If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Part 1 of our four-part series with Mike Bryant, professional hitting instructor and father of a relatively popular baseball player you may have heard about. When we left off, Mike was discussing Ted Williams’ hitting philosophy, specifically in terms of the shift.
Now he’ll get into his own teaching methods, how old-school views need to change, and what the ceiling looks like for the reigning NL MVP. Those of you unwilling or unable to read the whole thing, or who just want to have a companion piece, can find the audio clip from this segment following the text.
CI: It’s interesting, too, because I played baseball all the way through high school and I had former major league hitting instructors and it’s a contrast today. It seems today like what you’re teaching is almost counter to what I’ve been taught, what I know a lot of other people have been taught. Short to the ball, flat barrel. And it doesn’t make sense when you really think about it and I want to get your thoughts. Is the majority of the teaching going towards your line of thinking or does there still need to be a culture change?
MB: You said the key word: Think. Okay, think. Number one most important thing in hitting is thinking, proper thinking. That’s a chapter in Ted Williams’ book. When you think, you become a critical thinker. When you’re a critical thinker…critical thinking is what they teach you in college, and you’re in neuroscience so you have to think. You have to critically think.
You have to trust but verify. Then you verify and then you don’t trust if you change things. But the culture, another key word. When you stay the course with what you believe in — first of all after you verify teaching and you stay the course, that you know what you’re doing is right — you will change the culture.
And the narrative is changing and I see it happen before my very eyes out here. Let me tell you, I’m in business. I teach and I get paid to teach and so do others. There’s a business element to it, the competition, and people are fiercely defending the old order.
When you stay the course with what you believe in you will change the culture. And the narrative is changing and I see it happen before my very eyes out here.
It’s unbelievable. It’s vicious. And in Vegas, because it’s a small town, it’s really evident. I’ll tell you a little story (about) when Kris got brought up from Boise after two weeks and he got down (to Daytona) and some of the front office guys were down there to see Kris’s debut down in Daytona.
The second day, Kris got into the cage and he hits this missile to right center. Line drive, one-hops the fence, and he comes out of the cage on the first swing and one of the guys says, “What are you doing? You hurt?” Kris says, “No, no.” He said, “Coach says anybody, if they don’t hit the ball on the ground to get the hell out of the cage.”
So this guy’s jaw hits the ground. We don’t want to bad-mouth any coaches here, seriously, but the exec says, “Get the hell back in there. We didn’t draft you to hit frickin’ ground balls to the right side.”
The point is, even in the pros they run on this old order.
It’s the David Ortiz story when he went from the Twins to the Red Sox all over again. The point is, even in the pros they run on this old order. (Mark) DeRosa was talking about it the other day and I think he’s come around, finally. He goes, “Yeah, you know, the old days we were taught this, to backspin it,” and he says, “It’s just incredible. Look at these guys. Look at J.D. Martinez, look at Kris Bryant,” and his eyes are opening and I’m just sitting there beaming.
Mike Bryant has destroyed the false narrative.” I’m getting props and I’m loving this. I’m going, “Man, you know, it’s been out there for years.”
And then Aaron Boone and Jessica Mendoza are on ESPN on Sunday Night Baseball talking about me and then Boone’s like, “I love it, man. The false narrative, Mike Bryant has destroyed the false narrative.” I’m getting props and I’m loving this. I’m going, “Man, you know, it’s been out there for years.”
I wish I made the big leagues because then of course you have more cred. But the guys that lay it on the line like me every day, I’m not trying to keep a job and wear the uniform at the major league level. Those guys have got to keep their job. John Mallee, this guy’s incredible. I was so elated to hear that he was the hitting coach when Kris got there.
John Mallee, this guy’s incredible. I was so elated to hear that he was the hitting coach when Kris got there.
And this guy walks a fine line every day because those guys’ jobs are on the line every year. If he applies himself too much or doesn’t apply himself enough or whatever, he gets fired and doesn’t get to wear the uniform. So they tend to hold back. They don’t give it everything they got. I give it everything I got every day.
CI: Do you talk with Mallee a lot or is it usually with Kris?
MB: It’s through Kris, but if I see John in the parking lot after the game I love talking hitting with him and he’ll talk with me when he can and he’s got a few minutes. I’ll be, “Hey, John, what do you got for me today?” He’ll be like, “Hey, what do you got for me today?”
So there’s a cordial relationship and I always try to kid with him. I said, “Hey, man, we’re baseball soulmates when it comes to this.” We say the same words. I tell the story, John Mallee said…they were talking to him about hitting. He goes, “You know, I had a lot of talent,” he says, “But I spent the rest of my life trying to figure out why I wasn’t the best player on the field.” I said that 15 years ago. Word for word. I mean word for word. It was spooky. When he said that I said, “You kidding me?” I said, “That’s too weird.”
That’s a great story right there. I’m not BS’ing you. I said that, you know, and I looked at John and it was just a very strange moment right there.
CI: It was love at first sight.
MB: It was incredible just talking hitting. Before, it was to get Kris better and better with the dream of playing in the big leagues, let alone to do what he’s done. He’s the only guy in history to do several things, which is amazing.
CI: Mike, I don’t know if you’re aware, but players Kris’s age improve their contact rates by about 1 to 2 percent the following year. That’s basically the average. Kris last year improved his contact rate by 7 percent, so we’re talking almost a four-fold increase over what usually happens. That never happens. That in itself, improving his contact rate — I mean, we can look at the homers and the amount of runs he produced — but that to me is one of the most remarkable things, that he was able to make an adjustment that quickly. No one does that.
MB: No, no one does. I’ve always said a couple things. I can’t take credit and I can’t take blame either. So if I start taking credit then I got to take the blame. When I look at it in that context, kind of keeps me kind of grounded. But hey, man, I’m as competitive as the next guy.
I’m not afraid to take any credit when it’s time but I also realize that Kris is the one swinging the bat and has to do all the execution.
I’m not afraid to take any credit when it’s time but I also realize that Kris is the one swinging the bat and has to do all the execution. But let me tell you straight up, dude, that was by design right there.
But let me tell you straight up, dude, that was by design right there. I was looking just to take his strikeout rate down 20 percent. Well, mission accomplished.
Whether it happened four-fold or not, I didn’t set out a goal to come right out and say, “Hey, look: We’re going to increase your contact percentage four-fold, okay?” I was looking just to take his strikeout rate down 20 percent. Well, mission accomplished. People always, they make such a big deal about strikeouts, right?
CI: Right, they do.
MB: I always say an out’s an out. Period, the end. So what does this mean? By extension, let’s take it a step further. Kris Bryant, in 2017, he goes out and he strikes out…instead of 154 times he strikes out 58 times this year. Unbelievable. Okay? Stats at the end of the year: .429; 73 home runs and 198 RBI’s; slugging percentage 1.450; on-base percentage .712.
Really?! No, okay. Really?
Ted Williams struck out 26 times one year and hit .342 with like 47 home runs and 130 ribbies. Is that what it means? Is that ceiling, is that the definition of ceiling? I’m just putting it in context. If (Kris) makes contact 100 more times or whatever, 125 more times, and he gets a home run every 10 or 12 times, that’s 12 more home runs. But that’s probably not going to happen because he’s going to be a whole lot hotter than that. If he makes contact he’ll have more streaks so that’s how I get to 73 home runs or whatever.
I’m just fooling around with numbers. I’m just making shit up.
CI: That’s what I do, too.
MB: I’m always saying, “What if? What’s your ceiling?” Who knows? People ask, “What do you think his…who do you think he can be?”
CI: What do you think the ceiling is?
MB: I said this, I made it realistic. I said, “Well, he can be Miguel Cabrera but with a better arm and more speed and better defense.” Probably a little of the proud dad in me coming out, but you know what I mean.
I think we’ll just stop there for today to keep that lasting thought of Kris Bryant’s ceiling fresh for you. Think about it: Miguel Cabrera, but with a better arm and more speed and better defense. Now go take a cold shower and check out Part 3, in which Mike talks about what his son is doing to get better this year and beyond.