Kris Bryant Historically Bad in Clutch but it will Even Out



Okay, now that I have your attention, relax Cubs fans. I'm only talking about in the clutch. If there even is such a thing as "clutch". Let me explain.

Look, I'm not one to say whether there is such a thing as a clutch ballplayer or not. I mean, I don't think so, but who the hell knows? And even if you do believe in such a thing, what is your definition—late and tie game...hitting with RISP...? But one thing we do know for certain is that the Cubs' best player and the 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant has not been clutch at all this season. In fact, he has been so bad that he's been historically bad. And he's been bad for two consecutive years!

But the good news is that it won't matter over the long run; over time, this should even out and when reviewing Bryant's career after all is said and done, I'm willing to bet that nobody will be saying, "Yeah that Bryant was a great player but he sucked in the clutch."

Why am I so optimistic about that statement being true? It's because there really is no thing as "clutch". Good hitters are good hitters in any situation. Bad hitters suck just as bad when there are men on base. Short-term sample variations may temporarily skew the outcome, but over time it will even out.

In fact, if Bryant ends his career as a .280 hitter, I expect his batting average with RISP to be around .280. It's just that small sample sizes fail to demonstrate anything that is sustainable. And let's face it, hitters come to the plate far more often without RISP than with them.

Sometimes, however, even people like me that do not believe in the concept of clutch have to express some surprise. And in this case, Bryant has been very, very bad with RISP in 2017. Overall, his BA is .287 and his splits are otherwise pretty consistent. For example, he's hitting .284 vs lefty pitchers, and .288 vs. righties.

But his average with RISP is a paltry .220. And with RISP and two outs, he's even worse: .196. Hell, even with the bases loaded, he's hitting only .200. He does most of his damage with none on and no outs, and especially on a 1-0 count.

Now admittedly, batting average—as a stat—has taken a rather large hit over the years, with OBP being much more valued. But his OBP is much lower with RISP, too. And his slugging is down also.

He does have a few other substantial splits.  Such as, he's been much better on the road than at home. His slash line at opposing ballparks is .322/.427/.536, while at Wrigley Field he bats .253/.376/.525. But even then, it's mainly his BA that's varies widely. His OBP and slugging are still solid.

But it's his work with runners in scoring position that gets most of the bad press this season. However, he was good in a similar situation as a rookie and he did very well, so he proved then that he can handle the pressure of the bright lights. And the kid won a World Series title, ending 108 years of futility and even fielding the Series-winning ground ball.

FanGraphs has a clutch statistic, and this is the second year in a row that Bryant has been awful. Yet I still don't buy into the whole thing. So then why am I writing about it you might ask? Well, in FanGraphs stat, Bryant is the worst ever over consecutive seasons. Yes, let that sink in a minute.

The.Worst. Ever.

Meanwhile, this ain't some scrub we're talking about, it's Kris Freakin' MVP Bryant. As FanGraphs puts it, "From a win-expectancy perspective, over the past two seasons, Kris Bryant as a hitter has been something like five wins less valuable than you might’ve expected him to be."

Or, to put it another way, "In the least important situations, Kris Bryant has been baseball’s second-best hitter. In the most important situations, Kris Bryant has been baseball’s second-worst hitter." So even a guy like me has his ears pricked up when I hear something this astonishing. 

For those of us who have been searching for reasons why the Cubs are nowhere near as good as 2016, FanGraphs postulates that this may be a big part of the equation. So it's significant, even if it doesn't last beyond this season and Bryant goes on to be terrific (or at least average) with RISP the rest of his career, as I expect.

To conclude, whether or not you fall on the side that I do or even if you believe in clutch, the fact remains that even this historically bad performance won't tarnish Bryant's career, in all likelihood. But it sure as hell is interesting, and may go a long way toward explaining why the Cubs haven't been so good this year, despite being in first place.

Then again, if that's the case, then how the heck did the Cubs win the World Series last year and how was Bryant the NL MVP if he was so bad in the clutch?

Things that make you go hmm...


You can follow me on Twitter @BobWarja





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