Kris Bryant is coming off a down year that many other players would have killed for, hitting .272/.374/.460 for a 125 wRC+. The disappointing thing, though, was that he only hit 13 home runs as a shoulder injury siphoned his power. Bryant was due for a bounce-back in 2019 assuming his shoulder didn’t give him any more problems, but so far, the results have been worse.
After an 0-for-2 with two walks on Thursday, Bryant has just one homer through his first 99 plate appearances. He only hit two dingers through his first 21 games of 2018, and he took three weeks to hit his first major league homer after getting called up in 2015. He’s started slow before and he’s wound up being just fine.
But this start is especially slow for his standards, as he’s slashing .232/.364/.366 for a 102 wRC+. He’s hitting into a little bit of bad luck, but his expected slugging is just .412 and his xwOBA is a good-not-great .343. He’s not lost at the plate, but he hasn’t been himself.
Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic wrote that Bryant’s mechanics are out of whack, namely, he’s been lunging at the plate. One of the side effects of this is that he hasn’t been pulling the ball in the air.
Below is a spray chart of every fly ball Bryant hit through Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers. He added a fly out to right field in Thursday’s game.
The only fly ball he pulled was hit at 111 mph, but at a 40-degree angle. It died in the air just short of the warning track. When he pulls the ball, it’s been on the ground two-thirds of the time. He’s hit a fair share of line drives to the pull side, but liners are less likely to go over the fence.
Bryant not pulling his fly balls might not be the largest concern though. Zach Crizer at Baseball Prospectus has seen that more balls hit to the center and opposite field are going over the fence in 2019.
ICYMI: I sought to identify which homers are born of the new rabbit ball, and found some surprising data. https://t.co/AGQQEKUy8Q pic.twitter.com/QbBaNSPfNU— Zach Crizer (@zcrizer) April 25, 2019
Bryant has 10 career homers to the opposite field and 28 to center, so he doesn’t have to pull the ball to leave the yard. The larger problem in Bryant’s power outage in more obvious. Bryant isn’t hitting the ball hard as frequently as he used to. His 6.6 barrel percentage would be the lowest of his career by three percentage points, and his hard hit rate has declined once again.
That seems… not great.
His exit velocity is a middling 88.2 mph, which ranks 190th this year. Exit velocity isn’t everything, and even in his MVP season, it was 89.3 which is just barely above league average.
The power numbers aren’t going to come back until he can start making better contact in the zone. His zone contact rate is down to where it was when he was a rookie and still striking out 30 percent of the time. He’s also making more contact on pitches out of the zone. He’s actually making more contact on pitches on his hands than pitches in the heart of the plate.
As far as problems go, that seems like an easy one to fix. I wouldn’t expect Bryant to keep missing pitches down the heart of the plate. Eventually, he’ll make better contact with those pitches, and who knows, he might actually pull them in the air. Kris Bryant’s triumphant return to form has been delayed, but it is coming.
(It is coming, right?)
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.