You might not remember this game well, but I do.
It happened in Denver, Sunday, April 22, 2018. There were two out in the top of the first inning, and Kris Bryant was at the plate. German Marquez was pitching for the Rockies. On a 1-2 pitch, this happened [VIDEO].
KB left the game, which the Cubs won 9-7, and missed the Cubs’ next four games before returning. He had been off to a good start that year. In 21 games he was hitting .289/.439/.437 (22-for-76) with seven doubles, a triple and two home runs. This, after coming off three seasons in which he’d posted 5.3, 7.6 and 5.6 bWAR and won the NL MVP award in the middle of those three years, 2016.
After his return, though, he just wasn’t the same. For the rest of 2018 he hit just .263/.351/.444 (85-for-320) with 11 home runs, and also battled other injuries that limited him to just 102 games.
It’s more than that, though. Bryant wasn’t nearly the same player in 2019 or so far in 2020, either, that he had been prior to the beaning.
Here are his career numbers before and after he was hit on that April 2018 afternoon (all stats through Sunday):
Kris Bryant, through and since 4/22/2018
Well. That’s MVP-quality production in the first line. The second line is still a very good player, but with somewhat lower numbers across the board. These aren’t small sample sizes, either.
But it’s not just overall where KB’s production has dropped. Specifically, he’s stopped hitting righthanded pitching as well as he did before he was hit in the head.
Here are Bryant’s splits vs. LHP and RHP through April 22, 2018:
Kris Bryant vs. LHP and RHP through 4/22/2018
|vs. LHP through 4/22/18||512||428||77||127||27||1||27||76||76||117||.297||.408||.554||.962|
|vs. RHP through 4/22/18||1592||1352||254||387||84||12||69||209||184||376||.284||.386||.519||.905|
Bryant hit LHP better than RHP before the beaning, but most righthanded hitters do, and the difference wasn’t that great — just .057 of OPS. But now, look at his splits vs. LHP and RHP since April 22, 2018:
Kris Bryant vs. LHP and RHP since 4/22/2018
|vs LHP since 4/22/18||226||190||40||61||16||2||14||36||31||56||.321||.420||.658||1.078|
|vs RHP since 4/22/18||890||778||120||197||45||2||30||86||95||218||.253||.356||.432||.788|
Bryant has actually hit lefties a bit better since the beaning, but has suffered a significant drop in his production against righthanders, to the tune of 68 BA points, 64 OBP points and a huge drop of .226 in slugging percentage.
These are no longer small sample sizes, they’re more than two full seasons worth of data. Why is this happening?
I honestly don’t know, but this does appear to be a thing. Bryant has also battled other injuries since the beaning, including a couple this year. Right now he looks really lost at the plate. What I have for you here are some screenshots of him batting vs. RHP and LHP, before the beaning and from this year.
First, here’s KB batting against former Cub and RHP Dan Straily when Straily was with the Reds, June 27, 2016:
I chose that game because it was part of his MVP season, but also, that’s the game where he went 5-for-5 with three homers and two doubles, clearly locked in.
Here’s KB batting against Brewers righthander Devin Williams this past Friday, September 11:
It’s subtle, but take a look at where his back foot is in the 2016 screenshot compared to the 2020 screenshot. The stance looks more open in the earlier one. Plus, to me he looks like he’s standing somewhat more upright in the 2020 screenshot. Granted that the camera angle’s a bit different in the two screenshots, the stance still looks different to me.
Now, here’s KB against a pair of lefties. First, against Wandy Peralta of the Reds July 2, 2017:
Here, he bats against Rob Kaminsky of the Cardinals last Monday, September 7:
I am not a pro scout or coach, obviously. But to me, it looks like KB’s stance against the two lefties is pretty much the same in the 2017 screenshot and the 2020 screenshot, and he’s had pretty much equal success against LHP before and after the beaning by Marquez — who’s a righthander. As I mentioned, there are also other injures Bryant has had since being hit in the head, but that game also appears to be a significant turning point in his hitting abilities.
It’s possible Bryant has subtly altered the way he stands in the batter’s box against righthanders since he was hit in the head by a righthander in Colorado more than two years ago.
Or not. What do you think?