One of the hallmarks of Kris Bryant‘s career, and we’re talking all the way back to his prep days, is the ability to make adjustments at the plate to counter pitchers’ attempts to attack him. After standing very tall in the box as a high schooler and into his early days at the University of San Diego, Bryant adopted a deeper squat in order to increase his plate coverage and punish the increasing number of down-and-away pitches he was seeing.
“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,” Bryant’s father, Mike Bryant, told Cubs Insider in 2017. “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 [angle]. 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.”
Those adjustments certainly didn’t stop after college, and they’ve actually been made at a faster pace with increasingly tighter focus. It could be something as small as studying pitchers’ tendencies and trying to become a better “guess” hitter, or it could be a matter of working to keep his right elbow tucked into his ribcage in order to get the bat in the hitting zone earlier and keep it there longer.
Bryant has also made some swing changes out of necessity, like going to a two-handed finish in 2018 in order to mitigate the pain in his injured shoulder. Though the mechanics didn’t stick around, the slugger maintained an emphasis on attacking those outside pitches and using the opposite field more. After some initial issues with his hand path and the vertical angle of his bat led to bigger strikeout numbers from swinging through fastballs early in 2019, Bryant went on a tear that had him putting up career-best numbers.
Once pitchers finally realized they could no longer fool the lanky slugger away, they decided to combat his launch angle-heavy approach by busting him with high fastballs. Despite a chronic knee injury that dogged him throughout the second half of the season, Bryant was able to compensate and ended up increasing his exit velocity against high heat by nearly 30% over what he’d produced in 2018. Now healthy again, he’s trying to build on that improvement.
We got a first look at the next iteration of his swing when he took his first official BP session of the spring Saturday morning following a candid press conference. Take a look at the video below and see if you notice the change. It’s actually pretty obvious if you know what to look for.
Warm it up, Kris. ? pic.twitter.com/hk5zXkVfuE
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) February 15, 2020
Did you see it? It’s not a matter of the swing itself, but how it begins with Bryant standing significantly more upright than he has in the past. See the picture below from a game last spring for comparison.
As detailed above, that familiar crouch was developed when Bryant was in college as a means of attacking outside pitches. Now that pitchers are increasingly going with high heat to combat modern hitters, particularly a long-armed guy like Bryant who they think they can handcuff inside, he and his father felt it was time to stand a little taller. While that could otherwise offset the benefits of the crouch if not properly instituted, they worked to further reduce Bryant’s vertical bat angle in order to maintain his plate coverage.
It’ll be a while before we can properly assess the benefits of this latest change, but if previous results are any indication, this could lead to some excellent results. As such, I’d like to offer a challenge to NL pitchers: Try to beat Kris Bryant with high heat, you cowards.