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Kris Bryant is back in MVP form

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Here’s a look into the numbers behind his recent power surge.

Kris Bryant hits a home run against the Brewers on Mother’s Day
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In spring training Kris Bryant had a rare moment of candor where he directly addressed the haters and those who doubted him after a lackluster 2018 season. It was notable because KB is usually pretty easygoing and it seemed clear to all who were watching that he was entering 2019 with a bit of a chip on his shoulder:

As you can imagine, that got people’s attention and I was basically on the edge of my seat waiting to see what Bryant had in store offensively for 2019.

And then... nothing. For the first 20 games, it actually didn’t actually seem like all that much had changed from 2018, to be honest. But something clicked on the Cubs‘ April west coast road trip, and Kris Bryant has looked like his 2016 MVP self ever since. You can see his splits for the first 20 games and the last 17 games below:

Kris Bryant select offensive splits - first 20 games 2019

Year PA HR BABIP Avg OBP SLG wRC+ Oppo Hard Hit
Year PA HR BABIP Avg OBP SLG wRC+ Oppo Hard Hit
First 20 games 91 1 .281 .221 .341 .351 92 32.8% 29.3%
Last 17 games 79 7 .256 .305 .468 .763 213 30.0% 50.0%
Select offensive splits for Kris Bryant’s 2019 Fangraphs

That is a tale of two fundamentally different players. Incredibly, the BABIP indicates that Bryant has been less lucky in the last 17 games than he was early in the season.

I included the Oppo percentage because this piece from MLB.com indicates that KB has changed his approach in 2019. He’s going to the opposite field 12.7 percent more often than he did in 2018:

Oppo % change
MLB

At first I thought that approach might be the source of Bryant’s turnaround. Interestingly, that doesn’t appear to be the case. His approach has been consistent throughout 2019.

So what changed in late April? Apparently, according to ESPN, Bryant changed his bat:

Kris Bryant is pretty sure it’s not the bat, but right now, he isn’t leaving anything to chance.

After breaking his old bat during a late April plate appearance in Phoenix, Bryant grabbed his backup, an Axe Bat, and homered on his first swing with it. He had never used the unique-looking lumber, but since then, that’s all he has been swinging.

”I’ve been having good at-bats, so I don’t know if it’s the bat or what, but it’s always nice to use a new one and hit a homer,” the Chicago Cubs third baseman said earlier this week.

Bryant is not the only slugger who is on a tear in 2019 using the axe-handle bat, the AstrosGeorge Springer has also been putting up impressive numbers with an axe bat in 2019. Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce went on to say that the axe bat “forces your knuckles to be aligned and creates the right angle of the barrel above the head.”

In case you’re wondering how Kris Bryant’s 2019 compares to his previous seasons:

Kris Bryant select offensive stats by year

Year PA HR BABIP Avg OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
Year PA HR BABIP Avg OBP SLG wRC+ fWAR
2015 650 26 .378 .275 .369 .488 136 6.1
2016 699 39 .332 .292 .385 .554 148 7.8
2017 665 29 .334 .295 .409 .537 146 6.7
2018 457 13 .342 .272 .374 .460 125 2.3
2019 170 8 .270 .257 .400 .529 148 1.7
Kris Bryant select offensive stats 2015-2019 Fangraphs

In other words, 2019 KB looks a lot more like the guy who won the NL Rookie of the Year and MVP awards and pretty much nothing like the guy who was plagued by injuries in 2018. Again, his BABIP jumps out as being low relative to his career averages, which suggests this recent surge is sustainable and could get even better.

Regardless of whether it’s the bat, or something else, the results speak for themselves. Bryant has five home runs in his last eight games and tonight he’s heading to Great American Ballpark, a place where the Cubs hitters have traditionally done pretty well as you can see in this video compilation from NBC Sports Chicago [VIDEO].

In 2016 Kris Bryant was 18-for-43 with five home runs and 16 RBI in Cincinnati. He absolutely crushed the ball with a .419/.490/.860 slash line over 10 games against the Reds in their home park. I’ll be watching this week to see if he can do close to that type of damage at Great American Ball Park in 2019.