Contrary to widely repeated and poorly informed speculation earlier this season, Kris Bryant is back. Even with his 2018 shoulder injury, he hardly ever left. Bryant managed to be an above-average hitter in the second half of last season even without the power fans had grown accustomed to over the years.
With last year’s slugging decline in mind, Bryant’s recent power surge has drawn a significant amount of attention. While he has yet to hit a home run in this weekend’s series against Milwaukee, Bryant had homered in four of five games before Friday, including his dramatic walk-off home run against Miami on Tuesday night.
Vocal proponents of the idea that Bryant’s power might never return have grown quieter than church mice. Or maybe they’re just being drowned out by the loud noises his bat is making en route to a 1.210 OPS over the last seven days.
But here’s the thing: The return of the home run to Bryant’s arsenal might not even be the most impressive part of his 2019 campaign so far. He is putting together some of the most patient, selective at bats we’ve seen from him over the last several seasons, posting at or near career bests in pitches per plate appearance, walk percentage, and out-of-the-zone swing percentage.
After looking visibly off at the plate and jumping at pitches early in the season, Bryant is again showing the ability to simply wear his opponents down. Maintaining his pace of swinging at only 22.6% of pitches out of the zone would set a career best in that measure by a significant margin. He’s at a career-best pace in walk percentage, too.
Here’s a sampling of the way Bryant is seeing the ball, with these particular examples coming from the last two games in the Miami series in which he drew two walks each.
As you can see, he hardly chased any balls out of the zone at all. Against other hitters, pitchers might reasonably expect to induce harmless swings and misses or ineffective contact, but that’s just not happening with any regularity against Bryant right now.
The return of the power stroke has eased the fears — despite a good deal of evidence to the contrary — that the former MVP might not return to that level. However, even when Bryant isn’t smacking extra base hits and home runs, he’s making opposing pitchers work very hard to get him out and can serve as an effective table-setter for his teammates behind him in the order.