Last night, Kris Bryant hit three home runs and two doubles en route to a historic night. Bryant has had big games before, but the Monday night massacre in Cincinnati highlights two new things about Bryant this year. One is his swing plane/launch angle. The other is his ability to hit an inside pitch in on his hands.
In 2015, Kris Bryant was the Rookie of the Year. He hit 26 home runs and drove in 99 RBIs while hitting .275 with an OBP of .369. In 2016, his average and on-base percentage are very similar to 2015. What is amazingly different is his strikeout rate is much less and his home run production has increased. Going into today, Bryant has 21 home runs and 57 RBIs which puts him on pace for 40 home runs and 120 RBIs, easily eclipsing his 2015 totals.
This improvement has been by design. Over the winter Bryant worked on changing his swing plane and launch angle to do two things: one, to not hit ball so high, and two, to strikeout less. To do this, he needed to bring his hands in on his swing and start them ahead of the barrell.
Here’s a video comparison from fangraphs. The top swing is from 2015, the bottom, 2016.
The homer swing from last year, the type Bryant would like to get rid of:
The homer swing from this year, the type Bryant would like to see more of:
The result has been more home runs and less strikeouts. He still has quite a few strikeouts, but the rate is less and has created more hits overall. When you start looking at other charts, it becomes much more noticeable how his swing has changed. This is a unique chart from MLB that shows the areas of pitches from which he has hit his home runs. I find it interesting he’s hit six inside pitches for homers because it used to be that Bryant weakness was inside on the hands. He’s clearly turning that into a strength in this year.
The next chart shows exactly what Bryant still needs to improve. He is still being pitched down and away.
But when you look at at his hit chart in the next picture, you see an overwhelming display of balls heading to left and left center and a disparity of those in right. Bryant has acknowledged that he needs to hit to right more, but when you start to look at home runs you see how he has become very pull happy.
While these charts are nice to show you the progression of how he has changed, the scary thing for me is that he is going to get much better. One of Bryant’s best qualities in his make up is that he is not afraid to change. The fact that he is this good in season 2.0 makes me wonder what changes he’ll make for season 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, and 6.0…all which we be able to see in a Cub uniform. Remember, he’s still only 24.