After Kris Bryant won the National League MVP award Thursday, I decided to take a look at how his first two full seasons in the big leagues compared to others who had two great first full years in the majors.
Two names kept coming up in my various searches: Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols.
That’s pretty good company. Bryant ranks third in home runs in a player’s first two full seasons (I searched using a minimum of 1,349 plate appearances, the number Bryant has through 2016) with 65. DiMaggio had 75, Pujols 71.
Those three also rank 1-2-3 in OPS+ — Pujols 154, DiMaggio 147 and Bryant 142.
Bryant posted more bWAR in his first two seasons than either Pujols or DiMaggio: 13.6, to 12.8 for the Yankee star and 12.1 for Pujols. DiMaggio lost three years of his career to World War II and had to retire at 36 due to injuries; otherwise he might have had close to 3,000 hits and well over 400 home runs. As it was, he won three MVP awards and finished third or higher three other times.
The number of plate appearances over a player’s first two seasons, granted, is a rather arbitrary distinction. If you throw out Mike Trout’s 40-game trial at age 19 with the Angels in 2011, Trout goes way past either of those men in bWAR: 21.1. Trout also hit 57 home runs in 2012-13 combined and posted an OPS+ of 174.
Trout, though, is in a class by himself; he’s on a trajectory which could potentially give him the title “best player in baseball history” if he keeps it up.
But Bryant has put up a pair of seasons that are comparable to a Hall of Famer (DiMaggio) and another man who’s on a Hall path (Pujols). It’s a bit too early to say that Bryant is putting up HoF numbers, but he would seem to be on that kind of trajectory if he keeps up his present pace. At 24, Bryant’s best years would appear to still be ahead of him.
He’s under team control for five more seasons. Even so, I’d like to see the Cubs sign him to a long-term extension soon. He (and Anthony Rizzo) are the faces of the current Cubs franchise and I’d like to see them both be here for a long, long time.