for Bryant's low RBI total. He took 74.78 percent of his at-bats in the No. 2 spot in the Cubs order, hitting behind the pitcher's spot and a revolving door of leadoff hitters who combined to get on base just 32.5 percent of the time.

Bryant also hit just .239 with runners in scoring position, but he posted a .375 on-base percentage and .462 slugging percentage in such situations, making for a darn good .837 OPS overall.

Bryant called himself a "table-setter" earlier in the season and that is exactly what he did for the Cubs offense. As the team found its groove post-All-Star Break, Bryant hit .328 with a .975 OPS in the second half while striking out only 53 times in 68 games.

He became a smarter and more consistent player in 2017, truly learning how to take it one day at a time.

"You have to look at it that way," he said. "At times, I still find myself thinking ahead to certain series and that's when I kinda lose it and things aren't going my way, because I'm thinking about something I don't need to think about.

"That's a good characteristic of a good team, I think. You just stay where you are, stay in the moment and enjoy it. Play hard, but don't really worry about the future too much."

Bryant's also been remarkably durable, becoming the first player in Cubs history to appear in 150 games in each of his first three MLB seasons. He's only the 11th player in MLB history to accomplish that feat and since 2000, only Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui have done the trick (with the latter two guys starting their professional career abroad playing in Japan).

Bryant is already tied with Dave Kingman for 25th in Cubs history with 94 career homers. He's the first player in franchise history to hit at least 25 homers in each of his first three MLB seasons.

He found himself in the MVP discussion as the season wore down, though some may devalue him based on his low traditional stats of homers and RBI in a year where baseball saw more longballs hit than ever before.

But Bryant has said in the past he models his game after Reds first baseman Joey Votto and the Cubs superstar took one step closer to that level of play in 2017.