A look at potential 2019 rebounds

kris-bryant-batKris Bryant

Two days ago marked the two year anniversary of Kris Bryant’s Game 5 home run which helped to force a Game 6. Today marks the two year anniversary of Kris Bryant’s first inning homer in Game 6 of the World Series which helped force a Game 7.

Kris Bryant blasted 39 home runs to earn the NL MVP trophy during the 2016 regular season, and then added another 3 during the postseason.

He followed that effort up with a 29+1 count during the 2017 campaign. His drop in power (his ISO sank from .262 to .242) was offset by a slight increase in average and other extra base hits, but mostly by a significant increase in walk rate (10.7% to 14.3%) and significant decrease in strikeouts (22.0% to 19.2%). It was arguably a better overall offensive performance than his MVP season the year before (His wRC+ in 2016 was 148 followed by 146 in 2017).

His trend toward becoming a well-rounded offensive force continued in the early going of 2018. Prior to his shoulder injury on May 19, Bryant was slashing .303/.425/.592 with a 170 wRC+, had lowered his K rate even further (15.5%) and saw a spike in power (.289 ISO). All of these marks would represent career bests over the course of a full season. Bryant had made himself into a force at the plate rivaled by few in the league.

Unfortunately, we never got to see that player again the rest of the season. As he battled through lingering shoulder pain that sent him to the disabled list on two separate occasions, Bryant’s production dipped to that of a league average hitter (.255/.343/.385, .130 ISO, 9.2 BB%, 28.3 K%, 98 wRC+).

There are open questions. We still have not heard definitively whether surgery will be required to repair his ailing shoulder or if rest and rehab alone will do the trick. The good news on that front is that whether surgery is required or not, history suggests Bryant has a very good chance to return to his pre-injury form (this is a great read from Sahadev Sharma, if you have access to The Athletic I highly recommend it, as I do with almost all of his work).

What I am most curious about is which previous form Bryant reverts to as his evolution as a Major League hitter was interrupted just as he was taking an already MVP-caliber career to new heights. Even if he simply returns to 2016-17 levels, of course me, you and every Cubs fan would be satisfied. But the first six weeks of 2018 gave us a glimpse at something even greater. If we are very fortunate we could still see the soon-to-be 27-year old Bryant continue to build on his previous work.

Willson Contreras

No regression during the 2018 season shocked me more than that of Willson Contreras. Injury did not seem to play a significant part, age is not a concern. The effect of a hitting coach is always difficult to gauge but it is hard to ignore the negative changes we saw in the offensive game of Willson Contreras. Whether Chili Davis was pushing the wrong approach, Contreras was having difficulty executing it, or both (or neither), we will likely never know. But a reunion with Anthony Iapoce, who was the hitting coordinator during Contreras’s breakout 2015 season at AA is likely nothing but a positive development for Contreras.

Willson Contreras

Willson Contreras

One factor I have not seen discussed much that may have contributed was the significant increase in terms of catching workload that Contreras took in 2018. He set a career high for games played (138), and for the first time in his career almost all of his work came behind the plate rather than receiving breathers at other positions. Throughout his Minor League career and then again during his first partial season in the Majors Contreras spent well over a third of his playing time at positions other than catcher. Even during the 2017 season, which was his first as a full-time catcher Contreras still spent 6.1% of his defensive innings at positions other than catcher. That percentage dropped to 1.3% in 2018. In all, Contreras spent 288.1 more innings with the gear on in 2018 than he did in 2017 and 332.2 more innings than he did in 2016. That takes a toll, especially when you are not accustomed to it.

Tyler Chatwood

I know, I know, none of you want to see Tyler Chatwood ever stop foot on the mound in a Chicago Cubs uniform. I get it. In all honesty, I don’t either. But considering his 2018 performance and the $25.5M remaining on his contract over the next two seasons, the Cubs may not find a dumping ground for him this offseason.

Control has always been an issue for Chatwood. We all know that. But his control was never as bad as it was in 2018. The Cubs have a good pitching coach and a veteran pitching staff that Chatwood should be able to lean on to help him right the ship over the winter and into the spring. Stuff-wise he is still effective. His velocity remained in line with his career norms, although a tick below his 2017 career best. The same upside the Cubs saw when they handed him a three year deal last offseason remains, even if the confidence level in him ever attaining has diminished.

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  • Not to steal your thunder, Michael, but ...

    Tomorrow is the the 2nd anniversary of Kris Bryant fielding the game ending grounder and throwing to Anthony Rizzo to end the Cubs' 108 year drought.

  • I really appreciate your mature acceptance of the Chatwood reality. There is another site that will remain nameless which keeps running a series of "The Cubs should trade Tyler Chatwood for..." It is getting into Phil Intheblank territory and will probably conclude with either Milton Bradley or Henry Rowengartner.
    Regression and rebound general veer to the mean so there is a reasonable chance the Chatwood could be the 2016-17 version of his road performance. Theo has both been unlucky and gotton some wrong in the past, but the pitchforks didn't come out last winter, only when the results went off the rails. If the mental aspects can align with the physical ones Theo purchased there could be two decent years in the tank, and the bar isn't high for a #5, or swingman if Smyly or other bumps him down.

  • I didn't like the Chatwood signing but I did understand the reasoning and understood it more when I saw him pitch. When he throws strikes his stuff is virtual unhittable. I mean it's nasty. However, strikes were few and far between in 2018. Chatwood had a 3.99 BB/9 in 2016 and 4.69 in 2017 neither of which are good but hardly predictive of the 8.25 BB/9 in 2018. I don't know what's wrong there. A coach I'm acquainted with thinks that it's all mechanics and it comes from being a converted position player and then rushed in development because the raw stuff was so nasty. He also thinks it's unfixable without sending him back to A ball which of course, at this juncture, isn't possible. I would hope he's wrong but who knows. What I do know is that if he could get the walks down to about 3.5 BB/9 he could be an effective middle inning reliever, maybe a #5 starter, but if not he can't be an MLB mound.

  • In reply to TC154:

    I was for the Chatwood signing, but for admittedly the wrong reasons. I consider myself to have a decent grasp of evaluating talent and trust my instincts, but I got carried away with the hype surrounding spin rates and other tools I don't fully comprehend. Lesson learned, and I'm going to trust my gut.

    Chatwood's stuff is as nasty as his mechanics are brutal. I voiced my opinion that, based on interviews I read with Chatwood, I thought getting out of Colorado would stabilize his consistency. He stated his breaking pitches acted differently at home or on the road, and had to completely adjust his arsenal based on where he was pitching. I thought taking that volatility out of the equation would help him settle in. But alas, no go.

    I still have faith he can be useful, and even dominant if he figures it out. I think your coach friend is on the mark about his mechanics. His delivery is ugly and unrepeatable. That's where to start. I think spring training will be his proving ground and will determine his future here. The talent is real, but sometimes so are the yips.

  • As expected, Jason Heyward let the Wednesday night deadline pass without exercising the first of two opt-outs.He has chosen to stay with the Cubs on his current contract, and now we'll see if the Cubs choose to keep him in the fold for 2019.

    Another deadline, that for players and teams to exercise contract options for the 2019 season, is 4pm CT on Friday. Kintzler's $10M club option was refused, but reports are that he will accept his $5M player option. Strop's $6.25M club option is a no-brainer, and the big question is whether or not the Cubs simply exercise the $20M option on Hamels.

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