After getting off to a scorching start that had him garnering MVP buzz, Kris Bryant has fallen back to earth a bit in June. He’s batting just .156 with a 34 wRC+ over 49 plate appearances this month, a far cry from the .324 and 176 marks he’d put up through May.
Some of that is the natural ebb and flow of a long season that rarely sees strict consistency in performance, but there’s also the matter of how he’s being attacked. As Bryant told Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic, he’s seen only eight pitches over the middle of the plate in the last two weeks. Wow, I can already hear the detractors sniping about the excuses.
There’s a difference between excuses and explanations, particularly when data exists to provide context for the latter. In addition to giving us a reason behind the slump, that same data can set Bryant’s mind at ease to an extent and help him and the Cubs figure out how to get back on track.
“Sometimes I’m expanding my zone and I have to get back to what I do,” Bryant said. “Hopefully they throw pitches that are good to hit, but sometimes there are just stretches where there aren’t any good pitches to hit. That’s what the guys have told me, which is always good to hear because you never want to hear your swing is off.”
Improvement really just boils down to something as simple as trusting the process and not falling prey to results-based thinking, which is often easier said than done. Sharma’s piece gets into that a bit more and I’ll direct you there for some of the philosophical aspects of hitting, but I want to dive a little deeper into the specifics of where Bryant is being pitched.
After all, it’s one thing to say a guy isn’t getting anything to hit and quite another to look at a chart of exactly what he’s seen. Of the 167 pitches Bryant has seen in June, only 69 (41%) have been stikes according to the diagram below. That’s only a little more than one point lower than the league average zone percentage, but that number includes 26 borderline pitches. Removing those brings the strikes to a mere 26% in June.
Bryant has seen just 10 pitches middle-middle and fewer than 30 that could be considered the kind of pitch that is ripe for driving. If he continues to chase those balls out of the zone, which he’s done more frequently in June (34.4% vs. 28.3% through May), pitchers will have no reason to change tack. If, however, he gets that walk rate back up into double digits, he’ll start getting more pitches to hit.
Of course, getting into a slightly easier part of the schedule and running into some pitchers that aren’t suddenly outperforming their season stats would help a little bit as well. There’s no magic bullet for any of this, so it’s just a matter of letting these hills and valleys flatten out over the course of the season.
The good news is that it probably means there’s a positive correction coming soon. Now we just have to hope it applies for the rest of the lineup and not just Bryant.