Kris Bryant is officially back. The Chicago Cubs’ star third baseman slogged through a worse-than-reported wrist injury in 2020 has kicked the 2021 campaign off with a bang. Bryant, who is in his age-29 season and playing for a new contract, is off to arguably the best start of his career.
This year through 124 plate appearances, the former MVP is slashing .308/.395/.673 for a 180 wRC+ with nine home runs, 22 RBI, and has already more than tripled his WAR total from last season. Bryant has displayed a level of patience found earlier on in his career, as he has worked an 11.7 percent walk rate thus far and is striking out at a rate close to his career average after his strikeout rate increased last season.
In terms of more advanced statistics trending in Bryant’s favor, so far in 2021, he is barreling the ball at a career-high 15.4 percent rate and has found more barrels than last season in nearly half as many pitches. Bryant currently has a 89th-percentile Barrel%, per Baseball Savant. He is chasing far fewer pitches (66th-percentile) and has improved upon his whiff rate from last season.
A healthy Kris Bryant is a dangerous Kris Bryant as we have all bore witness, and so far, everything is trending in the direction for Bryant to have a monster season. As it stands currently, Bryant is on a pace for a career-high WAR if he continues this production level and can reach 160 games. Realistically that will likely not happen as it does seem only Mike Trout is capable of numbers of that caliber. However, the point stands that Bryant is well on his way to reaching levels similar to his 2016 MVP season.
It is a frustrating place to be if you’re a Cubs fan. On the one hand, it is exciting because this is the player everyone knows Bryant to be when healthy. On the other hand, fans know ownership is so inept in their duties to the team; they can’t trust Tom Ricketts farther than they can throw him, and if you’re familiar with Ricketts, you know that isn’t very far. Things have come to a head for the third baseman in his contract year: now it’s become more of an audition for post-Cubs life.
As a Cubs fan myself, I do not wish to see Bryant play anywhere but on the north side of Chicago. Bryant has battled through injury and a hefty amount of criticism since winning Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons, along with a World Series championship. It is disheartening to learn how he has downplayed injuries, mainly because it seems as though things could have gone differently in a few of those years where his production dropped.
However, it is understandable. Bryant loves baseball, regardless of public opinion and criticism at points, and wants to be the guy for Cubs fans. A majority of Cubs fans would also agree that the disparagement he has received has mainly been unfair. Bryant has not been as valued by the Cubs as he should have been over these six years, and because of that, it will more than likely come back to bite them. Because Bryant is not valued like he should have been, he will become the Cubs’ “Great White Buffalo” and be seen years from now as the one who got away.