Legends On Deck

Comparing Rookie Third Basemen: Kris Bryant and Matt Duffy

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs

Matt Duffy and Chris Bryant (Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

Entering the 2015 season, most experts and baseball fans alike were raving about the Cubs’ Kris Bryant, who led all players in Spring Training HRs with nine, and was the near- consensus top prospect in all of baseball. The second pick overall in the 2013 draft, Kris Bryant has not disappointed so far in his rookie season, as he has been worth 4.0 fWAR through 462 PAs, which leads all rookies.

However, not far behind Bryant in fWAR amongst rookies is another National League third baseman; one that was barely even on the national radar, especially when compared to Bryant. An 18th round pick in the 2012 draft, San Francisco’s Matt Duffy hardly even showed up on most experts’ lists of top prospects within the Giants organization entering 2015, let alone national Top 100 lists.

Despite the lack of hype that accompanied him into the majors, Duffy has been worth 3.8 fWAR through 415 PAs this season, which has him squarely within reach of Bryant’s 4.0 fWAR. Remarkably, Duffy’s 131 wRc+ is actually higher than Bryant’s 126 wRc+ at the moment (100 is league average), showing that Duffy has actually been the better offensive player, despite the prodigious power and hitting ability shown by Bryant throughout his minor league career. Let’s examine some these two rookies’ stats from this season below:

Kris Bryant          Matt Duffy
PA           462               415
AVG       .254             .306
OBP       .361              .341
SLG        .447             .468
OPS        .809            .809
HR          16                   10
XBH       39                    38
ISO         .193              .162
BB%       13.2%            4.1%
K%         30.7%           16.1%
wRc+     126                  131
fWAR     4.0                  3.8

As evidenced above, despite actually having identical OPS of .809, Kris Bryant and Matt Duffy have achieved their impressive offensive statistics in completely different ways. Bryant has exhibited much more of a typical slugger’s profile, with both a higher K% (30.7% to 16.1%) and BB% (13.2% to 4.1%). However, despite having a higher ISO, HR total, and XBH total, Bryant’s power has not been THAT much better, as evidenced by his ISO only being .31 points higher (.193 to .162) and only having one more XBH despite nearly 50 more PAs.

Duffy has been mostly a groundball hitter (52.2% of his batted balls have been grounders, compared to only 34.1% for Bryant, per Fangraphs), while Bryant has mostly hit fly balls (48% fly ball% for Bryant, compared to only 26.9% for Duffy, per Fangraphs).

Defensively, both players have been strong third basemen. Despite both receiving limited playing time at other positions, both have played the vast majority of their innings at third base, and have positive UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and UZR/150 at third. Bryant has a 2.3 UZR over 916.2 innings at the position (with a 3.5 UZR/150), while Duffy has a 4.5 UZR in 757.2 innings at the position (with a 7.4 UZR/150). The edge currently goes to Duffy, but these things tend to fluctuate.

Despite having positive final UZR results, they have both arrived at their numbers through different ways. Bryant’s UZR total has benefited mostly from a high RngR (Range Runs Above Average) of 5.1, which is partially offset by a negative ErrR (Error runs above average) of -2.0. Duffy’s impressive UZR total has benefited from a positive RngR of 2.4 and ErrR of 1.3. This is actually reminiscent of their offensive statistics so far, as they have both shown to be strong defenders (just like they have both shown strong offensive ability), but have reached that point through drastically different statistical profiles.

Both Kris Bryant and Matt Duffy have clearly emerged as the top two rookies in the National League this year, one in which has had a very strong rookie class. Despite one being lauded as one of the best prospects to come along in recent years, and the other coming out of practically nowhere, they are both neck and neck in performance so far by most measures. One has relied on making lots of contact and hitting for a high average, despite a low BB% (Duffy), while the other has had high K% and BB%, and despite a middling batting average, has provided strong on base skills and nice power. They have both played strong defense.

For the rest of their careers, I would still choose Bryant over Duffy in a heartbeat, as he still has incredible raw power, as well as a strong all around game. Per Fangraphs, Bryant has made hard contact (Hard%) on 37.3% of balls put in play, which puts him in the Top 20 in the majors, an impressive feat for a rookie (Duffy’s Hard% is somewhat lower at 29.5%). However, that is somewhat negated by the fact that Bryant makes much less contact than Duffy, as his K% is nearly double.

Despite his worrisome strikeout totals, I still think Bryant will have a terrific career, and will perform better than Duffy in the long term. I’m sure most people around baseball would say the same if asked. But right now, Matt Duffy, the 18th round pick in 2012, is keeping pace with Kris Bryant, the 2nd overall pick in 2013 and most hyped prospect of the offseason, in almost every manner.

And when the season ends in several weeks, there’s a very decent chance that despite not receiving nearly as much attention, Duffy may very well end up with the better numbers. That right there is one of the many things that makes baseball such a beautiful and unpredictable game to follow.

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Steve is a diehard baseball fan (Lets Go Mets!) who lives in New Jersey. Originally from Brooklyn, he graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor's Degree in Economics. Steve loves to focus on the sabermetrics side of baseball. He is also an avid music listener, and is always willing to debate pressing topics on Twitter.

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