Deep Dive: DeRosa breaks down Báez and Bryant
The Cubs find themselves in first place in the National League Central with just 15 games left to play thanks to stellar performances from players like Ian Happ and Yu Darvish.
But for the Cubs to make a deep postseason run, contributions from Javier Báez and Kris Bryant could be the key to their success.
Marquee Sports Network analyst Mark DeRosa has advice for the dynamic duo that could spark the team’s offense as the calendar turns toward October.
Despite Báez’s light-tower power, he has never had a strong tendency to pull the ball. Look at a spray chart of his home runs and you’ll see more balls in the left-field bleachers than anywhere else, but his distribution has always been more even than a player with heavy pull-power tendencies. This season, however, Báez is pulling the ball more than he has since his rookie year in 2014. His 48% pull rate is about 7% above the league median among qualified hitters in 2020 and up about 12% compared to last season.
“When [Báez is] calibrated to right-center and you keep the upper half tall, everything syncs up,” DeRosa said on Cubs Live!
All 6 of the home runs Báez has hit this season have been between left-center and right-center field (spray chart). In 2019 on balls hit to the opposite field, Báez slugged an incredible 1.105, more than twice that of the right-handed league average in 2019. His lightning-quick bat speed has always allowed him to wait back on pitches and do damage with a deeper point of contact. This season, however, one of the Cubs most dynamic hitters has gotten away from his usual approach.
“If I had to tell these guys one or two things: Javy, you have to get back up the middle, the other way,” DeRosa said. “You’re not going to free wheel yourself out of this slump.”
Bryant is a completely different kind of hitter. He possesses a much more compact swing with fewer moving parts, yet is still able to achieve comparable results to Báez when he is locked in. This season, however, he hasn’t found the same success on fastballs elevated above the strike zone.
Bryant, like most hitters, chases good breaking balls below the zone. But he had a knack for laying off the new wave of elevated spin pitchers have adopted to neutralize power hitters (2019 whiff profile graphic). This season, that advantage has faded and he has begun swinging more than usual out of the zone (2020 whiff profile graphic).
“Bottom line is [Bryant] hammers fastballs down in the zone, start hunting,” DeRosa said.
Bryant not only hammers fastballs down in the zone, he hammers just about everything down in the zone. In 2019, he slugged .558 on pitches in the bottom third of the zone. This season, Bryant has been able to sustain his success on pitches down. The issue has been his swing and miss in other parts inside and outside of the zone, as DeRosa said.
The positive side of these characteristics showed up in Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. In the 3rd inning against Sonny Gray, Bryant took one slider before locking in on the second right in that bottom third section of the zone. He poked it between the Reds infielders for his first hit of the night. When Bryant stepped into the box against Nate Jones in the 7th inning, a similar result occurred. After a seven-pitch battle, Bryant honed in on a sinker just inside the bottom third of the zone and laced it to left field. This marked Bryant’s third multi-hit game in his last four starts. Perhaps, after an up-and-down season, the Cubs All-Star third baseman is showing some life.
Maybe some of that success will rub off on Báez, even if their swings are so drastically different for right-handed power bats.
“There’s a lot that goes into [Bryant’s] swing that doesn’t go into Javy Baez’s swing,” DeRosa said. “But bottom line is both of them need to get on the fastball.”
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