Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs’ second-coming-of-Christ third baseman, has got some beautiful blue eyes. They’re quite dreamy if you ask me. If you disagree with me, you’re either lying to yourself or just flat-out not a good eye connoisseur.
Seriously though, just look at them twinkle!
Enough about Bryant’s eyes though, let’s talk about his eye — batting eye, that is. Through 18 Major League games, Bryant, who hit 43 home runs last season at Double and Triple-A, has not homered and has only six extra base hits. He is slugging only .391 with the Cubs after slugging .661 last year in the minors.
Everyone expected Bryant to mash from the second he came up this April. If you were expecting Bryant to lead the league in home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage by the end of the season, I think you will be sorely disappointed. If, however, you were expecting a fully mature, 23-year-old future face of the franchise to have one of the best batting eyes in the game, pat yourself on the back, because you got that one right.
Unlike most rookies, Bryant has a refined grasp of the strike zone, probably thanks to the time he spent in college at the University of San Diego. Let’s compare Bryant to 2012 Bryce Harper, when Harper won the NL Rookie of the Year Honors at the age of 19. That season, Harper swung at 33.7% of pitches outside of the strike zone, and made contact on only 59.4% of those swings. In his rookie season, Bryant has swung at only 29.5% of pitches outside of the strike zone, and has made contact on 45.2% of those swings.
Here’s another interesting tidbit from those plate discipline statistics. Harper swung at 72.4% of pitches inside the strike zone. Bryant has swung at only 65.7% of pitches that catch the plate. Bryant is swinging and missing at more pitches than Harper did during his rookie season, which would likely explain why his strikeout rate of 28.4% so far this season far exceeds the 20.1% clip at which Harper struck out in 2012. He is also taking more strikes early in the count, which leads to a higher percentage of strikeouts.
Kris Bryant might be striking out a lot more than Bryce Harper did as a rookie, but so far his patience has made him far more valuable than Harper was as a rookie. So far this season, Bryant’s OBP is nearly 100 points higher than the .340 Harper put up as a rookie. The power numbers will come the longer Bryant plays for the Cubs. His excellent eye and grasp of the strike zone will force pitchers to begin challenging him in the heart of the zone as they realize he will not chase their pitches outside of the zone or get himself out by swinging at pitcher’s pitches.
While Harper made more contact in 2012, he often grounded out or popped up weakly because he was overzealous with his swings. Kris Bryant realizes each swing is a precious commodity, and he has been doling them out in a very disciplined manner in his brief time in the Majors. The power numbers will come soon enough as Bryant becomes more accustomed to facing Major League pitching, but in the meantime, he is very valuable to the Cubs thanks to his ability to work a walk and get on base without hitting the ball over the fence.
Cubs fans, enjoy those eyes, enjoy those walks, and sit back and wait for Kris Bryant’s first Major League home run. It will be here before you know it.