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:
Kris Bryant explaining his thought process this offseason when the trade rumors came up and his expectations for 2019. (Via @Scheuer_Thing) pic.twitter.com/nEibFbp5tf— Cubs Live (@Cubs_Live) February 24, 2019
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
|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%|
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:
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 Astros‘ George 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
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.