Ask top prospect Kris Bryant about his swing, and he’ll tell you something you may have never heard before. You’ll probably also have to ask a few knowledgeable people to help explain what he means.
After talking to Bryant in spring training last week, I asked FanGraphs prospect maven Kiley McDaniel, professional hitting consultant Dan Farnsworth, and prospect video guru Steve Fiorindo of the Prospect Pipeline to comment on the things Bryant said about his own swing. It’s an analysis of a self-analysis, if you will, with some of the moving images below provided by Carson Cistulli.
Kris Bryant: "I stood straight up in high school. I haven’t changed anything since my college years, that’s when I widened out. Sophomore year I widened out so I could get to the low pitch easier. I got more power from it, too, because I started using my hips and legs and I was firing through the zone a lot quicker. Now that I’m wider, I have a whole lot more power."
Kiley McDaniel: "I note when a batter has a low stance, since it’s easy to notice and is descriptive, but as with pitcher arm actions and the general idea of a guy’s swing, things like wide setup/power hitter, these aren’t things you can usually change with any success. So having an opinion about it in general usually doesn’t matter, since you’re so unlikely to be able to change it long-term even if you think you have a better answer."
Steve Fiorindo: "I think the widening of the stance minimizes other movements, it helps for a quiet swing, but you have to be pretty strong to do it (obviously he is). Wide base, little or no stride equals less opportunity for swing to break down. I know some guys like the big leg kick, (I say do whatever works for you), but the big leg kick often leads to foot getting down and body shifting weight over the front foot too so the swing breaks down and there is nothing behind it."
Dan Farnsworth: "While there’s no magic distance between the feet that can create the most power in general, on the individual level it can definitely make a big difference. For Bryant, I would imagine his base being wider allows him to more easily activate his glutes than when he was more narrow.
Think of it like doing a squat with a narrow base versus a wide base. There’s certainly a sweet spot dictated by individual anatomy that allows for the quickest firing of the strongest muscles in the lower half. The swing isn’t strictly an upward move like a squat, but the same muscles utilized to push into the ground go through much of the same movement to turn that linear force (straight into the ground) into rotational force. Bryant’s best position for creating power is just a reflection of how the muscles and bones in his lower half are built, and his previous swing base probably wasn’t in as optimal of a position."
Kris Bryant: "It’s almost like a rubber band between your hips and your hands. Your hips go and you have your hands kept back as long as possible, until the last second, then they have to come through and so it’s like a rubber band effect, essentially."
Kiley McDaniel: "I was introduced to the concept when I was watching D’Backs first rounder Bobby Borchering working on this in his draft year (2009), and he talked to a hitting coach within earshot of me in between at-bats. He hit extra-base hits in that game when he got the timing right, since it was still pretty new to him, and would talk about how it felt more natural and created more bat speed/power.
You obviously don’t want your bat to drag late through the zone, but the ideal time is as late as it can be while still being natural for your body, which creates more whip/bat speed. In a similar way, pitchers can do this by loading their arm late, which creates more velocity, but the stress drastically increases injury risk and usually creates command problems due to the effort."
Steve Fiorindo: "I’ve heard Dave Coggin use the same reference in regards to his pitchers and their strides. The stride creates the distance, the longer you pull the band, the faster it will catch up … haven’t really heard that analogy with the hips/hitting though."
Dan Farnsworth: "I’ve heard of this type of imagery when it comes to the stride part of the swing, where the general idea is to stride out with the foot while pushing the hands back to create a stretch to help propel the swing. That’s not really a great cue in my opinion, but it’s also not quite the idea Bryant seems to be conveying through similar wording. He’s talking about it more in the rotational sense, where his hips start to drive and the hands don’t commit until after the hips have led the way. In that sense, it’s a great way to reinforce proper sequencing and efficient transfer of energy up through the body from the core."
Kris Bryant: "I work on that off the tee and in practice, obviously I’m not thinking about in the game, but my work in practice carries over. I try to make my swing as simple as possible. I don’t like movement, I try to keep my head still. The pitcher is providing all the power. They got the speed behind the ball. I need to do what I need to do to be on time and see the ball as clearly as possible. For me to do that, I have to have small load, small toe tap, keep my head really still. I watch a lot of video to make sure I have the smallest movements possible. Some guys are blessed with being able to do a lot of things and still be on time to the ball, not me."
Dan Farnsworth: "There’s not a lot of extra movement, which isn’t necessarily a positive, but it’s something that jumps out first. His hands don’t have a lot of effort to get on plane with the ball, and everything from there is a short, quick explosion with his body to throw his hands through the ball."
Steve Fiorindo: "I’m not sure if the pitchers provide ALL of the power, his swing is geared to tap into the strength he has in his lower half and attack the ball with great leverage. … And the power isn’t just to the pull side, he allows the ball to get deep on the outer half and he’ll explode and drive the ball out to the right center field gap."
Kris Bryant: "Pitchers at the higher levels pitch backwards a lot, and will throw anything in any count. But the biggest thing for me is that pitchers here will throw pitches that start out as strikes but fall out of the zone. In college, they’ll throw a strike and it’ll stay a strike, so you can see the ball in the zone a lot longer. They’re throwing sinkers down and in and sliders down and away that look good to hit but really aren’t."
Dan Farnsworth: "Keeping his hands back and thinking of his hips as pulling a rubber band would succeed in allowing him to transmit more force to the ball by firing parts of his body in a chain reaction rather than all at once, as well as the ability to maintain that force when late movement or changes of speed catch him by surprise since his hands aren’t committing right away."
There’s no "perfect swing" that you can prescribe for all hitters — each body is a unique combination of levers and keys, strengths and flaws. With the size and strength that he has, Bryant was maybe never meant for a contact-heavy approach. He said, "You have to give something to get something," and he’s willing to give a few strikeouts as long as he’s driving the ball.
The good news for Cubs fans is that it looks like Bryant has a good sense of the ins and outs of his particular swing, and that a low-movement, spread-out, hips-first swing might be the right way to get the most power out of his swing.