We know that Kris Bryant is in something of a slump right now, and we also believe that, soon enough, he’ll come out of it.
So, this isn’t about that.
Instead, I want only to put some numbers to something I’ve noticed anecdotally, and I’ve seen folks discussing here in the comments and on various social media: is Bryant really struggling in the big moments?
From a purely results-focused perspective, the answer is yes: Bryant has terrible numbers this year in high leverage situations (i.e., the moments that can most swing a game) and/or with runners in scoring position. In the biggest moments this year, Bryant has not been coming through.
As a matter of fact, the poor results actually extend back into his 2016 MVP campaign. I’ll caution you up front that these numbers don’t necessarily mean anything about Bryant’s actual ability in these situations, or about what he might do going forward. The purpose here is simply to lay out what the numbers have been over the past two seasons so we at least have data to pair with what we feel like we’ve noticed.
- Kris Bryant, High Leverage 2016: .196/.300/.294, 13.3% BB rate, 36.7% K rate, .310 BABIP, 33.3% hard contact, 49 wRC+, 60 PAs
- Kris Bryant RISP 2016: .263/.366/.474, 12.8% BB rate, 23.2% K rate, .305 BABIP, 48.0% hard contact, 118 wRC+, 164 PAs
With runners in scoring position, Bryant was a slightly-less productive version of himself, but there’s a lot of bad luck baked in there, because whoa baby, look at that hard contact rate.
In the narrower band of high leverage situations, however, Bryant really struggled with strikeouts. That’s not necessarily a surprise for a younger hitter, though, who is frequently facing the best relievers in those situations. Bryant also didn’t hit for much power in those situations, but again, the hard contact was there.
- Kris Bryant, High Leverage 2017: .125/.313/.125, 21.9% BB rate, 18.8% K rate, .158 BABIP, 21.1% hard contact, 18 wRC+, 32 PAs
- Kris Bryant, RISP 2017: .200/.338/.418, 16.2% BB rate, 22.1% K rate, .211 BABIP, 24.4% hard contact, 86 wRC+, 68 PAs
Again, we see the worst of Bryant in the high leverage spots, but the sample is very small. We also see a different issue than in 2016: rather than striking out a lot, Bryant is actually striking out less than usual. He’s also being walked a ton, isn’t making hard contact, and has an unusually low BABIP. Were I going just by the numbers, I’d say that’s a guy who is being pitched around in big situations, and is too often allowing that to making him extend his zone and put pitcher’s pitches in play weakly.
I don’t know that I’d say that’s what I’ve observed necessarily, but, as I said, I just wanted to get the numbers out there.
For what it’s worth, in Bryant’s rookie season, he hit perfectly well in both high leverage and RISP situations. Noting really of note there – he was just Bryant.
So, ultimately, what can we really do with this information? I say nothing right now. For one thing, the results are mixed when you factor in all three seasons and the two situations. For another thing, the sample sizes – especially the high leverage numbers – are not at all large enough to give us any kind of confidence about their meaning. A few bloops drop in and/or a ball clears the wall instead of hitting it, and the final numbers can move dramatically.
But this is on our collective radar.