In just two seasons, Kris Bryant has made the leap from uber prospect to superstar look too easy. Since getting to the big leagues Bryant hasn’t slowed down, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP in back-to-back seasons, not to mention a World Series ring. With all those accolades, it’s still crazy to think that he’s JUST 25 years old, so there’s definitely room for improvement in his already-fantastic all-around game. To do that, it starts with hitting the ball the other way.
In the minors, most of Bryant’s power came via the opposite field. However, he has only five such homers in his career so far, with none last year. Part of that is due to Bryant’s natural pull-heavy swing, so it’s more of him doing what he’s already good at as opposed to trying and failing at hitting the ball the other way. Check out his spray charts from both of his campaigns courtesy of Fangraphs.
While there were more total hits the other way last season, there were not as many homers, and that’s something he’s been working on this offseason.
“I want to get back to hitting the ball to right field,” Bryant said via the Chicago Tribune. “In the minor leagues, that’s where most of my power was. I was pitched inside so often to a point I pulled the ball very well. I’m sure guys are going to pitch me (away more now). That’s what they did in the minor leagues, and I want to get back to what I was doing so well.”
Much ado was made about Bryant’s lofty strikeout numbers in his rookie season. With 199, he led baseball, so he worked on cutting down his herculean swing. The plan worked, as he reduced that total by 41. If Bryant can indeed hit the ball more to right field than those numbers are bound to go down even more, which could put his batting average over .300.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect about Bryant’s game is his baserunning. At 6’5 one wouldn’t think that’d be the case but Bryant runs surprisingly well for a man his size, using his long athletic frame to generate tons of stride. In today’s analytical age, we can now see just how good he is on the base paths. According to Baseball-Reference, Bryant was 6th in the majors in advancing to 3rd base or home on a single when on 1st, with 20 such instances. He was also 6th in the MLB on scoring from 2nd on singles. His MLB-leading 121 runs in 2016 wasn’t a fluke; the dude knows how to run. With Dexter Fowler gone the Cubs lose another excellent base runner, so it’s imperative that Bryant keep running the bases well in 2017.
Defensively, Bryant versatility is another reason why he’s among the game’s very best. Able to play anywhere in the OF as well as 1B, Bryant gives Coach Maddon the ability to mix and match, allowing among other things Javy Baez to play 3B when Schwarber sits. And he’s no scrub in the OF either; in 453.1 innings he’s only made one error, good for a .989 fielding percentage. Looking into sabremetrics further, we can see that Bryant also ranked 3rd in the majors among LF in ultimate zone rating (UZR), which measures how many runs a defender saved. What this tells us is Bryant is exceptional at getting a good jump on the ball and positioning himself where the ball is most likely to be hit. Safe to say the Cubs aren’t losing any defense when Bryant plays the OF.
The Cubs’ best player, Bryant will once again be relied on to do a bit of everything for the team. While the team would gladly take last season’s numbers, Bryant is poised to be even better then his MVP-winning 2016. Rest of the league beware.
Our 2017 season projections: .297/.385/.560, 40 HR, 105 RBI, 115 runs
*Photo via Arturo Pardavila III