Colorado Rockies

Settling the Kris Bryant vs. Nolan Arenado debate

Settling the Kris Bryant vs. Nolan Arenado debate

Imagine you're the general manager of a Major League Baseball team and every roster was redrafted with each player going into a fantasy draft format.

Your team's spot comes up in the first round and both Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado are there. Which one do you choose?

The Bryant-Arenado "debate" has been a fun exercise for Cubs and Rockies fans alike on social media the last few years while both third basemen have positioned themselves firmly in the conversation of the game's best players.

The two have squared off "against" each other six times over the last 10 days, with a Cubs-Rockies series at Wrigley Field coming just over a week after the three-game set at Coors Field.

In those six games, Bryant has posted a .970 OPS, going 5-for-19 (.263 AVG) with a double, a triple, a homer, 2 RBI and 4 runs.  Arenado has absolutely mashed, hitting 5 of his 7 homers in 2018 off Cubs pitching while posting a .462/.500/1.115 slash line (1.615 OPS) in those six games, collecting 12 hits and a pair of walks in 28 plate appearances.

If I'm a GM, Bryant would be my choice between the two, though it's ridiculously close. And it's also necessary to point out that I am biased, given I've seen Bryant play several hundred more games than I've seen Arenado with my own eyes.

Allow me to explain in a super-scientific way:

AGE/CONTROL

Let's start with age.

Both players are right at the beginning of their prime, so should be among the game's best players for another few years, at the very least.

Arenado was born 9 months before Bryant and due to an earlier call-up to the big leagues, will be a free agent in 2020. Bryant doesn't hit the market until 2022.

Edge: Bryant

OFFENSE

This is the toughest one to compare, as Arenado and Bryant are both rather different hitters with vastly different home ballparks.

Due to the wind blowing in at Wrigley Field a bunch over the last couple years, Bryant's home digs often serves as a pitcher's park. Coors Field, meanwhile, has always been a hitter's paradise.

Arenado is still a fantastic hitter, but he still has some pretty heavy home/road splits the last three years: .321 AVG/1.008 OPS at home, .273 AVG/.852 OPS on the road.

Arenado has also flashed power on a more regular basis with at least 37 homers in each of the last 3 seasons. He led the NL in homers, RBI and total bases in 2015 and 2016 and paced the Senior Circuit in doubles in 2017.

Bryant, of course, has been no slouch in the power department, but has just one 30-homer season under his belt (2016). 

Bryant strikes out more than Arenado, but also draws walks at a much higher clip and because of that, is still able to provide his team value even during a hitting slump.

For their careers, Bryant has a .917 OPS, 37 points higher than Arenado's .880 mark.

Since the start of the 2015 season, here's how the offense matches up:

ARENADO

Gs: 503
HR: 127
RBI: 412
RUNS: 328
TOTAL BASES: 1121
AVG: .298
OBP: .356
SLG: .579
OPS: .935

BRYANT

Gs: 481
HR: 97
RBI: 286
RUNS: 333
TOTAL BASES: 947
AVG: .288
OBP: .390
SLG: .527
OPS: .917

Arenado hits for more power and a higher batting average, but he does create more outs with his swing. Bryant walked 82 times more than Arenado did in 22 fewer games.

Those are just the back-of-the-baseball-card numbers, too. One of the best indicators of a player's overall offensive value in the world of advanced stats is OPS+, which accounts for home ballpark and every other factor. An OPS+ of 100 is average, so an OPS+ of 125 means that hitter is 25 percent better than the league average player.

Bryant has posted an OPS+ of 142 in his career compared to Arenado's 130 since the start of the 2015 season.

Edge: We'll call it a draw, just because either guy is a gamechanger with the bat in his hands.

DEFENSE

Arenado has saved 104 runs with his defense over his career across the nearly 6,400 innings at third base. Gold Glove voting isn't always the best way to tell the quality of a fielder, but the Rockies star has taken home the honor since his rookie season in 2013 and will look to make it 6 years in a row in 2018.

Only Andrelton Simmons (147 DRS) has saved more runs with his glove since the start of the 2013 season. Jason Heyward is third on the list at 92 DRS, 12 behind Arenado.

"I've always loved his defense," Maddon said after watching Arenado play six games over the last two weeks. "He's got a strong arm, he's accurate, he makes all the plays on defense.

"And of course, he's a very good hitter, don't get me wrong. But the thing that stands out to me is his defense."

Bryant, meanwhile, has saved 15 runs with his defense over his four years in the big leagues — 9 DRS at third base, 6 DRS as an outfielder. That's nothing to scoff at, but nowhere near the level of glovework Arenado provides.

Edge: Arenado

BASERUNNING

Bryant takes this one home and it's not particularly close. For their careers, Bryant has been worth 18.2 runs above average with his baserunning ability (by Fangraphs' metric) while Arenado has been at -7.2.

Edge: Bryant

INTANGIBLES

Both players are fantastic role models for the game of baseball and leaders in the clubhouse (even if only by example). They both have that extra "it" factor inside them to strive for greatness.

Bryant has a bit more edge in terms of flexibility to his manager by being able to play first base and all three outfield spots in addition to third base. But the Rockies would never need to move Arenado off the hot corner with his ridiculous defense there, so positional versatility shouldn't really apply.

Edge: We'll call it a draw again, mainly because it's so difficult to quantify intangibles

OVERALL

Bryant gets the nod here, though again, it's insanely close. The overall skillset and youth/team control factor are in Bryant's favor.

But the advanced stats are also in KB's corner. Bryant has been worth 21.6 WAR (FanGraphs) in 481 games compared to Arenado's 20.7 WAR in 747 career games.

It’s still early, but panic starting to set in with Yu Darvish and for good reason

It’s still early, but panic starting to set in with Yu Darvish and for good reason

No, that wasn't another "YUUU!" chant you heard in the fifth inning at Wrigley Field Wednesday afternoon.

The crowd didn't get behind Yu Darvish the way Joe Maddon wanted them to after the right-hander's last start at Wrigley Friday.

For the fourth time in his six starts in a Cubs uniform, Darvish couldn't make it out of the fifth inning — allowing 6 runs (5 earned) on 7 hits, 3 walks and 3 homers in 4.1 innings. 

He did strike out 8 batters on a very windy day, but Mother Nature did nothing to aid the homers that came off the bat at 106.8 mph, 107 mph and 101.5 mph, respectively. Throw in a few other extremely hard-hit knocks (Gerardo Parra's 104 mph and 102.3 mph doubles, Charlie Blackmon's 103.3 mph single) and it was clear Darvish was getting battered around independent of the weather conditions at the corner of Clark and Addison.

"Overall, I think it was a bad rhythm," Darvish said through a translator. "A lot of things didn't go well. ... There are good days and bad days and today turned out to be the latter. Everything in general just went south today."

Darvish's ERA now sits at an even 6.00 on the season and he will fall to 0-3 with a 1.57 WHIP. Those numbers have led to more pronounced panicking among Cubs fans Wednesday — both at the ballpark with the "Boo Birds" and on social media.

His fifth inning issues popped up again Wednesday, allowing solo homers to Trevor Story and Chris Iannetta before being yanked for Brian Duensing.

Darvish's fifth inning numbers in a Cubs uniform: 14 ER, 16 H, 3 HR, a 31.50 ERA and only 12 outs recorded.

Joe Maddon met with Darvish in Cleveland last week to talk specifically about the pitcher's mental approach when adversity arises. Darvish worked that to perfection in the fifth inning last Friday and the Cubs don't feel it was a mental issue in the fifth frame Wednesday and maintain there's no concern about that particular inning.

"Not really," Maddon said. "Of course, you want him to get deeper. I keep referencing stuff. I see stuff. Execution wasn't as good today. But last time out, he was executing so well and it was a 6-inning outing, 100-something pitches. We just gotta keep working through it and getting everybody on the same page. He's new here.

"But physically, he looks great. He looks great. It's the conclusion or the execution of the pitch that we have to firm up a bit. There's no excuses. I'm just saying he looks good, but the conclusion hasn't been as good, I agree."

He has recorded two quality starts against the Brewers, which serve as the only time he's made it out of the fifth inning.

Take those two starts against Milwaukee out of the equation and Darvish's numbers in 2018 look like this: 9.50 ERA, 2.17 WHIP in 18 IP.

Needless to say, this isn't the start the Cubs or Darvish hoped for when the two sides agreed to a five-year, $126 million deal in February.

"Obviously we just trust that the process as it goes for him will continue to get better," veteran Ben Zobrist said. "One month is one month and everybody can struggle for a month. You just keep making adjustments and he'll get comfortable and find his groove and we won't be talking about it too much more, I think.

"It just takes a little while to get comfortable and get your groove and it's very early still, so let's hope that we get it going a little better in May."

The Invisi-ball: How Luke Farrell has emerged as a bonafide option in Cubs bullpen

The Invisi-ball: How Luke Farrell has emerged as a bonafide option in Cubs bullpen

Albert Almora Jr.: Hype man?

Who knew the 24-year-old outfielder could out-do Joe Maddon when it comes to promotion?

Maddon said new reliever Luke Farrell — who got his first big-league win Monday night — has "as good of makeup as anybody on the Cubs. Anybody."

But Almora went even further — nicknaming one of Farrell's pitches.

No, it's not called "The Terminator." 

It's the "Invisi-ball." 

"I always told him, facing him last year in Cincinnati, that was a nightmare 'cause he has an Invisi-ball," Almora said. "It looks like it's gonna be right at your barrel and then you look at your bat thinking there's a hole in the middle just 'cause you never hit it."

When asked about it, Farrell laughed, but admitted it's actually not the first time somebody's nicknamed his splitter the "Invisi-ball."

With Maddon unwilling to go to Brandon Morrow or Carl Edwards Jr. Monday night against the Rockies because they had pitched too much recently, the Cubs needed to bridge the gap to closer-for-the-day Steve Cishek,

Maddon called on Farrell to come in with two runners on in a tie ballgame in the Top of the 6th. He promptly induced an Ian Desmond groundout to end the inning.

In the seventh, Farrell came back out to protect the Cubs' new, one-run lead against the heart of the Rockies order. He mowed down Charlie Blackmon (strikeout), Nolan Arenado (lineout) and Trevor Story (strikeout) and walked off the mound about 30 minutes before picking up the first MLB win of his career.

It was just the third appearance for Farrell in a Cubs uniform, but given the other two went very well — 5 strikeouts in 2 innings with only an unearned run allowed — the situation seemed awfully high leverage for a 26-year-old journeyman.

But Maddon's been wanting to see how Farrell handled a high-leverage spot for a while.

"It's kinda fun," Maddon smirked after Monday's 3-2 win. "Take it for a test drive. That could really pay us dividends down the road. That was 93, 94 [mph] with carry and then you got [the splitter] he throws off it with the slider and he's not afraid? Those are great qualities."

Farrell is a household name in the baseball world. Luke's dad, John, has spent most of the last decade as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays (2011-12) and Boston Red Sox (2013-17) while Luke's brothers -—Jeremy and Shane — currently work in the Cubs organization as a hitting coach and scout, respectively.

When Luke Farrell faced the Cubs as a member of the Reds in 2017, Maddon didn't know who he was at first. But the Cubs skipper got to know real quick, just like Almora.

And now Farrell just might be carving out a long-term role for himself as the final spot in the Cubs bullpen.

"I like him because he's tall and he throws the ball downhill," Maddon said. "You don't see that often anymore. I think it's a really good method."

Maddon also pointed to Farrell's "stuff" and how the 6-foot-6 righty throws a few mph harder out of the 'pen compared to as a starter.

And then there's the makeup, which Maddon lauded again before Tuesday's game and credited Farrell's upbringing in a baseball household as a contributing factor.

"Honestly, when you get to know him, there's nothing not to like," Maddon said. "Of course, there's talent. I just think he has the inner workings of being a successful major-league player beyond talent."

Farrell is only up in the Cubs bullpen because Eddie Butler landed on the disabled list with a groin injury — a fact Farrell is well aware of. 

"Honestly, it's just trying to go day-by-day," he said. "I know I came up here after an injury. It's just trying to take every opportunity and do the best that I can and continue to go scoreless innings and keep us in ballgames — whether it's a big lead, behind a lot or it's a one-run ballgame. Whatever the role, just do anything you can."

Farrell — who attended Northwestern — turns 27 in just over a month (June 7) and has a career 4.41 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in the minor leagues. He had allowed 7 runs on 16 baserunners in 10.2 innings in two starts at Triple-A Iowa before getting the call to Chicago.

The numbers don't point to this guy as a pitcher who could make an impact out of the Cubs bullpen over a long stretch of games. But dynamic relievers pop up all over the place in today's MLB and the Cubs clearly love the guy.

Farrell attributes his arrival to visualization and unlocking his physical tools with hours of mental preparation.

"I'm a big believer in [the mental side of the game]," he said, crediting the likes of John Baker and Dr. Ken Ravizza within the Cubs organization. "Some guys might not want to talk about working on that aspect of the game.

"For some, it's innate and I certainly have some of that, where it's just competitive fire or spirit or whatever you want to call it. At the same time, it's putting yourself in situations mentally before you actually step out on the mound.

"I really try and put myself in that situation in my mind. You're there, you're pitching at Wrigley, you might visualize the specific hitter you're facing, whatever it is and you kinda go through these exercises so you really try to mimic living it before it actually happens. As weird as that sounds, it's been a help to me."