Kris Bryant has been one of the poster boys of the fly-ball trend, launching home runs that salt rain clouds and threaten video boards. But, believe it or not, his launch angle actually trended downward last season.
As much that relatively new metric is celebrated these days, one would imagine that a sharp decline in launch angle would be a bad thing. And for some hitters, generating fewer fly balls could indeed be bad. Yet Bryant was still able to post almost a .400 wOBA, mainly because he improved the quality of his batted-ball profile.
The “best” types of batted balls are high drives (HD) between 19-26 degrees because, even though they don’t lead to the most homers, they result in the highest expected wOBA. Bryant’s HD rate last year was the highest of his decorated career. At the same time, his pure grounder rate was the lowest of his career.
On the other hand, the athletic third baseman’s dribble rate (DB) increased by nearly five percent — the highest of his career — last season. As you can probably guess, dribblers are one of the worst batted-ball types.
So what does this mean for Bryant? Our interpretation is going to be a bit subjective and perhaps only he and Cubs know the true reason for the high dribbler rate, but I think there are two explanations. First, pitchers adapted to Bryant and were able to induce more weak contact. Second, perhaps Bryant’s drastically improved contact rate naturally leads to more dribblers.
It’s really irrelevant at the end of the day, since Bryant’s overall batted-ball portfolio produced an exceptionally high number of runs.
The most encouraging thing is that Bryant has been hard at work making improvements and hitting the ball on a certain plane this past winter. Cubs Insider’s glorious leader, Evan Altman, spoke with Mike Bryant (Kris’s dad and lifelong hitting coach) about what father and son worked in Las Vegas to prepare for the season. The awareness of and adjustment to weaknesses is fantastic.
Over the last few offseasons, the Bryants have successfully increased contact, optimized high drives, and pinpointed exactly what needs to be done to get better.
Let’s say Bryant continues to adapt and improve at the same historic pace we’ve seen thus far. If he’s able to substitute a few of those dribblers for an equivalent number of fly balls or high drives, just imagine the numbers he’ll put up. He’d quite possibly become the most valuable player in the bigs.