Chicago Cubs: Can a healthy Kris Bryant fix the offense?

Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

As the Chicago Cubs look to fix an inconsistent lineup, the answer to their offensive problems may lie within the organization.

After a dismal second half turned into an eventual disappointing end to the season, the Chicago Cubs are left looking for solutions to improve an erratic offense. While free agent contracts and possible trade targets will surely be discussed, one possible solution is already in the clubhouse – a healthy Kris Bryant.

Two separate stints on the disabled list and playing with an injured shoulder for much of the season led to Bryant hitting just .272/.374/.460 in 2018. The shoulder ailment limited him to just 102 games and 13 home runs.

With the story of the stagnating offense dominating headlines about the North Siders as the season wound down, it’s easy to forget just how good Bryant was playing before his injury.

It’s impossible to know with 100 percent certainty, but it seems likely that Bryant hurt his left shoulder while sliding into second base in the first game of a doubleheader in Cincinnati on May 19th. That theory is supported strongly by Bryant’s stats before and after that date.

From the start of the season through May 19th, Bryant was on an absolute tear and had placed himself in early discussions for National League MVP. Through those first 43 games, Bryant was hitting .305/.427/.583 with a 0.83 BB/K ratio.

Over that stretch, Bryant led the National League in wRC+ (A statistic used to measure total offensive production and scale it to a league average. A 100 wRC+ means that the player created runs at the league average rate. Every one point above or below 100 represents one percent better or worse than average) with a 169 mark.

Looking at the Cubs’ offensive production as a whole, the team averaged 5.37 runs per game before Bryant’s injury. Their 231 runs scored were the 4th most among all MLB teams over that time period.

After May 19th, Bryant’s numbers fell considerably. The 2016 NL MVP appeared in just 63 of the team’s remaining 119 games and hit .252/.338/.382 with a 0.31 BB/K ratio.

Bryant’s absence and lack of production when he was in the lineup were evident throughout the rest of the season; the Cubs offense suffered immensely. The team scored just 4.45 runs per game the rest of the way. Their 530 runs scored from May 20th until the end of the season was good for just 13th across both leagues.

It’s not shocking to see the drop in production from the Cubs offense when Bryant was missing. Losing the best hitter in the league for 56 games would be hard on any offense.

Even when Bryant did come back, it was as if the typical production of Bryant had been replaced with a below average hitter. For example, Bryant had a 96 wRC+ and .721 OPS after hurting his left shoulder. For the entire season, Philadelphia Phillies’ catcher Jorge Alfaro had a 96 wRC+ and .731 OPS. Imagine taking Bryant out of the Cubs’ lineup and batting Alfaro in his place. That’s essentially what happened after May 20th.

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With a full offseason to rehab and recover from his injury, Kris Bryant should come back swinging a big bat in 2019. Maybe some of the ridiculous talk of him declining or being on the trade block will motivate him to elevate his game to an even higher level.

The Cubs could still stand to benefit from a big offseason acquisition to jumpstart the offense, but even if it’s a quiet winter on the North Side, welcoming a healthy Bryant – one of the best hitters in the game – back to the lineup will certainly help get the offense back on track.