Exclusive: Kris Bryant’s Dad, Mike, Talks to CI About Crafting an MVP Swing and How His Son Can Get Even Better (Part 3)
If you find yourself reading this and haven’t seen Part 1 and Part 2, please remedy that posthaste and make your way back when you’re done. In addition to providing context, there’s some great stuff in there for Cubs fans or just baseball fans in general.
We’ve already learned about how Kris Bryant adjusted his swing between his rookie and sophomore seasons and how Mike thinks the ceiling for his son is a better version of Miguel Cabrera. In this installment, we’ll get into baserunning, and what the MVP is looking to improve upon this season. As always, the audio version of this portion of the interview is available at the conclusion of the text.
Cubs Insider: Kris was one of the league’s best baserunners last year. There’s a stat called BSR. They take into account stolen bases and other baserunning plays. He was second, I believe, in the league. I think he was first in the National League but I have to double check. That’s remarkable. You don’t see power hitters run the bases that well. [Ed. note: Bryant was 5th in MLB and 2nd in NL with 7.3 BSR]
Mike Bryant: Do you know how that comes about being? I’ve always said you don’t have to have speed. And speed is great in the game, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to build the team around speed, ever. I’m going to build the team around power. Power arms, power bats.
CI: 100 percent, yeah.
MB: Theo’s onto something. Kris’s BSR rating becomes about because of instinct and how he was taught and how to have that internal time clock going on in your head every minute you’re on the field. Knowing you can get an extra two steps, which for him is 12 feet…or more when he gets those legs moving. He’s hit strides, and I’ve measured them — I’ve measured them — when he gets going underway it’s 12 feet. He covers 24 feet [in four strides].
CI: That’s crazy.
MB: That’s the high end of it. It’s like 19 to 24 feet when he gets going underway. Because it’s like he’s a long jumper. If you get a guy that can move his legs pretty fast, he’s going to be a good base runner.
CI: I mean, we saw it in the world series, too, in that one Rizzo double down the right field line. He’s going on a pitch. That’s an underrated part of that game right there. He scores on first base on a line drive basically to right field. That was crazy.
MB: So the swing changes were really minuscule. I don’t like the word “level.” I was taught to have a level swing all my life and it’s wrong. The way the ball’s coming in, coming down, at a six to a 10-degree angle and with break — horizontal and vertical break on it — the depth of the pitches adds 12 or 13 degrees to the angle. So if you want to meet the ball squarely on most of the pitches, you’ve got to have at least a 10-degree angle up.
I was taught to have a level swing all my life and it’s wrong. So if you want to meet the ball squarely on most of the pitches, you’ve got to have at least a 10 degree angle up. And that’s only going to produce a line drive that can get caught in the infield…And then you notice most of the home runs are hit between 25 and 30…
And that’s only going to produce a line drive that can get caught in the infield if it’s anywhere near the fielders. You have to have a 15- to 20-degree upward angle on the ball. And then you notice most of the home runs are hit between 25 and 30, so think about that.
CI: Right and then you saw the one post, he reduced his batted-ball angle. The total amount of batted balls hit above 36 degrees his rookie year was, I believe, 26 or 27 percent. And then he brought that down last year, those same 36-degree batted balls. He brought that down to I think it was 16 percent, so that’s a huge dropoff to hit more of those more sweet-spot 20- to 25-degree batted balls. So there you go.
It’s funny because it sounds like a goal of last season was to decrease the whiffs. Mission accomplished. But what’s even more remarkable is that in doing so, in reducing the whiffs, he actually hit better balls. He hit better pitches. I think there’s this thought process where people want to, and correct me if I’m wrong, they want to just decrease strikeouts because strikeouts are bad. But sometimes when people decrease strikeouts, they compensate and they lose power and they hit more weak batted balls and they don’t really maximize their value.
It’s pretty remarkable that you’re able to increase your contact but you increase your better contact. I think that’s a goal that should be taught. Don’t just increase your contact for the hell of it. Don’t just go opposite field to go opposite field. Do it with purpose. Do it to hit better contact, right?
MB: Right, so it comes back to your process on what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re not changing your thinking pattern. You still get the same swing thoughts. You’re just changing your process by which you get there, which includes the thought process but not the thinking pattern, meaning just being a defensive hitter and trying to put the ball in play or swinging at bad pitches early in the count just so you don’t strike out. The pitcher fears you more than you fear him, okay?
The pitcher fears you more than you fear him, okay…pitchers are way more high maintenance than hitters.
They just do. You know what’s funny, you take it even a step deeper. The insecurity of athletes, the need to have their ego stroked all the time, pitchers are way more high maintenance than hitters. They just are. And they succeed way more. Because they get you out and you bat .180 against Max Scherzer. Why is a pitcher insecure then? You just go up, they give me the ball, I’ll get the guy out. So much damage is done on those two out of 10 times that they’re always thinking about that. I love it. You got to use the psychology to your advantage. It’s hard. It’s not easy. It’s easier said than done.
CI: This past offseason, has there been any more work with this Zepp analytics stuff or is it pretty much status quo, just keep doing what you’re doing? Has there any been any other conscious efforts to change?
MB: No, not with the analytics. It was very ingrained now in his thought process and plus, with my eye I’ve been able to see. So what we did this year was more or less get prepared for how we think that the pitchers are going to pitch and pay more attention to the actual locational type of hit, meaning outer third, inner third.
If the pitchers are going to be stupid enough to try to change the way they pitch to him because he’s got a .429 batting average on pulled balls or whatever, we’re already a step ahead of them. [W]e prepared together what the technique’s going to be to drive the ball hard into the right-center field gap which, at Wrigley, is a smart thing to do…
If the pitchers are going to be stupid enough to try to change the way they pitch to him because he’s got a .429 batting average on pulled balls or whatever, we’re already a step ahead of them. So if you’re going to pitch him on the outer half of the plate this year, we prepared together what the technique’s going to be to drive the ball hard into the right-center field gap which, at Wrigley, is a smart thing to do because the wind blows across and trying to hit to right field is a graveyard.
And Wrigley is not a hitter-friendly park, I don’t care what anybody says, man. That ball (off Cole Hamels in the no-hitter) would’ve left any stadium in the continental United States.
And Wrigley is not a hitter-friendly park, I don’t care what anybody says, man. This 368 to the gaps, give me a break. It plays like 400 in the gaps and it plays 420 to center. Two words: Cole Hamels. You remember the no-hitter he threw that Odubel Herrera dove in to make that catch off him? That ball would’ve left any stadium in the continental United States.
CI: That wind, it’s crazy there.
MB: It was more a process of preparing location, inner half versus outer half and to look away early in the count. Look away early in the count and adjust in, as opposed to looking in and adjusting away. You have to respect the speed of the game. Guys are throwing 95 all the time, so if you look away and try to adjust in you better have really fast hands to be able to do it that way.
Look away early in the count and adjust in, as opposed to looking in and adjusting away. Guys are throwing 95 all the time, so if you look away and try to adjust in you better have really fast hands to be able to do it that way.
Ted Williams used to be a big guess hitter. He called it anticipation but he said 13-letter words aren’t his forte so he just called it guess. He says, “I don’t like using college level words. I didn’t go to college so I use just blue collar words.” So “guess.” Which was really anticipating locational type of pitch and they settle into patterns, locational patterns and sequencing patterns and they do. You can see it.
CI: On that note, do you and Kris, or do Kris and John Mallee, do they go over before maybe a series or a game, the actual pitch locations of these guys? Let’s say you’re facing Lance Lynn on the Cardinals and he’s predominantly a fastball/sinker guy, he’s going to attack most players the outside portion of the plate. Is that knowledge that Kris likes? I forgot who it was, but one player mentioned that he doesn’t even want to know where the pitcher is pitching. He wants to just react. He doesn’t want to put bad thoughts in his mind. Is it the opposite for Kris? Does he want to know that type of knowledge beforehand?
MB: He’s still, again, he’s in the trust-but-verify stage on that. He doesn’t go and pore over it intensely. He’ll brief himself on the scouting report that’s there of the pitcher every day, what he likes to throw in certain counts and stuff like that. But he doesn’t like a lot of details and he doesn’t like to guess and he’s not comfortable doing that yet.
Thome was talking about it on MLB last night, he would sit on the pitch. He goes, “What does ‘sit on a pitch’ mean?”
Adrian Gonzalez nowadays, being in his mid 30’s, he sits on pitches. Big Papi was sitting on pitches. If a pitcher up there knows he’s sitting on a pitch, which is what they did with Bonds, that’s why he walked 225 times.
Will Kris get that respect? Maybe. And if you start to see that, then Kris will start walking a lot more. We get into the hundreds of walks a year, 150 walks a year, which’ll be amazing because he’ll start sitting on pitches. But he won’t sit on pitches now because he doesn’t trust his thinking yet. Eventually he will, as he gains experience.
We get into the hundreds of walks a year, which’ll be amazing because he’ll start sitting on pitches. But he won’t sit on pitches now because he doesn’t trust his thinking yet. Eventually he will, as he gains experience.
It’s the big leagues and these pitchers, they’re just not going to give into you. They’re not going to say, “Here, here’s my fastball. Hit it.” They’re just not going to do it. He does look at some reports and he’ll look at video. If he’s had a bad game or a good game and he’ll see what he’s doing good and what he’s doing bad or wrong, or if there’s anything different and he just needs to be a little bit more patient up there and wait for the game to come to him. You’re going to have your 2-for-15 series and you’re going to have your 3-for-25 before you break out again.
He’s going to have five, six months straight of hitting .300 and having a hot month, two hot months, where he hits .400. Then he’ll hit .340 and it’ll happen.
It just happens. It just happens. Daniel Murphy didn’t have a run like that. That’s why he hit .340, you know? That’s going to happen to Kris. He’s going to have five, six months straight of hitting .300 and having a hot month, two hot months, where he hits .400. Then he’ll hit .340 and it’ll happen.
Be sure to come back for the conclusion of our series as we wrap up our conversation with Mike Bryant.
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