It took Chicago Cubs’ third baseman and future lineup cornerstone Kris Bryant 20 Major League games to hit his first home run. After that lengthy drought, it took only six for Bryant to hit his next three. Now, after 29 games, Bryant has four Major League home runs to go along with a .291/.426/.476 slash line and a team-leading 24 runs batted in.
I think Bryant’s home run binge this past week was just the beginning.
As Bryant sat stuck on zero home runs for the first 90 plate appearances of his young career, all signs pointed to a hitter ready to break out once the weight of his initial home run was lifted. For a young hitter with only 330 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, Bryant has shown an incredible grasp of the strike zone. Bryant has been content to take his base when pitchers attempt to skirt the outer edges of the plate. As pitchers catch on to the fact that he will not chase balls off the plate like fellow rookie Jorge Soler, they will be forced to come into the zone, allowing Bryant to make use of his prodigious power.
Bryce Harper leads the Majors with 36 walks this season. Harper has walked once every 3.7 at-bats. Bryant, who has played ten fewer games than Harper, has walked 24 times this season, which ranks 7th. Bryant is walking once every 4.3 at-bats, slightly off the pace of Harper. Bryant has swung at only 26.7% of pitches outside of the strike zone. It’s taken Harper nearly four seasons to develop the discipline at the plate that Bryant has shown in only 29 games. As this trend continues to play itself out, Bryant will begin seeing more pitches inside the strike zone.
ZiPS and Steamer both projected Bryant to finish the season with 21 home runs in around 100 games. The Cubs called Bryant up much earlier than expected, and he will easily outpace the 21 home run mark, even though that is exactly where his current pace puts him after 29 big league games. This week was just the beginning for Bryant, and he will not continue homering once every 26 at-bats the remainder of the season. With the pressure surrounding his first home run lifted and the realization by the rest of the league that Bryant will not extend his strike zone, expect Bryant’s power numbers to correct themselves significantly. I do not think it is a stretch to predict that Bryant will reach 30 home runs before the end of the season.