Digging Into the Contact Troubles in Kris Bryant's Recent Mini-Slump

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Digging Into the Contact Troubles in Kris Bryant’s Recent Mini-Slump

Chicago Cubs

It took Kris Bryant all four at-bats to get a hit in yesterday’s game against the Padres. But before that, he was on an 0-14 bender, having gone hitless in four straight games (plus the first three plate appearances in last night’s contest).

And to be sure, even last night’s base hit – an 89.8 MPH grounder up the middle – was far from a slump-busting, breakout blast. Unfortunately, it seems that the Cubs’ best player and the NL’s 2016 MVP is in the throes of a mini-slump. Let’s take a closer look.

On June 13, Bryant went 2-5 with a home run and two walks against the New York Mets in what was ultimately a really solid day at the plate and the continuation of a four-game hitting streak. Since then, however, he’s gone 1-15 with no extra base hits and just three walks (one of which was intentional) and eight (!) strikeouts. Joe Maddon also kept him out of the starting lineup for two out of those six games, citing fatigue as the reason.

Check out his slash line during this stretch:

Last Five Games: .067/.222/.067 11.1 BB%, 44.4 K%

Aside from the walk rate, that’s a real troubling stretch, and, obviously, far from what we’ve come to expect of Kris Bryant. So, what’s going on? Well, Sahadev Sharma caught up with Bryant and his manager, Joe Maddon, but they disagree on what exactly is going on.

According to Maddon, Bryant’s strikeout issues (and, thus, mini-slump) is a product of chasing too many pitches out of the zone. According to Bryant, “Uh uh.” That’s the short version of the quote he gave to Sahadev Sharma at the Athletic, wherein Bryant suggested that he doesn’t feel as though he’s chasing too many pitches, and actually feels good at the plate. So … who’s right? Well, in this case, age may come before beauty.

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Check out some of Bryant’s plate discipline stats from his past five games versus his career. The differences are quite obvious.

O-Swing Rate:

Career: 29.8%
Last 5:  

Over the last five games, Bryant is swinging at 5.2% more pitches out of the zone than he has for his career. Inarguably, he’s chasing too much. But that’s far from everything.

Z-Swing Rate:

Career: 74.4%
Last 5:  

Bryant is also swinging at exactly 10 (!) percentage points fewer pitches in the zone than he has for his career. Based on these two numbers alone, you can say with some confidence that Bryant’s been guessing incorrectly a bit in the last week. But there’s still some more ground to cover.

Z-Contact Rate:

Career: 79.7%
Last 5:

Even when Bryant guesses right and swings at a pitch in the zone, he’s whiffing just about 11 percentage points more than he usually does. This combination is downright terrifying. And his O-contact rate disparity is FAR worse than this (which isn’t always a bad thing, but it definitely is in this case), which is all leading to …

Swinging Strike:

Career: 13.9%
Last 5:

A swinging strike rate that is 10.7 percentage points worse than he’s used to getting. So, to recap that plate discipline briefly: Bryant is swinging at more pitches out of the zone and fewer pitches in the zone. He’s also making less contact with pitches both in and out of the zone, which is leading to a swinging strike rate that is approaching 2x his career norms.

Yes. Plate discipline has been a problem for him over the past five games.

But here’s the thing, it really has just been five games. The sample is small and the results are not necessarily meaningful. Because, if there’s one thing we know about Bryant, it’s that his plate discipline is among the best in baseball. Indeed, his season long walk rate of 15.9% is top five in all of baseball. And even his 11.1% walk rate during his worst stretch of the year would rank in the top 50.

So where does that leave us?

Usually, this is the part where I say Player X just needs to do this, that, and the other thing to get his production back on track. But this is a bit different. There’s not cure to plate discipline problems other than laying off the junk and attacking the good pitches.

Fortunately, we already know Bryan is one of the more capable adjustment-makers in all of baseball … it’s why he’s among the very best hitters in the game. And if I had to put money down on the table, I wouldn’t bet against Bryant for very long. There may be some problems right now, but he’s proven very good at solving them.

He’ll be back in form, and I’d guess it happens sooner rather than later.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami