PHILADELPHIA – Joe Maddon analyzes the numbers, makes data-driven decisions and works in concert with The Geek Department. The Cubs manager will never be confused with a baseball caveman.
Maddon has seen enough to this point to feel like Kris Bryant is a clutch player – and to believe that concept is not a myth.
“I know people will argue against the RBI mentality,” Maddon said Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. “There will be people arguing against like why are RBIs so important. Well, they win games.
“When you get to a better or tougher pitcher – or a tougher moment – some guys really don’t perform well in those moments. You don’t even want to see your guy out there. But he definitely has even better focus in those situations.”
During Friday’s doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryant broke the franchise’s rookie RBI mark (86) set by Hall of Famer Billy Williams (1961) and Geovany Soto (2008) during their Rookie of the Year campaigns.
Bryant has emerged as the clear-cut favorite to win that award, beginning the day with 24 homers and 90 RBI and leading all rookies in runs scored (78), on-base percentage (.368) and slugging percentage (.491).
Bryant has 14 game-winning RBI. Since the turn of the century, only four other rookies have reached that total: Albert Pujols (21 with the 2001 St. Louis Cardinals); Hideki Matsui (17 with the 2003 New York Yankees); Yoenis Cespedes (15 with the 2012 Oakland A’s); and Eric Hinske (15 when the current Cubs assistant hitting coach played for the 2002 Toronto Blue Jays).
Bryant’s 24 go-ahead RBI are the most by any rookie in franchise history. With runners in scoring position, he’s hitting .313 and putting up a .967 OPS for a legitimate playoff contender.
“It’s just one of those years,” Bryant said. “Last year, I struggled with guys on base in the minor leagues and that really hit me hard. I think last year I hit something like .230 with runners in scoring position (.208 with an .835 OPS at Triple-A Iowa).
“It’s just certain years you do things better than previous years. And I think I’m on one of those good years with runners on base and in scoring position.
“But there’s a lot of guys in this clubhouse that are really clutch.”
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That’s Bryant, trying to spread the credit around, deflect some attention and talk about the team concept. The scary part for the rest of the National League is that he’s only 23 years old.
“It’s gonna get better,” Maddon said. “You’re seeing good – and I’m seeing good now – but I think it’s going to continue to get better as he really understands what they’re trying to do to him.
“The valuable part in there is that he will accept his walk in that moment, too. Even though he’s there to drive in the run, I think – I don’t know this for a fact – he expands less when there’s an opportunity to drive in a run.
“He does his best work for me when it really matters.”