Famous for Moonshots, MLB’s Best 3B Still Excels When Hitting Grounders

Mike Bryant groomed his son into the archetype of the modern slugger, someone many youngsters will probably try to emulate. Kris Bryant’s innate ability to barrel up the baseball in the air is evident in the moonshot home runs that put Wrigley’s massive video boards in jeopardy with relative frequency.

“I want a higher ratio of balls in the air to balls on the ground,” the elder Bryant told me prior to last season. “The results, they’re predictable, they’re reliable in that you’re not going to ground into many double plays, which he doesn’t.”

But while a pursuit of the ideal launch angle has largely defined his career, Bryant has been able to reach base at an extraordinarily consistent rate even on the rare occasion that he hits the ball on the ground. Despite being projected for 141 hits, the best third baseman in baseball recorded as many knocks last year as the number of regular-season games the Cubs played.

In other words, Bryan’t batted ball portfolio should’ve generated 21 fewer hits that he actually racked up. Wow. This is because, as we see below, many of the grounders off of Bryant’s bat that should’ve been outs ended up going for hits.

Some might interpret this as a sign that Bryant was extraordinarily lucky, pointing also to his .334 BABIP, but I don’t think that’s the case. Because of frequent and unique defensive shifts against Bryant, many of those grounders squeak through the infield, like this one:

Then there’s the matter of Bryant’s long strides eating up yards of base line at a time and allowing him to beat out grounders that defenses would normally turn into outs. To wit, his 55 career infield hits rank 15th in MLB since 2015 and his 13.0 infield hit percentage is the second-best mark in baseball in that same time.

“[Kris has] 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],” Bryant’s father gushed.

Basically, you can’t get the former MVP out. Either he smacks it over the fence or outruns you to first base. Pick your poison. Maybe we could just ask him how he does it (there’s a naughty word in the video):

Special thanks go out to Jim Albert of Bowling Green University, who developed R scripts to do analyses like above, for making his code available online.

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