Apologies in advance to those of you who’ve already read our four-part interview (link to Part 1, which then links to Part 2, and so on) with Mike Bryant, father of Cubs’ superstar Kris Bryant. If you managed to miss those when they ran, though, you are in for a treat.
Over the course of what ended up being roughly a 40-minute conversation, the elder Bryant explained to our Brendan Miller exactly what his son has worked on various offseasons in order to continually raise the level of his game. I’m sure you’ve seen and heard how the Rookie of the Year changed his swing to generate more contact and reduce strikeouts in his MVP campaign. But how?
Maybe you knew that he was looking to take better advantage of the opposite field this season, but that was more just a matter of fact. We’ve got specifics on Kris Bryant’s thought process, his prep, and even some of the changes he’s implemented from as far back as his early days at the University of San Diego.
I’m obviously very biased, but this is a must-read for any Cubs fan or baseball coach or parent. Mike offers some great advice on hitting and coaching, not to mention writing. Just great stuff.
Cubs Insider: Hey, thanks for doing this. Definitely appreciate it.
Mike Bryant: Yeah, over the last year there’s been a lot of…I don’t want to say “hype” or anything, but everybody’s talking about Kris’s swing changes and it was all coming out different. Like when they say “leveling out of Kris’s swing.” He’s not leveling out the swing. People, they go, “See, the Cubs are fixing him. Bryant’s dad screwed him up.”
Like when they say “leveling out of Kris’s swing.” He’s not leveling out the swing.
This is the way they operate out here in Vegas. People in the know, know better. Let me tell you the basic change we made from his rookie year to last year. It was really simple: We worked really hard in the offseason at this. I use Zepp analytics, which measures pretty much all the angles in the swing.
What it measures, it has a 3D swing plane and it has two lines. It shows you a hand path and a barrel path and then it puts numbers to it — bat speed, time to impact, hand speed — and it’ll show you the vertical angle on the bat and the attack angle on the bat. The vertical angle, if you can visualize, if you hold the bad straight across the plate in front of you that would be zero and then if you point it straight down at the ground that would be 90.
When you’re measuring it through the zone it measures the vertical angle on the bat and if it’s too steep, you don’t have plate coverage. That number — most of the guys will operate with a good vertical angle so you don’t have the barrel above your hands — the barrel wants to be below your hands as it’s coming through the zone, so you have a positive angle. Most guys operate about 20 to 25. You look at guys like (Giancarlo) Stanton, he’s a little bit more flat. A guy like (Mike) Trout is a little bit more steep.
…if you point [the bat] down at 38 degrees you’ll create a hole in your swing on the outer part of the plate. Or you’ll have a hard time squaring up balls. We reduced Kris’s vertical angle through hard work from about 38 down to about 25 [degrees].
Kris is kind of more towards the Trout side, 38 degrees, and if you point it down at 38 degrees you’ll create a hole in your swing on the outer part of the plate. Or you’ll have a hard time squaring up balls because you’re just not coming in at a good angle because of the movement of the ball. So what you’re trying to do is match the bat path to the ball path best as you can. So we reduced Kris’s vertical angle through hard work from about 38 down to about 25.
MB: That’s significant. I mean, that’s huge. Kris, he had to really pay attention to what he was doing. He’s half-heartedly believing in the numbers that are coming off the Zepp analytics so I always kind of put that in the background with him. I teach him more to feel.
CI: He wasn’t buying into it right away. Is that what you’re saying?
MB: No, he’s always looked at it with skepticism. He’s bought into it. He buys into it now.
CI: Right, now he has. Yeah.
MB: He looks at the numbers and sometimes it felt a lot different than what the numbers would say. But we were moving in the direction of feeling it, which is what I was trying to accomplish: More feel. I use the numbers more than he does in my teaching, where he uses his instincts and his feel more than the numbers. So it was a great mix is what I’m trying to tell you.
…so it was about 6,000, 7,000 swings where I had a body of work to analyze it.
As an instructor you have to have a plan like that. So we worked diligently at that until I saw in the body of work over maybe, I don’t know, I’m going to say we did it for two and a half months. Say about 60 days, maybe 65 days, so it was about 6,000, 7,000 swings where I had a body of work to analyze it.
You could see it over a period of time, his swing was gradually getting there until finally he went down to Spring Training and he worked on it. We reduced his angle so he had more plate coverage. He didn’t reduce his attack angle, which is the way the bat comes up, the so-called “upness.” “Upness,” we’ll call it. He was still at an 18-degree launch angle, an average 18-degree launch angle.
Most of the home runs hit in the big leagues occur between 25 and 30. About 99% of balls hit out of the park are in that attack angle. Vertical angle, they don’t pay much attention to the vertical angle. What that does is if you’re too much vertical you have a lot of swing-and-miss in your game.
We reduced his angle so he had more plate coverage. (Kris) was still at an 18-degree launch angle, an average 18-degree launch angle.
So my goal was really simple: To reduce the swing-and-miss in the zone; to get him from chasing pitches out of the zone; and to hit more balls in the air. I want a higher ratio of balls in the air to balls on the ground. The results, they’re predictable, they’re reliable in that you’re not going to ground into many double plays, which he doesn’t.
And that he’s going to hit more balls in the air that, when he hits them hard, they’re going to be more home runs. It’s not like we’re trying to hit home runs. It’s really simple. The Ted Williams approach was to hit it hard and hit it in the air and then we figured out the angles in the swing.
It’s not like we’re trying to hit home runs. It’s really simple. The Ted Williams approach was to hit it hard and hit it in the air and then we figured out the angles in the swing.
We kept it really simple like that and they talk about him becoming that pull hitter. That definitely was not the case. That was a result of the fact that he was not chasing pitches out of the zone on the outer part of the plate. The pitcher, as a result, the pitcher’s going to come in. He’s not going to keep nibbling out there, he’s going to walk. He’s going to walk the guy.
…they talk about him becoming that pull hitter. That definitely was not the case. That was a result of the fact that he was not chasing pitches out of the zone on the outer part of the plate.
CI: I don’t know if you saw the zone profiles, but Kris talked about how a lot of the pitchers, as the year progressed and even early in the year, they were attacking him up and in with fastballs more than previous years. There’s no choice for him but to pull his hands through and pull the ball. It’s not like he’s making a conscious effort, it sounds like, to pull the ball. It’s just he’s taking what he’s being pitched at, right?
MB: That’s exactly right because in the minors they never came in. It was the opposite in the minor leagues.
CI: And he hit most of his homers to the opposite field in the minors.
MB: Yeah, 27 of his 43 (home runs in 2014) went to the right of center. What they would do is opposite in the minors. They would come in off the plate and try to throw a strike on the outer third of the plate and they would just say, “Hey, look, he’s not going to pull the ball,” because they think that’s where all his power is. They learned otherwise, that he was punishing any type of mistakes in the zone, especially the zone in the outer half of the plate.
I subscribe to FanGraphs and they’re awesome in what they do and I think the analytics are awesome. They’ve helped me incredibly.
It’s different in the big leagues, plus they had another pitch to deal with, a fourth pitch. Looking at it in the analytics and the sequencing, you know what pitches and then the locations. I was looking at the pattern like that. I subscribe to FanGraphs and they’re awesome in what they do and I think the analytics are awesome. They’ve helped me incredibly.
Ted said, “What shift?” He said, “I don’t care about shifts.” The way he beat the shift is to hit it in the air.
Just like defensively, they do the shift. Everybody thinks the shift is like…you know, it is good and it does certain things and it takes away a lot of hits. But Ted Williams used to say…they shifted Ted Williams, you know. Ted said, “What shift?” He said, “I don’t care about shifts.” The way he beat the shift is to hit it in the air.
CI: Yeah, hit it over the shift.
MB: Yeah. We get away from the philosophies: You don’t go hitting the top of the ball; barrel above your hands. Everybody thinks this is a new modern way to hit. It’s not. Ted Williams was talking about this years ago. In 1980 with the Red Sox, I used to talk to him. I worked with him for a couple years in Spring Training and nobody was listening to the guy. That’s the problem.
I mean, everybody was like, “Well, he’s a freak of nature. He used to win in a different way and he hits .400.” They just want to ignore what’s right in front of them. And now you’re seeing (Josh) Donaldson and J.D. Martinez and all these guys are showing up on the scene doing what Ted Williams has been teaching for years. They’re listening.
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.
CI: Kris was one of the league’s best baserunners last year. There’s a stat called BSR. They take into account stolen bases and other baserunning plays. He was second, I believe, in the league. I think he was first in the National League but I have to double check. That’s remarkable. You don’t see power hitters run the bases that well. [Ed. note: Bryant was 5th in MLB and 2nd in NL with 7.3 BSR]
MB: Do you know how that comes about being? I’ve always said you don’t have to have speed. And speed is great in the game, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to build the team around speed, ever. I’m going to build the team around power. Power arms, power bats.
CI: 100 percent, yeah.
MB: Theo’s onto something. Kris’s BSR rating becomes about because of instinct and how he was taught and how to have that internal time clock going on in your head every minute you’re on the field. Knowing you can get an extra two steps, which for him is 12 feet…or more when he gets those legs moving. He’s hit strides, and I’ve measured them — I’ve measured them — when he gets going underway it’s 12 feet. He covers 24 feet [in four strides].
CI: That’s crazy.
MB: That’s the high end of it. It’s like 19 to 24 feet when he gets going underway. Because it’s like he’s a long jumper. If you get a guy that can move his legs pretty fast, he’s going to be a good base runner.
CI: I mean, we saw it in the world series, too, in that one Rizzo double down the right field line. He’s going on a pitch. That’s an underrated part of that game right there. He scores on first base on a line drive basically to right field. That was crazy.
MB: So the swing changes were really minuscule. I don’t like the word “level.” I was taught to have a level swing all my life and it’s wrong. The way the ball’s coming in, coming down, at a six to a 10-degree angle and with break — horizontal and vertical break on it — the depth of the pitches adds 12 or 13 degrees to the angle. So if you want to meet the ball squarely on most of the pitches, you’ve got to have at least a 10-degree angle up.
I was taught to have a level swing all my life and it’s wrong. So if you want to meet the ball squarely on most of the pitches, you’ve got to have at least a 10 degree angle up. And that’s only going to produce a line drive that can get caught in the infield…And then you notice most of the home runs are hit between 25 and 30…
And that’s only going to produce a line drive that can get caught in the infield if it’s anywhere near the fielders. You have to have a 15- to 20-degree upward angle on the ball. And then you notice most of the home runs are hit between 25 and 30, so think about that.
CI: Right and then you saw the one post, he reduced his batted-ball angle. The total amount of batted balls hit above 36 degrees his rookie year was, I believe, 26 or 27 percent. And then he brought that down last year, those same 36-degree batted balls. He brought that down to I think it was 16 percent, so that’s a huge dropoff to hit more of those more sweet-spot 20- to 25-degree batted balls. So there you go.
It’s funny because it sounds like a goal of last season was to decrease the whiffs. Mission accomplished. But what’s even more remarkable is that in doing so, in reducing the whiffs, he actually hit better balls. He hit better pitches. I think there’s this thought process where people want to, and correct me if I’m wrong, they want to just decrease strikeouts because strikeouts are bad. But sometimes when people decrease strikeouts, they compensate and they lose power and they hit more weak batted balls and they don’t really maximize their value.
It’s pretty remarkable that you’re able to increase your contact but you increase your better contact. I think that’s a goal that should be taught. Don’t just increase your contact for the hell of it. Don’t just go opposite field to go opposite field. Do it with purpose. Do it to hit better contact, right?
MB: Right, so it comes back to your process on what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re not changing your thinking pattern. You still get the same swing thoughts. You’re just changing your process by which you get there, which includes the thought process but not the thinking pattern, meaning just being a defensive hitter and trying to put the ball in play or swinging at bad pitches early in the count just so you don’t strike out. The pitcher fears you more than you fear him, okay?
The pitcher fears you more than you fear him, okay…pitchers are way more high maintenance than hitters.
They just do. You know what’s funny, you take it even a step deeper. The insecurity of athletes, the need to have their ego stroked all the time, pitchers are way more high maintenance than hitters. They just are. And they succeed way more. Because they get you out and you bat .180 against Max Scherzer. Why is a pitcher insecure then? You just go up, they give me the ball, I’ll get the guy out. So much damage is done on those two out of 10 times that they’re always thinking about that. I love it. You got to use the psychology to your advantage. It’s hard. It’s not easy. It’s easier said than done.
CI: This past offseason, has there been any more work with this Zepp analytics stuff or is it pretty much status quo, just keep doing what you’re doing? Has there any been any other conscious efforts to change?
MB: No, not with the analytics. It was very ingrained now in his thought process and plus, with my eye I’ve been able to see. So what we did this year was more or less get prepared for how we think that the pitchers are going to pitch and pay more attention to the actual locational type of hit, meaning outer third, inner third.
If the pitchers are going to be stupid enough to try to change the way they pitch to him because he’s got a .429 batting average on pulled balls or whatever, we’re already a step ahead of them. [W]e prepared together what the technique’s going to be to drive the ball hard into the right-center field gap which, at Wrigley, is a smart thing to do…
If the pitchers are going to be stupid enough to try to change the way they pitch to him because he’s got a .429 batting average on pulled balls or whatever, we’re already a step ahead of them. So if you’re going to pitch him on the outer half of the plate this year, we prepared together what the technique’s going to be to drive the ball hard into the right-center field gap which, at Wrigley, is a smart thing to do because the wind blows across and trying to hit to right field is a graveyard.
And Wrigley is not a hitter-friendly park, I don’t care what anybody says, man. That ball (off Cole Hamels in the no-hitter) would’ve left any stadium in the continental United States.
And Wrigley is not a hitter-friendly park, I don’t care what anybody says, man. This 368 to the gaps, give me a break. It plays like 400 in the gaps and it plays 420 to center. Two words: Cole Hamels. You remember the no-hitter he threw that Odubel Herrera dove in to make that catch off him? That ball would’ve left any stadium in the continental United States.
CI: That wind, it’s crazy there.
MB: It was more a process of preparing location, inner half versus outer half and to look away early in the count. Look away early in the count and adjust in, as opposed to looking in and adjusting away. You have to respect the speed of the game. Guys are throwing 95 all the time, so if you look away and try to adjust in you better have really fast hands to be able to do it that way.
Look away early in the count and adjust in, as opposed to looking in and adjusting away. Guys are throwing 95 all the time, so if you look away and try to adjust in you better have really fast hands to be able to do it that way.
Ted Williams used to be a big guess hitter. He called it anticipation but he said 13-letter words aren’t his forte so he just called it guess. He says, “I don’t like using college level words. I didn’t go to college so I use just blue collar words.” So “guess.” Which was really anticipating locational type of pitch and they settle into patterns, locational patterns and sequencing patterns and they do. You can see it.
CI: On that note, do you and Kris, or do Kris and John Mallee, do they go over before maybe a series or a game, the actual pitch locations of these guys? Let’s say you’re facing Lance Lynn on the Cardinals and he’s predominantly a fastball/sinker guy, he’s going to attack most players the outside portion of the plate. Is that knowledge that Kris likes? I forgot who it was, but one player mentioned that he doesn’t even want to know where the pitcher is pitching. He wants to just react. He doesn’t want to put bad thoughts in his mind. Is it the opposite for Kris? Does he want to know that type of knowledge beforehand?
MB: He’s still, again, he’s in the trust-but-verify stage on that. He doesn’t go and pore over it intensely. He’ll brief himself on the scouting report that’s there of the pitcher every day, what he likes to throw in certain counts and stuff like that. But he doesn’t like a lot of details and he doesn’t like to guess and he’s not comfortable doing that yet.
Thome was talking about it on MLB last night, he would sit on the pitch. He goes, “What does ‘sit on a pitch’ mean?”
Adrian Gonzalez nowadays, being in his mid 30’s, he sits on pitches. Big Papi was sitting on pitches. If a pitcher up there knows he’s sitting on a pitch, which is what they did with Bonds, that’s why he walked 225 times.
Will Kris get that respect? Maybe. And if you start to see that, then Kris will start walking a lot more. We get into the hundreds of walks a year, 150 walks a year, which’ll be amazing because he’ll start sitting on pitches. But he won’t sit on pitches now because he doesn’t trust his thinking yet. Eventually he will, as he gains experience.
We get into the hundreds of walks a year, which’ll be amazing because he’ll start sitting on pitches. But he won’t sit on pitches now because he doesn’t trust his thinking yet. Eventually he will, as he gains experience.
It’s the big leagues and these pitchers, they’re just not going to give into you. They’re not going to say, “Here, here’s my fastball. Hit it.” They’re just not going to do it. He does look at some reports and he’ll look at video. If he’s had a bad game or a good game and he’ll see what he’s doing good and what he’s doing bad or wrong, or if there’s anything different and he just needs to be a little bit more patient up there and wait for the game to come to him. You’re going to have your 2-for-15 series and you’re going to have your 3-for-25 before you break out again.
He’s going to have five, six months straight of hitting .300 and having a hot month, two hot months, where he hits .400. Then he’ll hit .340 and it’ll happen.
It just happens. It just happens. Daniel Murphy didn’t have a run like that. That’s why he hit .340, you know? That’s going to happen to Kris. He’s going to have five, six months straight of hitting .300 and having a hot month, two hot months, where he hits .400. Then he’ll hit .340 and it’ll happen.
CI: When Kris was drafted, there were a few scouting reports that criticized him on what they described as a quick transfer to his front side. An example they gave was there was an off-speed pitch. It looked like he was on his front side a little bit too quick and that left him susceptible to off-speed pitches. I don’t know if you’re visualizing that with me.
Funny enough, he destroys off-speed pitches and that never actually became a problem. But had that ever been a concern when he was a younger college player, leaning over on that front side too much? Do you know what I’m trying to say? It looked like he was sliding forward a little bit too much. It never ended up being a problem but any thoughts on that?
MB: Put it in perspective. What’s the pitcher’s job? A pitcher’s job is to disrupt the hitter’s timing. In other words, to pull him out of position, to get his back right elbow separated away from his body. That’s the thing right there.
If you stay connected with the elbow, the back right elbow to your rib cage on the back side or the side of your body, not the front of your body because if he gets in front you’re disconnecting now. That elbow needs to stay connected to your rib cage on this side and as you turn through the ball it releases. That’s what a pitcher’s job is, to separate the hands from the hips, if we want to get stupid technical and everything. I like to simplify.
That’s what a pitcher’s job is, is to separate the hands from the hips, if we want to get stupid technical and everything. I like to simplify.
How many times does a pitcher do that in a game? A lot, okay? A lot.
If we get into scouting reports — and back when Kris was in high school let me just tell you, with all due respect to the people that do their job out there — they were more focused on what he couldn’t do than what he could do and they held him to a much higher standard. I don’t want to bad-mouth scouts, I’m an associate scout right now. I help out the Cubs scout through California so I’ll be bad-mouthing me if I do, but I read scouting reports on Kris that just frickin’ made my blood boil.
They were saying stuff about Kris like he has trouble barreling balls up with wood. The power only shows up when he’s got an aluminum bat in his hands or in batting practice. And I’m like, “Okay, so great. Why don’t you just call him a frickin’ five o’clock hitter, okay?”
I was seething, just seething. Oh, you can’t believe it. And I know where the sources come from and I know why they did it and why they gave all this pejorative information to baseball America. They were saying stuff about Kris like he has trouble barreling balls up with wood. The power only shows up when he’s got an aluminum bat in his hands or in batting practice. And I’m like, “Okay, so great. Why don’t you just call him a frickin’ five o’clock hitter, okay?”
CI: I know, I read the same stuff. I’m like, “That’s not right.”
MB: This is great stuff for my book. I really want to write a book. I really do. If you use stuff like that, look, if I’m a dad that never played baseball I would look at that very differently than as a professional hitting instructor who taught his kid all his life and tried to prepare him for success. I take it freaking personal, dude.
People need to think that way before they write stuff about my kid because I take it personally. I know that’s just my dynamic personality. Type A, Kris is type B. It’s okay, I got demons that I got to deal with. When you say that, that’s totally irresponsible.
All the guys that weren’t held to the high standard that Kris was held coming out of high school are not playing in the big leagues now. He made it there before everybody and I can name names and I’m not doing it to be derogatory about stuff. But there’s guys that got drafted way higher than him out of high school, and the only guy that made it was Harper. That’s the only one that comes to mind. I knew Bryce was going to make it because he’s really good.
His feet were close together and he took about a two-foot stride. So in that two-foot stride area it’s easy to pull a guy out of position. So what did we do?
So yeah, did Kris get on his front side? Yeah. You know why he did? Because he had an open stance like Evan Longoria. His feet were close together and he took about a two-foot stride. So in that two-foot stride area it’s easy to pull a guy out of position. So what did we do?
CI: You widened him up.
MB: We widened him up, shortened his step, got him to believe that he could still generate the same amount of power or the fact that he didn’t have to hit it 600 feet, he could hit it 500 feet or 450. And that’s what it was. So we widened him up, got his head closer to the ground by about 10 inches, he was closer to the outside pitch.
We…not flattened his swing, but moved in the direction of reducing his vertical then, which we didn’t have all the information that we have now. And he was going on gut instinct and he went out and just tore it up in college the last two years. It was that simple. It was a real simple fix.
So we widened him up, got his head closer to the ground by about 10 inches, he was closer to the outside pitch. And he was going on gut instinct and he went out and just tore it up in college the last two years. It was that simple. It was a real simple fix.
Evan Longoria gets out on his front side a lot. So did Manny Ramirez and so did A-Rod and all the big steppers with the high leg kick. So does Josh Donaldson, he gets out on his front side. (Jose) Bautista, that’s why they’re pull hitters.
CI: That makes sense. Cool. Mike, I appreciate you talking to me. Definitely cool insight. I was never a great baseball player myself but it’s funny because listening to you is the complete opposite to what I was taught when I was a kid so it’s interesting to see this culture change.
MB: Kris has a dad that’s…I don’t want to say I’m a media-hungry dude but I love talking baseball. I love talking baseball and I don’t have any other ulterior motives other than just talking baseball. I was in the spotlight anyways. It was inevitable.
CI: In what we do, I try to incorporate some of the stat stuff. I’ll do my own stats, but to me baseball’s a lot of gray area. It’s never black, it’s never white. No absolutes.
Whenever I read a lot of the baseball media stuff, they talk in absolutes. Like, for example, like, “Oh, Kris’s dad is messing up his swing.” That’s really not true. I hope with some of the stat stuff I write that it reads more like gray area, more interpretation, which is kind of cool.
MB: You know what? One rule you can live by as a writer — and I got a relationship with Jess Rogers, I tell him this, kind of open his eyes — you’ve got to make the story really human and not put the guy up on a pedestal because he’s just like you. He’s just anybody else, no matter who it is. Just because he’s good at baseball doesn’t mean he’s this…he’s just popular, that’s all.
One rule you can live by as a writer: you’ve got to make the story really human and not put the guy up on a pedestal because he’s just like you. He’s just anybody else, no matter who it is.
But he’s human and all the emotions that go with being human are the same to a guy like that that it is to you and I. If you write like that and that comes through that’s what’s going to make you popular. That’s what’s going to propel you to make people want to read your stuff. You’ll get more and more popular because of it, because of your writing style.
Then the passion comes out and no anger comes out and no vitriol comes out and no got-a-bone-to-pick-type attitude comes out. That’s why I’m always walking that fine line, dude, I’m telling you. It’s hard sometimes because that’s where I’m coming from. I just love to talk baseball. I always say when you talk baseball you’re never wrong. You’re just always learning and you’re always correcting, and you just get better and better at it.
I always say when you talk baseball you’re never wrong. You’re just always learning and you’re always correcting, and you just get better and better at it.
Your self-deprecating humor about how you never played baseball, it doesn’t matter. You can become really good at this. You got kids or whatever, you can teach them because you can acquire knowledge and become a really good coach, teacher, having not played.