A bit before this point last year, Kris Bryant was just some schmuck in the Chicago Cubs' Triple-A system in Iowa with a billboard looming above Addison Street outside Wrigley Field. Just a normal everyday rookie, right?
Now, Bryant is a lot of things: rookie of the year, Express spokesman, budding superstar, and daredevil swimmer with sharks, among other things, like being really good at hitting baseball a long way.
As a rookie in 2015, Bryant was a 6.5 fWAR player with vastly underrated defense. He was a big factor in the Cubs blasting their way to 97 wins and an NLCS berth. Combined with Anthony Rizzo, has the Bryzzo Souvenir Company business ready to boom in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.
This is especially so for Bryant, who among all the above is a really good hitter at home. Take a look; here are the guts of Bryant's home and road splits in his career at the end of Sunday games, a full calendar year since his April 17 promotion (stats via FanGraphs):
There's quite a difference there, and one that at a glance doesn't make a lot of sense.
In terms of Park Factors, Wrigley Field was league average. Some days the park is a hitter's haven with the wind blowing out, other days it takes a Herculean effort to deposit balls in the bleachers. And without wind, it's your ho-hum average park. That's the nature of the beast.
So, with that said, seeing Bryant with this sort of separation of home/road splits was surprising. He put up an all-star caliber season in 2015, and Wrigley isn't Coors Field or Globe Life Park in Arlington. And it isn't as if he plays in the National League West, where Dodger Stadium, AT&T Park in San Francisco, and Petco Park in San Diego rated in the top-5 toughest hitters parks in 2015.
Instead, the NL Central's parks are somewhat evenly dispersed, so there has to be something going on here other than Bryant being a home-park-induced stud, right?
Boiling down his wOBA and wRC+ factors and a few other pertinent stats, we get a sense of where the wayward numbers are coming from.
Now we're getting somewhere.
Not only are the home runs driving up numbers, but we can see more patience at home than on the road. Granted, in this sample size, the raw difference is six more walks at home (44-39) and 21 more strikeouts on the road (116-95), but a trend worth noting.
The difference in BABIP isn't significant, but paired with everything else it can be rationalized that he was a little bit unlucky on the road when he did make contact.
One factor in play is that Wrigley factored as a very home run friendly park for right-handed hitters, rating more than 10 percent easier than league average in 2015. His five home runs away from Chicago came against the Brewers, Padres, Dodgers, Phillies, and Indians. Within that stock, Milwaukee and Philadelphia were more home run friendly than Wrigley, while San Diego, Los Angeles, and Cleveland played varying degrees of below league average for right-handed hitters.
Finally, let's grab a quick look at Bryant's batted ball data to see if there are any deeper factors in the splits.
There it is.
Bryant is an above-average-quality contact hitter, and it transfers across his splits pretty evenly. His medium contact on the road is considered average, but his hard-hit percentage is notably above average. The glaring anomaly is in his HR/FB% on the road. League average for HR/FB% last year was 11.4 percent; Bryant is at both ends of the stat correction spectrum, leading me to believe he'll meet closer to the middle as the years progress.
While he's hit more ground balls and fewer fly balls on the road, his infield hits point to an argument that it hasn't hurt him terribly much. The almost mirror-perfect line drive rates are also a very good sign for Bryant moving forward.
A lower rate of infield fly balls, combined with his quality contact, suggests Bryant simply hasn't squared the ball up as much on the road and is being aided to some extent by Wrigley Field's righty-friendly confines.
And here's a look at his exit velocity and distance averages, according to Statcast:
|Year||Avg FB/LD MPH||AVG HR distance||AVG Distance|
In 2015, Bryant's FB/LD exit velocity and home run average ranked in the top 60 in baseball, while average distance was in the top 15 of batters with at least 100 batted ball events. He doesn't possess the elite power of Giancarlo Stanton but is decisively above average, suggesting more of the aforementioned bad luck.
Take for example these two at-bats — a 104 mph double and a 106 mph triple — both off the wall in Pittsburgh, which played as the second-hardest park for right-handed hitters in 2016. Or this 107 mph single off the wall in Washington, which played a little harder than average for righties.
It's too early in the 2016 season to get a good grasp of whether this could become Bryant's immediate norm, but the numbers suggest some correction is due that will distribute his success more evenly away from Chicago in the coming seasons.
Jerry Burnes is a contributor to Beyond the Box Score.