Kris Bryant has gotten so good, he may actually be underrated now

Tony Andracki
NBC Sports Chicago
<p>Kris Bryant is entering Joey Votto territory now as a hitter, evolving into so much more than just a slugger.</p>

Kris Bryant has gotten so good, he may actually be underrated now

Kris Bryant is entering Joey Votto territory now as a hitter, evolving into so much more than just a slugger.

Kris Bryant's trophy case already features a World Series ring, the 2016 NL MVP Award and the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year honor.

And yet he played in just his third Opening Day game last month.

Bryant has already solidified himself as one of the very best players in Major League Baseball (racking up 19.7 WAR over the last three seasons), yet somehow, he's still getting better.

It's easy to look at the Cubs' Jekyll and Hyde offense and Bryant's low homer total (2) and think he's off to a slow start in 2018, but he's actually red-hot and showcasing his remarkable strides as a hitter.

In fact, Bryant has gotten so good, he may actually be underrated now.

The 2018 season is only a couple weeks old, so small sample size warning and all that, but Bryant currently leads the league in on-base percentage and has more walks (10) than strikeouts (8).

After pacing the NL with 199 strikeouts in 2015, Bryant has since reduced his whiffs each season while also increasing his walks. He's currently on pace for 116 walks to only 93 strikeouts over a full season.

That walk-to-strikeout ratio helps give credence to his .352 average and .493 on-base percentage.

But can he hit .300 over a full season? We've seen Bryant hit as high as .295, as he's also increased his batting average and on-base percentage each year in the league.

"He's been so good," Joe Maddon said. "They just look at the final numbers - what's he hitting? How many home runs does he have? He's worked a lot in spring training to not chase. And the less he chases, the greater those numbers are gonna be.

"If you really wanna hit .300, if that's a goal - which in this day and age of this not being that important, I think it is to a player, just like wins to a pitcher is important - you're not gonna hit that number unless you accept your walks. You're gonna have too many at-bats as a regular player. 

"It's gonna require too many hits if you're just putting everything in play. So if you accept your walks when this pitcher really does not want to pitch to you, that's gonna require less hits to hit .300. And I think these guys, once they do it, they understand how to do it and they're gonna do it more often."

Maddon also pointed to how Bryant is using the entire field well right now. He's actually pulling the ball more than ever (again, small sample size), but he's hitting more line drives all over the field. 

Bryant is hitting a line drive 39.1 percent of the time right now, up from his career-high of 23.7 percent during his 2016 MVP campaign. 

In all of baseball, only Pittsburgh's Corey Dickerson has a higher line drive rate (43.5 percent) than Bryant.

The power is what most casual fans think about when they see Kris Bryant play, but he's grown and evolved so much as a hitter that he's far, far more than just a slugger and instead is looking more and more each day like a young, right-handed hitting Joey Votto.

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