There’s no doubt what Cubs fans will be expecting when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announces its Most Valuable Player awards Thursday. Wrigley Field chants of ‘‘MVP! MVP!’’ have made it clear fans think the National League award should go to Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.
The numbers agree with the fans. By wins above replacement at Baseball-Reference.com, Bryant was the NL leader at 7.7. Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager and Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, the other two NL finalists, were fourth at 6.1 and 13th at 4.6, respectively.
Bryant is the leader at Fangraphs.com, too, with an 8.4 fWAR to 7.5 for runner-up Seager and 5.5 for sixth-place Murphy.
By traditional numbers, this is a much closer race. Murphy had a .347 batting average that ranked second in the NL to the .348 by the Rockies’ D.J. LeMahieu. And with 25 home runs and 104 RBI, Murphy’s Triple Crown numbers stack up well against Bryant’s .292 average, 39 homers and 102 RBI. Seager hit .308 with 26 homers and 72 RBI.
So why does Bryant have such a big WAR edge?
Let’s break it down into batting, baserunning and defense.
Batting: With no adjustments for context, Murphy’s season looks formidable. His NL-leading .985 OPS was well ahead of Bryant’s .939 and Seager’s .872.
But context matters, and Murphy played in the most favorable hitting park of the three. The Nationals and their opponents scored 95.6 percent as many runs in Nationals Park as they would have in a neutral park. The numbers were 87.4 percent at Wrigley Field and 81.3 percent at Dodger Stadium, the sixth- and second-toughest parks on major-league hitters.
That made each run at Dodger Stadium or Wrigley Field a bigger percentage of the total needed to win than at Nationals Park. That’s factored into park-adjusted stats, such as WAR.
Baserunning: Calculations for baserunning runs include things such as going from first to third on singles and staying out of double plays. Bryant grounded into only three double plays all season. Murphy grounded into four and Seager into 12.
All told, Fangraphs credited Bryant with 7.3 baserunning runs to 3.4 for Murphy and 2.6 for Seager. Those are folded into park-adjusted contributions at the plate to give Bryant 49.9 context-neutral offensive runs to 43.3 for Murphy and 33.9 for Seager.
Defense: Seager gets the biggest defensive boost, mainly because of his position, and Murphy loses ground with below-average performance. For a full season, shortstops are worth a positional adjustment of 7.5 runs in Fangraphs’ calculations, while second basemen and third basemen get 2.5.
Combining position and performance, Fangraphs lists Seager at 17.5 defensive runs, Bryant at 11 and Murphy at minus-7.6.
Adding offensive and defensive runs, it’s Bryant at 60.9, Seager at 51.4 and Murphy at 35.7 — the same ranking as when all factors are converted to WAR.
With offensive production — including baserunning — in its proper context and above-average defense, Bryant is the NL MVP by the numbers.
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