About a month ago, the Chicago Cubs were sitting in last place in the super-competitive National League Central with a 1-6 record. They’ve gone 18-6 since then, with a 13-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday night to propel them into first place for the time being.
The man who really put an exclamation point on that victory? That’d be Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who did this in the eighth inning:
After being limited to 13 home runs and a .188 ISO in 457 plate appearances last season because of a shoulder injury, Bryant bouncing back in 2019 is crucial to the Cubs’ offense recovering as a whole. Things started slow for the two-time All-Star and 2016 NL MVP, but he’s picked things up lately.
Here’s a look at how his early-season performance has differed when we split his plate appearances from before and after April 21st (these stats won’t be taking Monday night’s game into account).
This is the Kris Bryant the Cubs and their fans have gotten used to watching since he debuted in 2015.
There are many statistics that have taken a leap between these two time periods, but among the first ones to jump out would be his improved plate discipline. Bryant has watched his walk rate go from 11.5% to 20.0% and his strikeout rate go from 21.8% to 12.0% during this time. He’s done this by getting more selective (46.7% swing rate to 39.2%) and making more contact (76.8% to 81.2%).
Bryant has also used this increased selectivity to transform his batted-ball and quality-of-contact profiles. Here’s a quick look at how they’ve changed throughout the first month-plus of 2019.
The young third baseman’s season-long 41.4% hard-hit rate is much more in line with the earlier parts of his career (37.5% in ’15, 40.3% in ’16) than what he’s produced recently (32.8% in ’17, 31.2% in ’18), too. It’s also worth noting that opposing pitchers have attacked him with fastballs at a 55.0% clip, which is a noticeable rise from last year’s 49.7% rate. He typically crushed four-seamers and sinkers throughout his career, and that hasn’t changed thus far in 2019 (169 wRC+ vs. four-seamers, 184 vs. sinkers).
Chicago is entering Monday’s games with a 116 team wRC+, which is third-best in baseball behind the Houston Astros (126) and Seattle Mariners (119). This offensive success has been a team effort across the board, but with Bryant hitting like himself in the middle of it all, manager Joe Maddon‘s lineup looks a whole lot more potent.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book and created an online class about how to get started as a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.