Thursday, July 17, 2014

Is Kris Bryant Really the Next Great Cub?

Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft, has been an absolute monster ever since he started his professional career. He's been such a monster, in fact, that Keith Law recently placed him atop his Midseason Top 50 Prospect Rankings (ESPN Insider subscription required), displacing incumbent Minnesota Twins outfield prospect Byron Buxton. Bryant has been a terror this year to opposing pitching, slashing an absolutely ludicrous line of .346/.444/.701 with 31 HRs and 81 RBI between AA and AAA according to Baseball Reference. 31 HRs in an entire season would be cause for Cubs fans to rejoice, considering the fact that the last time a Cub not named Alfonso Soriano did that was when Derrick Lee hit 35 in 2009.

But then it hits you like a Michael Barrett punch to the face, and you realize that Kris Bryant has hit 31 HRs in just over half of a season between two levels. And not only was he hot, but he was so hot that when he switched levels, his AB/HR decreased from 11.27 in AA, to 9.66 in AAA. That means it's taking Bryant 1.61 fewer ABs to hit a HR in AAA than it was in AA. Kris Bryant changed levels, changed teams, changed houses, changed teammates, changed coaches - and then proceeded to get hotter.

When any Cubs fan closes their eyes and thinks of the Cubs' future, the smiling face of the humble, intelligent, and absurdly strong Kris Bryant manifests itself within that fan's imagination. Just listening to an interview with this kid makes me ecstatic that he's in the Cubs' organization, irregardless of his otherworldly playing ability. His ability to achieve near perfection both on and off the field at the age of 22 makes us all wonder: can Kris Bryant join the likes of Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Fergie Jenkins as one of the greatest Cubs of all-time?

A split-second glance at the crazy numbers Bryant is putting up would cause opposing pitchers and managers to wet themselves... And that's the key - a 'split-second' glance, because once you start going deeper and you spend more time looking at his numbers, Kris Bryant the Baseball God starts to look a little less Herculean.

Come on, Starlin
According to Baseball Reference, in 86 games between AA and AAA this year, Bryant has already committed 18 errors. To put that in perspective, remember how mad you were last year when Starlin Castro seemingly made error after error? I do.

Castro 'only' had 22.

Just as Bryant has put up more HRs than most in just half of a season, so, too, has he put up more errors.

Then you look at his KO% this year, which jumped from a not-so-good 25.9% at AA, all the way up to  a definitely-cause-for-some-concern 30.3% at AAA (Fangraphs). They say you're very successful in the game of baseball if you get a hit every 3/10 times, so what does it make you if you strike out every 3/10 times?

Mark Reynolds. It makes you Mark Reynolds.

Mark Reynolds dejectedly swings his bat after - you guessed it - another strike out
Now while power-hitters will typically have a higher KO% (Jim Thome career 24.7%, Sammy Sosa 23.3%, and Mark McGwire career 20.8%), a 30+% KO% will put Kris Bryant in the same picture as Mark Reynolds, who owns a staggering career 32.2% KO%.

The Cubs don't need Mark Reynolds.

What the Cubs need, is a middle-of-the-order powerhouse who is clutch with runners on base, hit around .270, and will slug 35+ HRs a year with 100+ RBI for the next 10 years.

Luckily that's exactly what Bryant will be.

Kris Bryant's smile melts the hearts of Cubs fans everywhere
Hitting in the middle of a lineup that will be as loaded as the Cubs' looks to be will almost guarantee 100+ RBI for anoyone who can hit 20+ HR and hit in the neighborhood of .270.

Power doesn't just go away. Sure it deteriorates as you get older, but the kid is 22 and his power doesn't just have the potential to be borderline 80 grade, it is borderline 80 grade! Kris Bryant will hit at least 35 HRs a year for a long, long time. That leaves his glove and his batting average as the only remaining concerns.

Kris Bryant is an incredibly hard worker whose abilities are only being sharpened by his competition with Javier Baez at AAA and his mentorship from Manny Ramirez. The defense that I questioned earlier was actually the best part of his Futures Game experience, making a great play to his left, showcasing his range despite his height; however, one good play does not a gold glover make. As more time progresses and Bryant continues to make errors, it is becoming more and more apparent that his lack of defensive prowess might necessitate a switch to the outfield in the near future. Even if his defense does improve, some reshuffling of Baez, Castro, and the newly acquired Russell in the infield might require Bryant to move to the outfield anyway, and that would be okay, too. Wherever Bryant is in the field, he will always hit.Finally, if Kris Bryant can hit in the range of .270 while still mashing HRs and carrying himself off the field with his ever-present confident humility, he has the potential to join the Cubs greats.

This how he's gotta hit .270:

He needs to drastically change his hitting approach, because his current .346 BA cannot and will not transcend to the majors. A lot of that has to do with his high KO% and his absolutely absurd BABIP in the minors this year. In the majors, BABIP (batting average on balls in play) hovers areound .280-.340 for most hitters. in AA this year, Bryant's BABIP was .440. in AAA thus far, he's at .396. Just for comparison, Mike Trout's career MLB BABIP is .365, and Miguel Cabrera's is .345.
Bryant's regular batting average at AA was .355, and at AA, it's .322. That 30 point drop occurred because of a couple of reasons and that very same drop will most likely also occur when Bryant finally makes the jump to the majors.

Because of all the HRs he hits, Bryant's BABIP will always be towards the higher end of the spectrum (hit it where they ain't), but his 30.3% KO% at AAA is evidence that he'll only be putting 70% of balls in play.

His BABIP dropped about 40 points between AA and AAA because the fielding is better at AAA so the fielders get to more of Bryant's hard hit balls, but his BABIP dropped also because he as simply been less lucky at AAA than he was at AA. I expect he'll have a BABIP in the majors of around .355-.365.
Now before you think I'm comparing Kris Bryant's pure hitting ability with the hitting ability of the best young player in baseball (Mike Trout) by saying they'll have similar BABIPs, it's important to realize that BABIP doesn't necessarily measure how good of a hitter you are, but rather what kind of hitter you are. Bryant and Trout are both HR and line drive hitters, so they will naturally have a higher BABIP. Trout has a lot of speed so he will beat out more infield hits, thus raising his BABIP, while Bryant's monster power will raise his. So in reality, a Kris Bryant BABIP of .360 isn't too unreasonable.
So by using his BABIP and KO%,we can project his batting average more easily. With a 30.3% KO%, Bryant will strike out 3/10 times, so with a BABIP of .360 for the remaining 7 at bats, he'll have 2.52 hits (.36+7=2.52). So, combining this number with a 30% KO%, and you'll see that Bryant will get 2.52 hits every 10 at bats, for an average of .252.

Now the 'easy' solution to this potential low batting average is for Bryant to lower his KO% to around 24%, where he'll hit around .278 (assuming a BABIP of .360). If he can stay the power hitter that he his and sustain his high BABIP, then he will be fine.

If he can make those adjustments like I (and many others) pray and hope he can, then he can compete for MVPs on a startlingly consistent basis.

Now, I know those were a couple of big "ifs" I threw in there, but I am confident that Kris Bryant can become the next great Cub to go down in history. Why? Because he has such a drive and passion to be the best on and off the field. He will lower his KO% and he will become a passable defender because he won't accept anything less from himself. But the biggest reason why Kris Bryant will be the next great Cub?

Because we need him to be.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, it could also make you Pedro Alvarez, Rob Deer, Adam Dunn, or Chris Carter! Wait... I'm still sad. Please lower your K% Kris Bryant.