There was a time that Kris Bryant was considered to be among the elite players in baseball, though that may no longer be the case. Coming off a disappointing 2018 there are a few easy excuses to try and explain it away:
- Shoulder Injury – He didn’t require offseason surgery, but for much of the season he was plagued by a sore shoulder that many felt contributed to his poor campaign.
- The Hitting Coach – Chili Davis became the universal scapegoat for Chicago’s poor second half, being let go after one year on the job.
Before valuing Bryant you need to make your own decision on whether those two factors were the reason for his poor season or if there is a deeper issue that led to these numbers:
.272 Batting Average (106 Hits)
13 Home Runs
2 Stolen Bases
.374 On Base Percentage
.460 Slugging Percentage
.342 Batting Average on Balls in Play
There are two key factors that make you think that his struggles go beyond those two convenient excuses. First is his Hard%, which wasn’t just poor in 2018. He’s had back-to-back down years, which makes you wonder if there’s a bigger issue at play:
- 2015 – 37.5%
- 2016 – 40.3%
- 2017 – 32.8%
- 2018 – 31.2%
It’s fair to point towards the injury, at least a little bit, but a 35.4% mark in the first half isn’t going to blow you away. It’s not a poor number, but it would make you question if sustaining an elevated BABIP was possible. That becomes especially true when you factor in his pull heavy approach (20.0% Opp% in ’18), making him susceptible to the shift (and therefore a lower BABIP).
Then you have opposing pitchers making adjustments to how they attack him. Bryant saw fewer fastballs then ever before (55.62%), instead being fed a steady stream of breaking balls (33.08%). That change makes a lot of sense, considering these career marks (AVG/SLG):
- Slider – .243/.398
- Curveball – .202/.450
It’s hard to envision opposing pitchers straying from that approach, at least until Bryant adjusts and forces them to do so. Can he make that necessary adjustment? Can he prove to be the same player who hit 39 HR back in ’16 or even the one who hit 29 HR in ’17? We’d like to think that he can, though it’s hardly a given. The underlying issues go beyond the obvious (injury/hitting coach) and they can’t go overlooked.
It all comes together for the following projection for 2019:
.270 (153-550), 27 HR, 90 RBI, 95 R, 5 SB, .326 BABIP, .372 OBP, .500 SLG
Those are strong numbers and keeps him as a Top 50 player. It doesn’t make him a Top 20, however, and keep that in mind before overreaching to acquire him.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball