One of the fun things about baseball is that almost certainly, no matter how long you’ve watched it, you’ll still probably believe a thing or two that isn’t true. You might believe that the leadoff hitter should be a guy with really great speed who can steal some bases. You might believe that your second hitter should be able to hit behind runners and bunt. After all, those things were believed for many years.
If lineup construction isn’t your thing, you might really believe that clutch hitting is a particular skill. Despite statisticians consistently telling us that over time, players tend to generally perform back to their average in almost every situation.
I was at the game Wednesday night at a roof top with some Cub fans. I was with a friend who is a big Cubs fan. This guy announced to our group that Kris Bryant really wasn’t that good. Some beers had been consumed around the table by some of those in attendance. To be fair, I’ve died on a few Kris Bryant hills in my time, and I didn’t take up the fight on this occasion. And so, six people basically let it go said that KB was vaguely disappointing.
To be fair, his point wasn’t that KB isn’t good, just that he puts up his numbers pretty quietly. I can’t completely argue with that. Bryant was definitely one of those guys who when he came up, we more or less had the impression that he might hit 80 homers or drive in 200 runs. That he might be the Tiger Woods of baseball. He had that same relentless upbringing, honing his skills from basically the time he could walk.
We both had to work in the morning and this same buddy and I were heading to his car in the eighth inning when Bryant hit a two-run homer that ended up being a game-winning homer. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are two guys who are more or less clock work. When healthy, they just put up their numbers. Neither really has had any monster breakout seasons, but when they are healthy for a full season, they are going to put together a fairly predictable, yet still excellent season.
Of course, even that isn’t really true. Kris Bryant recorded the third highest fWAR in 2016 among all hitters (7.8). So then “the problem” is that he didn’t continue his upward trajectory. In 2015, he had 6.1 fWAR. In 2017 he “regressed” to a 6.7 fWAR (6th among hitters). After an injury plagued 2018 (2.3 fWAR), he’s bounced back with this season. He’s “only” 14th among hitters this season. His bat hasn’t tailed off either. The main component holding him back from the top 10 in fWAR is his defense. He rates as just a tick above zero on their defensive metric. Of course, there are some players who are really held back by their defense due to a negative score, so that all evens out some. So 14th feels pretty accurate.
Further, Bryant hasn’t really been that quiet this year. If you’ve followed Heroes and Goats you’ve seen him lead the way for quite some time. With the big blast and the big game, Bryant is now the only Cub with two positive WPA game scores in the top six on the season. He’s also the only player with two of the top six WPA individual play scores on the season. He’s produced some of the top games, some of the top moments, and he’s leading for the season as well. He’s actually having a pretty noisy season. By and large, his numbers are down ever so slightly from his 2016 MVP campaign and the 2017 one in which he posted his highest fWAR total.
Kris is likely on path to be a Hall of Fame player and still have Cubs fans generally underappreciate him. That’s a tough one to accomplish, but here we are. Already, he’s got three 6+ fWAR seasons. After last night’s game, he’s at 4.6 fWAR. He’s likely to finish close to 5.5 on his current pace. That would give him more than 28 fWAR in his first five seasons as a pro. At 28 fWAR, he’d already have more than a couple of fringe Hall of Fame third basemen. The big question is how many more of those 6+ WAR seasons like his first three will he have? He’s young enough that the answer is probably at least a small handful. If I project Bryant for another 1 fWAR this year and then 5.5 more each of the next two years, he would be at 39.4. That by itself almost certainly won’t be enough. But, at his age, it’s likely he’ll sustain his production for a while yet.
I’ve said about Jose Quintana and I’ll say it about Kris. We should worry less about the things that he isn’t and instead focus more on all of the good that he is.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added — here’s a good explanation of how WPA works) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. Also note, for the purposes of Heroes and Goats, we ignore the results of pitchers while they are batting and hitters while they are pitching. With that, we get to the results.
Game 126, August 22: Cubs 12, Giants 11 (68-58)
- Superhero: Kris Bryant (.512). Kris had two hits, two RBI, two runs scored, one homer and one strikeout in five at bats. This is the third highest WPA game score of the year by a Cub. Kris shows up again on that list at sixth.
- Hero: Nicholas Castellanos (.309). Nick had four hits, including a home run. He scored two and drove in three. As a Cub, he has a line of .392/.429/.785 (wRC+ 207). It’s fun watching a Cub playing the game in God mode. With 17 runs scored this month, he’s already 12th among Cubs this year and in the next couple of days he will move into ninth.
- Hero: Anthony Rizzo (.212). Anthony had two hits, got hit by a pitch and scored three runs scored in five plate appearances. The second, third and fourth batter in the Cubs lineup combines for eight hits, seven runs scored, seven RBI and have slugged two homers.
- Billy Goat: Yu Darvish (-.447). Yu’s walk-less streak continued. Unfortunately, he was victimized by four homers allowed. Overall, he threw 5⅓ innings and allowed seven hits, no walks, four homers allowed.
- Goat: Tyler Chatwood (-.348). Finally, Chatwood got a real leverage situation. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very good. He faced three batters and was charged with a walk and two singles. For his efforts.
- Kid: Derek Holland (-.287). He faced five batters and allowed four hits. He was aided by a runner thrown out at the plate.
WPA Play of the Game: Kris Bryant’s two run homer in the eighth inning came with no outs and gave the Cubs a 12-11 lead. (.478). For a singular event, this checks in at sixth. He also recorded the fifth highest WPA event earlier this month.
Cumulative Standings Top/Bottom 3:
- Kris Bryant 32.75
- Anthony Rizzo 30
- Kyle Hendricks 13
- !Carl Edwards Jr./Jason Heyward -12
- Pedro Strop -19.5
Up Next: The Cubs will seek a fifth straight win while the Giants will look to salvage one game in the series to get back to .500. Eliminated is a strong word, but the Giants have basically fallen back out of contention with their current three-game losing streak. They are five back of the second wild card spot and there are now four teams between them and the Cardinals who are sitting in that spot after their loss last night. It’s hard to completely write off a team that has had a dominant stretch like the Giants had in July, but they are certainly in critical condition.
The Cubs will have Kyle Hendricks on the mound. Kyle is 8-9 with a 3.37 ERA in 136⅓ innings. Over his last seven starts, he is 1-2 with a 3.07 ERA in 41 innings. Last time out, he allowed only one run over seven innings. He allowed three hits and one walk. He left with a no decision. Kyle hasn’t faced the Giants this year, but was 1-0 in two starts last year against them. He also started against them twice in 2017 and was 1-0. Over those four starts, he’s thrown 27 innings and allowed five runs (four earned). Current Giants have 138 PA against Kyle with a .541 OPS. Scooter Gennett has the most PA (42) and an OPS of .525. Buster Posey has even worse numbers with only three hits in 24 PA (.341 OPS). Brandon Belt is one of the few Giants who has had success (19, 1.015).
Ex-Cub Jeff Samardzija (it doesn’t make me sad that his time as a Cub was before my time writing) starts for the Giants. Jeff is 9-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 139⅔ innings. Over his last seven, he is 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 41 innings. Last time out he got a no decision in a game in which he allowed two runs in 5⅓ innings. He allowed five hits and two walks. Jeff has only started three games ever against the Cubs, one each in 2015, 2016 and 2017. He was 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in those games.
Jeff has been very tough on right-handed hitters in 2019 (.597 OPS), but lefties have had some success (.792). Jeff has walked more lefties than righties, but the biggest difference is he has allowed twice as many homers to lefties. Jeff is better at home (.648) than away (.725). Current Cubs have a total of 141 PA against Jeff with a .611 OPS. But that number is a little deceptive because 31 of those PA belong to the rehabbing Daniel Descalso. Jonathan Lucroy has the second most PA at 26, but he’s really struggled with only three hits and three walks (.497 OPS). That leaves Jason Heyward at 19 and .963. Nick Castellanos is another who has struggled (12, .167).
The Cubs can load up on lefthanded bats for this one and the righties that would be in there are guys who generally perform well against everyone like Bryant and Javier Baez. I think the Cubs have a good chance of pulling off the sweep.
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