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How Much Has Kris Bryant Declined Since Joining the Rockies?

Rockies OF Kris Bryant; Photo via Arturo Pardavila III

In the 2021 offseason, all of the contenders were out signing big free agents to massive contracts. Freddie Freeman signed with the Dodgers for a 6-year deal, Marcus Semien inked a 7-year deal with the Rangers, Steve Cohen and Co. brought Max Scherzer to the Mets with a 3-year deal, etc. There was one free agent, however, whose offseason was unusually quiet that winter: Kris Bryant. At this point, Kris Bryant was a 4-time All-Star, ROTY, and, most importantly, an MVP. Although people were not certain where he would land, there was a consensus on the most likely possibilities. The Giants, Mets, Astros, and Mariners were among the most teams talked about. These were contending teams that, with the acquisition of Bryant, would solidify themselves as World-Series-caliber. With that being said, you can imagine everyone's shock when Kris Bryant signed with the Colorado Rockies on a 7-year, $182 million deal.

This was a surprising move because everyone was fairly certain Bryant would land with a contender. Along with that, the Rockies seemed to be headed toward a rebuild. Many things can be said about the Rockies’ decision to sign Bryant, but one thing is certain: it didn’t work. The year before the Rockies signed Bryant, they had won 74 games. In the two years following, they have won 68 and 59 games, respectively. 

The Rockies are obviously terrible, and they have been historically bad at developing players, but has Kris Bryant’s performance suffered significantly since donning a Rockies jersey? For starters, Bryant’s defense has been poor each of his three seasons in Colorado. However, this defensive decline did not begin as soon as he got to the Rockies. Bryant was an elite fielding third baseman in 2016 and 2017. Since then, he has not placed above the 31st percentile in Outs Above Average in any season, finishing outside the top 100 in OAA every year since 2017. It is worth noting that when the Rockies signed Kris, third base was one of the few positions they did not need to be filled. Colorado had breakout star Ryan McMahon at the hot corner, so they moved Bryant to the outfield, where he is even worse defensively. As we have seen with players like Nick Senzel and Andrew Vaughn, making players play a position they are not as comfortable with can also have detrimental effects on their offensive production. Kris Bryant played outfield while on the Cubs as well, but it was sparingly. In Bryant’s 122 games with the Rockies, he has yet to play a single game at third base. In his limited games across two seasons with the Rockies, Kris finished with negative OAA and Arm Value Ratings. In essence, Bryant, a below-average defender at his primary position, was moved to a much more physically demanding position that he is worse at. Shocking how that has not worked out so far.

In Kris Bryant’s 7-year tenure with the Cubs, he finished with an elite 133 OPS+ and a 27.7 WAR. He was a 4-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, and an MVP in Chicago, and, excluding 2020, never had an OPS+ below 121. He had great success with the Cubs, but was it sustainable? One noticeable problem early on was his strikeouts. Bryant only finished above the 40th percentile in strikeout rate once in his career. His walk rate was high enough to mitigate some of the strikeout concerns, consistently posting around a 2:1 K:BB ratio. However, looking at his Baseball Savant page, you will see Bryant’s play has steadily declined in recent years. Since 2017, Bryant has never had more than 3 rankings above the 75th percentile. For reference, his 2021 rankings in this image below:

Bryant was by no means a bad player in 2021, the year before he hit free agency. He was nominated for the All-Star game, and not all of his rankings are terrible. But they pale in comparison to what they were from 2015-2017, which should have been concerning to the Rockies. Going deeper into his peripherals, we see a steady increase in weak contact percentage, increasing from 3.8% to 7.3%, and a steady decline in Barrell percentage, dropping from 11.5% to 6%. As more evidence of his decline, here are his rankings for Max Exit Velocity and Average Exit Velocity:

Bryant has not finished in the top 150 for Average Exit Velocity since 2016 and has been outside the top 100 for Maximum Exit Velocity every season since 2017. Heading into free agency, Kris Bryant was already hitting the ball weaker and getting fewer barrels, even before he signed with the Rockies. This makes it even more puzzling that the Rockies signed him to be the savior of the team.

Now what could be causing Bryant’s production to decline? For one, Kris Bryant went from a team full of good hitters giving him protection in the lineup to the Rockies, where he is expected to be the best player. He is offered almost zero protection in the lineup. We see in the MLB time and time again how that hurts a player's performance. Look at some players like Marcus Semien and Christian Yelich. Both are the opposite, where they went from being on a bad team to being on a contending team, but the results speak for themselves. Marcus Semien with the Athletics only had one season with an OPS+ above 100. As soon as he went to the Blue Jays, he placed 3rd in MVP voting and since has yet to finish with an OPS+ below 100. Then there was Yelich, who was always an above-average outfielder for the Marlins, but that was all anyone thought he would be. Then the Marlins cleansed shop and sent him to the Brewers where he had two of the strongest seasons of anyone in the 2010s back to back, finishing first and second in MVP voting respectively. If you surround an already good player with other good players, you will almost always see an improvement in their stats. 

Bryant’s really big glaring problem, however, is injuries. Over the last two seasons, he has combined to only play 122 games. According to Fox Sports, as a Rockie, Bryant has been placed on the Injured List on 8 separate occasions for varying amounts of time, with injuries sustained to his back, foot, heel, glute, and finger. Since 2018, he has undergone more than 30 IL stints. This poor health has kept Bryant out for more than half the games in either of his seasons in Colorado.

Outside of the health scares and physical pain, these constant injuries keep Bryant from getting comfortable. It always takes players a minute to get back into a groove after rehab, especially if they keep having to do it. But another part of Bryant’s game that injuries have affected is his speed. He never was a base stealing threat, but Kris used to be fast. Up until he hit free agency, Bryant finished each season with a Sprint Speed percentile ranking of 75 or higher, placing in the 91st percentile in 2017, a career-best. Since becoming a Rockie and taking on multiple injuries, he has finished both seasons below the 50th percentile in Sprint Speed, with his lowest being this past year in the 28th percentile. His steep decline in speed severely limits the baserunning value Bryant can provide, hampering yet another portion of his game.

Overall, with the combination of injuries, no protection, and poor management, Kris Bryant did not stand a chance. It has been really unfortunate to witness the decline of this former perennial All-Star. Hopefully he can bounce back to his top form and become something close to the guy that the Rockies broke the bank for.



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