Kris Bryant has made significant mechanical overhauls in the past, but never mid-season and certainly not when millions of Cubsessed eyeballs were scrutinizing his every move. Under the tutelage of his father, former Red Sox farmhand and current professional hitting instructor Mike Bryant, the Cubs superstar has evolved over the years in pursuit of the ultimate goal: To hit the ball hard and hit it in the air.
His most recent adjustment, however, may be the most difficult of all. In addition to being his most public by far, it’s also being made far from the friendly confines of the Bryant family batting cage in Las Vegas. Not that Bryant needs the comfort of home to adequately adapt, it’s just that he’s always been able to incorporate tweaks in a more controlled environment and without the pressure of a playoff race taking precedence.
One of the hallmarks of Bryant’s swing was a long, one-handed finish that really torqued his left shoulder on the follow-through. And while that shoulder has gotten fatigued at times in the past from countless swings over the course of a season, not to mention a lifetime, it was evident that something would need to change when Bryant couldn’t get right after jamming the joint on a headfirst slide back in May.
So when it came time to get back to work after sitting out for several weeks during his second DL stint, Bryant heeded the advice of team trainer PJ Mainville. Keeping both hands on the bat, which Mainville has received credit for suggesting, shortens the follow-through and significantly reduces the stress on Bryant’s shoulder.
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 26, 2018
“I started swinging like that,’’ Bryant said Saturday of his early work with the tee and in the cage. “It feels good to me because I play a lot of golf in the offseason. It’s kind of like a golf swing. It feels good. I feel more powerful, feel like I can hit the ball farther.’’
Wait, he thinks he can hit the ball even farther? I mean, we’re talking about a man who has the Cubs’ longest home run ever in the Statcast era, a 495-foot blast that nearly cleared the video board in left. Then again, the golf comparison is quite fitting for someone whose carefully crafted upward swing has made him one of the standard bearers of Generation Launch Angle.
“Yeah, even in the cage, off the tee, the ball just seems to be jumping off the bat,” Bryant explained to reporters. “It could be the same, honestly, I don’t know. But just in my mind, I feel like the ball’s really jumping off the bat and anytime you have that upper edge in terms of how you’re thinking and your confidence, that’s all that really matters. So that’s how I’m feeling.”
It’s obvious that results from a Saturday BP session that saw him blast a ball off the aforementioned video board would breed confidence, but Bryant also draws from past experience when it comes to how a change will affect his performance.
“It’s kind of like when I was in college and widened my stance,’’ Bryant said. “I used to hit straight up my freshman year in college and then my sophomore year I widened my stance and that was really a game-changer for me.’’
That’s what says that now, but as his father tells it, the move away from an upright stance and a more pronounced stride wasn’t so easy for the young slugger to accept at first. For those of you familiar with Bryant’s wide crouch, the idea that he once stood tall in the box is probably a very foreign thought. It had served him quite well through high school and his first season at the University of San Diego, so why change?
“His feet were close together and he took about a two-foot stride,” the elder Bryant told CI back in 2017. “So in that two-foot stride area it’s easy to pull a guy out of position.
“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.”
There had been changes before and there have been some since — many of which are chronicled in that linked piece above — but moving to the squat led to an unprecedented run of success for Bryant. In his second year with the new stance, he captured the Golden Spikes Award as college baseball’s best player. He followed that with Minor League Player of the Year honors in his first professional season, after which he took home the Rookie of Year and MVP in his first two years with the Cubs.
So, yeah, I guess you could say the change ended up working. With that in mind, it’s no wonder Bryant would be so bullish on this latest shift, especially when he’s seen the other half of his Bryzzo partnership utilizing it so well. Anthony Rizzo keeps both hands on the bat, just like a pair of somewhat lesser-known hitters like Mike Trout and, uh, Henry Aaron.
Maybe Bryant doesn’t really have more raw power with this new swing, but at least one person thinks the change may address one area of weakness — if it’s even fair to call it that — in his game. Though lowering his stance afforded Bryant much better plate coverage, it didn’t instantly make him a massive opposite-field threat. Even the work father and son did following that MVP campaign (again, see that 2017 interview linked above) didn’t yield obvious results.
Only 11 of Bryant’s 105 career homers have come to the right of dead center and his percentage of oppo doubles isn’t great either (triples are the lone exception, because of course). At the risk of making it sound as though I support the notion that Bryant “can’t produce at all to the opposite field,” as MLB.com’s Mike Petriello tweeted in May, I am compelled to note that a major cause of the pull-heavy results is pitchers trying to bust the lanky hitter inside.
That is likely to continue as opponents attempt to take advantage of a little rust and the switch to a new move. If, however, the shortened stroke indeed results in Bryant crushing inside heat, pitchers are going to start to adjust away. And that is where the swing change may really pay dividends.
“I like it,” Mike Bryant told CI of the two-handed move. “More oppo power.”
Just imagine Kris Gosh-Darn Bryant with more power to all fields being inserted back into the middle of a lineup that has suddenly caught fire again. Hoo, buddy, that is fun. Of course, denizens of the right-field bleachers may need to be a little more vigilant when Bryant is in the tee, er, batter’s box. Maybe instead of leaving the loud noises to his bat, the soft-spoken slugger will consider raising his voice more often once he comes back from a rehab stint in Iowa.