Call me crazy, but I just can’t get enough Kris Bryant.
Unlike the near-weekly ‘Harvey Days’ or the rookie season of Stephen Strasburg, Kris Bryant takes the field virtually every day. Approximately four times each night, I devote 60 seconds to watch a right-handed batter without a Major League home run to his name swing a bat.
The magnet that draws my eyes to the screen is always the same — potential. It is the reason why Billy Hamilton stole my attention easier than second base and I am compelled to watch LeBron James play defense as much as offense. Whenever these players are working their craft, there is the potential that something amazing is about to happen.
The same could be said for Kris Bryant.
Bryant absolutely torched pitchers during Spring Training. In addition to batting a ridiculous .425 over 14 games, he slugged nine home runs. Every time he stepped to the plate, a buzz crackled in the air. “Maybe he’d do it again,” we’d think. And then he would.
Quirky front office rules dictated that Bryant would spend time with the Cubs’ Minor League affiliate before officially entering the Majors, but eventually, the long-awaited day arrived. Drawn to the possibility that Bryant would lead off his career with a home run, I ensured that one of my computer screens would be streaming MLB.tv during this historic event.
Three strikeouts and no hits later, the Bryant debut came and went. “That’s okay,” I told myself, “he’ll hit one tomorrow.”
Nearly two dozen games later, Bryant delivered his first home run. His only home run. In 22 Major League games, Bryant is batting .259, driven in 17 runs, and walked an impressive 17 times despite 33 strikeouts. He has surprised most with a pair of stolen bases and has performed roughly as advertised by recording a double in four consecutive games. In every way, he has managed to live up to the hype, yet still disappointed.
After the first week, I started settling into a routine. I am not a Cubs fan, but live and breathe for the sport of baseball. As such, the chase for Bryant’s first home run had me captivated.
No matter the situation, I made sure I was either watching or listening to each of his at-bats, anxiously awaiting the time Bryant fills up the box score with his first deep ball. If I am feeding my infant daughter a bottle, I make sure she is facing the television screen. If I am tucking in my older daughter, I pull up the game on my phone and halt storytime. “Kris is batting,” I tell them, “and there’s a chance something special will happen.”
It’s easy to hate the hype. For most athletes, we tend to build up a mythical figure in our minds that our neighbor cannot comprehend. Where I see a potential MVP who appears to have a solid head on his shoulders, someone else might see a punk getting too much attention. I get it, but when I feel a player deserves my support, I throw it in his direction fanatically. Sometimes to a fault.
“Kris Bryant is worth my fifth round pick. I’m drafting him there.” “Kris Bryant is only worth $4,400 in DraftKings? I’ll take out Trout so I can afford him.” “Cubs are playing this afternoon? Let me get to a computer and set up a lineup revolving around Bryant.”
Obsession skews appearances. The more I watch what has clearly become one of my favorite players, the more my opinion fits the day’s agenda. When Bryant first stepped into the batter’s box, I was convinced he would hit a five-run home run. Now, I’m looking for him to continue poking RBI doubles to right field, keeping his daily fantasy baseball price low but his output high. I still flip through the day’s schedule to see if Wrigley Field is hosting a game each afternoon, but something has triggered a response in my mind that I never saw coming.
I benched Kris Bryant in his last day game. More accurately, I chose to ‘buy’ a different player in my daily fantasy lineup.
I have a firm belief that power is always present in a hitter, and those enduring droughts in that department are due to breakout – e.g. Chris Carter and Evan Gattis of a few weeks ago. Fandom aside, I view Bryant as a phenomenal breakout candidate each time he plays, especially with his price deflated lately. Knowing the home runs are coming, I never want to miss the boat. Unless he’s playing in sunlight.
Bryant’s three-strikeout debut was chalked up to nerves, and eventually erased when he hit safely — and nine times, at that — in his next five games. Then another Saturday came around, and with it, a four-strikeout dud. Refusing to fight the trend, I withheld from including Bryant in one of my Thursday afternoon lineups, and watched as he was retired on strikes three more times.
Suddenly, the numbers were speaking for themselves.
Sample sizes being naturally small, the discrepancy between daytime Kris Bryant and his moonlighting counterpart are astonishing. In twelve night games, Bryant touts a .370 batting average, 1.004 OPS, 14 strikeouts and ten walks. Not surprisingly, his lone home run came on a Saturday night — the first and only Saturday night game in his young career. In ten day games, his numbers plummet to a .114 average, .450 OPS, seven walks and 19 strikeouts. Not only is every single ratio statistic worse for Bryant in the daytime, it’s an entirely different ballplayer.
Bryant is far from the first player to suffer a statistical hit when playing day games. Five-time All-Star Josh Hamilton — a career .292 hitter with an .871 OPS — saw his daytime numbers slip to a .257 average and .783 OPS, while batting .303 with a .900 OPS in night games. Hamilton’s struggles actually became newsworthy, as ESPN reported that his blue eyes might have something to do with his daytime hitting woes.
As far as advanced statistics go, ‘weighted on-base percentage’ and ‘wins above replacement player’ might soon give way to ‘eye color.’ If so, it is worth noting that Kris Bryant also has blue eyes.
In today’s many sports’ worlds — daily fantasy baseball, season-long fantasy baseball, arguments between fans, social media, etc. — nothing should be dismissed. When we try to ‘win’ anything related to sports, we are looking for an edge, and sometimes one appears in the strangest of places.
The incredible irony regarding blue-eyed Bryant’s day and night splits is that he also happens to play for the team that typically hosts the most day games each season. Paying homage to the hallowed ground that is Wrigley Field, the stadium still prominently features afternoon baseball, so much so that an ordinance was passed to increase the amount of night games in 2013. Clearly this move was not done with the future third-baseman in mind — although, in a beautiful coincidence, the aforementioned ordinance passed almost the exact same day that the Cubs drafted Bryant — but it is certainly worth monitoring if any future scheduling is impacted by the team’s franchise player. Keep in mind that, while not confirmed, rumors are often whispered that a team’s new stadium frequently plays to the strength of its best players. It’s easier to move lunch to dinnertime than a brick wall covered in ivy.
Maybe Kris Bryant’s wild splits are nothing more than an anomaly driven by a small sample size, but they hold water until the player regresses back to the mean. Oddly enough, that might result in Bryant posting better day games than night games in the coming weeks, as his numbers are spread so wide that some sort of stabilization seems likely. Regardless, one of the most anticipated players to step onto a baseball field this season has yet to actually provide the output we expect, but he still remains a must-watch candidate. Now, it just isn’t only for the possibility of a home run streak, strikeout-to-walk rate, or versatility in the field.
Now we watch to see if a blue-eyed power hitter can adapt to a day-game-happy-team and turn into the star we hope to see. We finally have one home run to hang our hats on, hopefully many more to come.