There are so many things that Kris Bryant does well. He hits for power. He hits for average. He can play defense literally anywhere on a baseball field. He runs the bases with ease, both mentally and with sneaky speed. All of these things have culminated in him quickly becoming one of the best players in baseball despite only having two complete seasons under his belt. And yet, there’s something that Kris Bryant does not do. In fact, he nearly downright refuses to do so. However, it’s not a negative thing.
Kris Bryant refuses to ground into double plays.
Michael Baumann of The Ringer did some heavy lifting in finding this with Play Index on The Ringer MLB Show*. First, he found that Bryant has grounded into just 22 double plays during his college, minor league, and major league career in around 3000 plate appearances. That translates to roughly 120 plate appearances between each GIDP. So then he looked to find any players from 1901 on that had an ISO above .200 (to keep random speedsters out) that had at least 120 plate appearances per double play. Play Index spat out 15 names, with only Bryant and Curtis Granderson having done it since 1947. Needless to say, it’s a skill that Bryant certainly has while many others in the league do not.
That Bryant doesn’t ground into double plays is highly interesting. First, it means that he is a perfect fit for his almost never changing spot in the lineup, the two hole. The first inning can be crucial. Getting the leadoff runner on is always a tremendous first step, but immediately grounding into a double play soon after kills any early momentum that could have been going the Cubs way. Bryant almost never kills that momentum.
In fact, Kris Bryant has grounded into just a single double play this season. It came with Kyle Schwarber on first and a groundball to the left side. Bryant, with his sneaky speed, would have beaten out the throw regardless of what was happening at second base. However, what was happening at second base was that Schwarber violated the slide rule. That resulted in an automatic double play, the only mark on Bryant’s perfect record in the category this season.
The larger reason that Bryant’s refusal to ground into double plays is interesting is simply just in the marvel of the feat. Only 15 players in the history of baseball have managed to do what he has done. Some of those came during eras of extreme pitcher dominance. Bryant is incredibly talented in this skill, and almost nobody else in the current game can do it like him.
But how does this skill manifest itself in an actual baseball game? Surely some of it is luck. But another factor is Bryant’s high tendency to strikeout or walk. The strikeout rate has decreased dramatically since his arrival in 2015, but it still remains slightly above the 20 percent mark. To really dig deep into how Bryant was avoiding double plays, I watched 15 games in which Bryant was playing. Every time Bryant stepped to the plate with a runner on first and less than two outs, I tracked the results.
In those 15 games, there were 15 different instances when a runner was on first with less than two outs. Those 15 weren’t necessarily one per game, of course. It also should go without saying that this is a tiny, tiny sample size of plate appearances. In those 15 games, Bryant only stepped to the plate 69 times. Small sample sizes have a way of not being very nice, but at least it gave a small idea of how Bryant is avoiding the dreaded double play.
There were five instances that I considered “lucky,” and they were lucky in different ways. A couple were groundballs that turned into a fielders choice rather than a double play because Bryant hustled down the line. Others were groundouts preceded by the runner on first advancing on a wild pitch or stealing a base. Luck happens all the time in baseball, and this certainly doesn’t discount the accomplishments he’s made in terms of avoiding double plays. It’s worth noting that almost all of the lucky outcomes occurred in the earlier part of the sample when Bryant was struggling to hit at all. Even in his slumps, he manages to avoid the double plays.
The other outcomes can all be split into four different categories: strikeout, walk, hit, and fly ball. The worst outcome is a strikeout, which Bryant did just once in this sample. The next worst outcome is the fly ball out, which Bryant did twice. The good outcomes are taking walks and getting hits. Bryant walked and got a hit three times each.
What this told me, in an admittedly small sample size, is that Bryant is avoiding double plays in a multitude of ways. There is naturally going to be some luck involved in grounding into just one double player per 120 plate appearances or so. There’s also going to be strikeouts and other outs that don’t result in a double play. However, there are numerous times when Bryant is avoiding the double play because he’s simply that good. His approach is strong enough to help him draw a walk or get a hit, even in those high pressure situations. Since his arrival in the big leagues, Bryant has hit .313/.410/.573 in over 450 plate appearances with runners on and less than two outs.
Kris Bryant is good. We knew that. He has an excellent approach at the plate that has only improved with his time in the big leagues. He hits balls a long way over the fence. He gets on base. Those skills are easy to pick up on from watching him, but what perhaps goes unnoticed is the little things he does like avoiding double plays. He’s quietly been the best in the big leagues at it, further proving that Bryant is one of the best players in baseball in many facets of the game.
*Special thanks to Michael Baumann for allowing me to explore what he found. Bryant was discussed on the May 8th episode, which can be found on The Ringer MLB Show page along with each of their other episodes.
Lead photo courtesy David Banks—USA Today Sports