Cubs’ Kris Bryant not bothered by criticism of his 2017 run production


 The end of Bryzzo as we know it may be at hand.

 Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, half of the fictional partnership featured in a series of commercials made by Major League Baseball, said he and first baseman Anthony Rizzo have nothing in the works for 2018. 

 “On the field we’ll be great,” Bryant said Monday at Cubs camp. “But in terms of commercials, I don’t think we have anything planned.” 

 Shocking news. Bryzzo is being shuttered after only two years? 

 “I think we need to make more of a name for ourselves rather than having MLB take all the credit for it,” Bryant said. “So maybe we’ll do something on the side.” 

 Sure. Cut out the middleman? 

 “Yeah,” he said. “We’re going to cut them out.” 

 It’s no surprise Bryzzo may already be an anachronism in this era of the five-minute news cycle. MLB has new young stars to promote, a new World Series champion to hype and Giancarlo Stanton in Yankees pinstripes. 

 The Cubs in 2018 are old hat, just another contending team among many. They lost the quality that made them unique when they ended the title drought. 

 Bryant is still a marketable star, but he’s no longer baseball’s next big thing. After winning the National League MVP award in his second season in the majors, he dropped to seventh in MVP voting last year. A season with 29 home runs and 73 RBIs seemingly paled in comparison with his 39-homer, 102-RBI season in 2016. 

 Or perhaps not. 

 “I thought I had a great year,” he said. “I don’t care what people think, honestly.” 

 Advanced metrics suggest Bryant has a point. He ranked second among NL hitters with 6.7 wins above replacement, according to fangraphs.com. But not many fans judge players by their WAR, which is nearly impossible to calculate. 

 Bryant said he has heard the criticism about lower run production. 

 “Oh, for sure, and I was getting questions about it (all season),” he said. “I (couldn’t) care less because I’m very comfortable with who I am as a baseball player and as a person. So if I’m going to let something like the RBI stat inhibit me in any way in how I feel each and every day, then I really shouldn’t be playing baseball. 

 “I know that I do a lot of other things really (well) on the field and a lot to help the team win, and that’s what I’m all about. Each year you have your career highs, your career lows. I guess that’s what I get for doing super well my first two years.” 

 Did doing “super well” set up Bryant for Trout-like expectations? 

 “Yeah, it’s tough to perform at the level of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, and you know what they’re going to do each year,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll tell you it’s pretty dang hard, but they make it look so easy. 

 “It is nice to get those expectations (put) on you and for people to root you on to get those numbers, but at the same time you’ve got to realize it’s not going to be attainable every year, every game. You’re not going to get the job done every time.” 

 Bryant expects to post MVP-caliber offensive numbers again in 2018, and he has been working on his fielding this spring with new coach Brian Butterfield. 

 Manager Joe Maddon expects Bryant to spend less time playing outfield this year, which should help his consistency at third base. 

 “When I first got here,” Maddon said, “the concern was that he’s so tall, a lot of his movement was going to be unnatural or difficult, especially the slow roller, charging a ground ball, diving and getting up. He’s done all that stuff. He’s such a good athlete. I’ve seen nothing but progress from him. And he and Butter have been getting after it pretty good. 

 “I don’t think it’s impossible to think of him as a Gold Glove candidate. It’s just there are so many good third basemen that would be holding him back. But I feel like he’s capable of doing that.” 

 Bryant conceded beating out the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado for a Gold Glove would be tough sledding. But he has been picking up some things from Butterfield and believes his defense is better than advertised. 

 “I feel like my defense has only improved in each of my three years,” he said. “Hopefully I can continue that trend.” 

 The possible end of Bryzzo may be a blessing in disguise for Bryant. After three years of trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations, Bryant appears comfortable being himself. He has been more low-key than usual this spring, shying away from the spotlight to get in his work. 

 “When I first came up, there was a ton of hype and all the attention, but I just want to be another person in the crowd,” he said. “I do realize that being a key player, it takes more responsibility.” 

 Whenever Bryant and I discuss Bryzzo, it gets mentioned that the term was coined in this column and then used by MLB without the express written consent of the Tribune. 

 “They didn’t give you any credit,” Bryant said. “Not even an asterisk in small font.” 

 Not even a coffee cup, I reminded him. 

 “Terrible,” he said. “Actually, that’s why we’re not doing it — they didn’t give you any credit.” 

 Hmm. Somehow I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of Bryzzo.


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