AnalysisNL West

Kris Bryant’s Rocky Start In Colorado

In a rather surprising move before the start of the 2022 season, then-free-agent Kris Bryant signed with the Colorado Rockies. His seven-year, $182 million deal was, and still is, the largest ever given to a free agent by Colorado. Bryant, the second-overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Chicago Cubs, was an accomplished player joining an organization not necessarily known for their own accomplishments.

The former Cub couldn’t have asked for a much better start to his big-league career. He won National League Rookie of the Year in 2015 and National League Most Valuable Player in 2016. The same year he won MVP, he helped the Cubs end one of the most infamous championship droughts in sports history.

Bryant was a four-time All-Star as a member of the Cubs. He finished his Chicago career with a .279/.378/.508 slash line and 133 OPS+. Bryant also posted 27.7 wins above replacement as a Cub, according to Baseball Reference.

Bryant’s last season before hitting the open market was pretty good at the plate. He hit 25 home runs with a 124 OPS+ in 586 combined plate appearances for the Cubs and San Francisco Giants. He was also a versatile defender, logging innings at both corner infield spots and in all three outfield positions.

Unfortunately, Bryant’s past performance hasn’t continued in Colorado.


Bryant’s First Year In Colorado

Bryant’s debut season for the Rockies was not that impactful. He spent most of the season on the injured list as he dealt with lower back and left foot injuries. Altogether, he only appeared in 42 games, hitting .306/.376/.475 in 181 plate appearances. That production met expectations, but not in the sample size most had hoped for.

One of the weirder things about Bryant’s 2022, injuries aside, was his higher slugging percentage away from Coors Field. In 41 fewer plate appearances (70 versus 111) away from the Mile High City, Bryant hit five home runs and seven doubles — he didn’t hit any homers and logged five doubles at Coors.

Going beyond the basic numbers, there were some differences in Bryant’s quality of contact totals in 2022 when compared to the other years of his career. He wasn’t hitting the ball at ideal angles as consistently, nor was he hitting the ball as hard:

YearSweet Spot PercentageAverage Exit VelocityHard Hit Percentage
201533.789.743.8
201636.389.338.9
201735.187.036.6
201837.985.833.5
201935.887.634.1
202034.186.131.9
202137.188.240.0
202231.985.029.6
Numbers courtesy of BaseballSavant.com.

Now, it’s important to note Bryant’s exit velocities and subsequent Hard-Hit rates were never towards the top of the leaderboards before signing with Colorado. They tended to be around or below league average. But his Sweet-Spot rates were usually pretty good when compared to other big-league hitters. His barrel percentages were usually good, too, despite his less-than-ideal exit velocities. Of his first seven years in the majors, Bryant posted above-average barrel percentages six times:

YearBarrel PercentagePercentile Ranking
201511.593rd
201611.789th
20179.678th
20189.167th
20199.365th
20205.531st
202110.367th
Numbers courtesy of BaseballSavant.com.

In 2022, Bryant’s 6.7% barrel rate would’ve been below average had he qualified to be placed into the percentile rankings.

So, all four of the previously mentioned quality of contact numbers were career-lows for Bryant in his first season with the Rockies after they were all very solid during his walk year and comparable to the rest of his career.

Yes, it was a rather small sample size in 2022, but there certainly was some cause for concern heading into 2023.


Second Year Struggles

After an injury-plagued 2022, Bryant’s 2023 wasn’t any better. Time on the injured list in June and late July through early September limited the former NL MVP to 80 games. He spent most of his time defensively in right field after spending it in left field in 2022. At the plate, he was subpar, slashing .233/.313/.367 with 10 doubles and 10 home runs. Overall, he posted a 76 OPS+ and -1.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

None of Bryant’s average exit velocity (85.7), Sweet-Spot percentage (34.1), Hard-Hit percentage (31.5), or barrel percentage (6.0) rebounded to his pre-Rockies days, either. They all would’ve been below the 50th percentile had Bryant qualified, too.

On the bright side, he did finally hit his first home run at Coors Field as a Rockie on April 17:


2024 Outlook

Entering his age-32 season, Bryant isn’t getting any younger. So after back-to-back injury-riddled seasons, his health will be a top priority this year. A healthy Bryant would, at the very least, be a good place to start. Especially if he’s looking to turn things around.

After playing in the outfield in 2022 and 2023, Bryant will reportedly shift back to the infield this year, seeing most of his time at first base:

Outside of his health, the biggest question mark surrounding Bryant is his offense. Can he get back to producing enough quality contact to at least be a respectable, slightly above-average hitter? Or is what he’s been at the plate over the last two years a sign of worse things to come in larger sample sizes? Those are questions we’ll have to circle back to a few months from now in order to answer.

Trying to guess what Bryant will do this year isn’t easy. Fangraphs’ Steamer projections are forecasting that he’ll play in 128 games and make 553 plate appearances. In those trips to the plate, he’s projected to hit .269/.343/.451 with 20 home runs. Overall, Bryant’s offensive output, according to wRC+, is expected to be 100 — exactly league-average. That wouldn’t be bad relative to how Bryant’s Rockies’ career has started. But for a $182 million player, that’d be less than ideal.

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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