BUYIN’ INTO BRYANT
His 139 wRC+ from ages 23 to 27 tops all expansion-era Cubs except Santo
When it comes to overall production, Kris Bryant has been one of the best hitters the Cubs have had.
With decisions to come about how much of the Cubs’ core to keep intact, it should be noted Bryant has been their leader in weighted runs created plus. WRC+ is a top-shelf offensive metric that assigns weights to every outcome from home runs to double plays. The results are adjusted to ballparks and normalized to major-league averages so that 100 signifies an average hitter.
Bryant’s 139 career wRC+ means he has been 139 percent as productive as an average hitter. That not only leads current Cubs, but it ranks third all-time among Cubs with 3,000 or more plate appearances, trailing only 1920s and 1930s star Hack Wilson (153) and 19thcentury outfielder George Gore (141).
Among those who played in the expansion era that began in 1961, Bryant is the leader, followed by Billy Williams, Sammy Sosa and Anthony Rizzo (all at 134), Derrek Lee (131) and Ron Santo (128). Ernie Banks is down the list at 118 overall, but he was at 135 for 1953 to 1960, the portion of his career outside the expansion era.
In his five seasons and a few games in 2020, Bryant has started climbing Cubs career lists. In the expansion era, he’s 12th with 138 home runs, third with a .901 OPS, second with a .385 on-base percentage, fourth with a .516 slugging percentage and seventh with a 27.8 fWAR in addition to leading in wRC+
Does that put Bryant on a track to be the team’s best hitter since expansion should he remain with the Cubs? It’s not quite that simple, though he still is near the top in wRC+ when age is factored in.
Bryant arrived at Wrigley Field major-league-ready for his age-23 season in 2015. His 136 wRC+ ranked 17th in the majors, and his 6.1 fWAR ranked 10th. There were no youngplayer growing pains.
The decline years, where age erodes skills and numbers, have yet to come. We’ve seen Bryant only in his prime.
How do others stack up from ages 23 to 27, Bryant’s ages in 2015-19?
Lee didn’t come to the Cubs until age 28, so he has no same-age comparison to Bryant with the team. Williams, in 1961-65, and Rizzo, in 2013-17, are within two points of their career number with 136 wRC+. Sosa was at 115 in 1992-96. His explosion came two years later, starting at age 29, with 160 wRC+.
The hitter who exceeded Bryant’s production for ages 23 to 27 was Santo. His 150 wRC+ tied Al Kaline for seventh in the majors in 1963-67. Add in defense, and Santo’s 40.7 fWAR for those five years was second to Willie Mays’ 43.6.
To stretch back a few years, Banks put up 133 wRC+ in 1954-58, his age-23 to age-27 years.
Bryant, who remains under club control through 2021, tops that. From 1961 on, he tops all Cubs in wRC+ overall and tops all Cubs at comparable ages except Santo in his remarkable stretch starting in 1963.
In five seasons and a few games in 2020, Kris Bryant is among the Cubs’ expansion-era leaders in a slew of offensive categories.