Exclusive: Kris Bryant’s Dad, Mike, Talks to Cubs Insider About Crafting an MVP Swing and How His Son Can Get Even Better (Part 4)
Part 1 of our series looked at Kris Bryant’s adjustments following the 2015, Part 2 got into Mike Bryant’s teaching philosophy, and Part 3 went into the younger Bryant’s adjustments heading into 2016. In this, our final installment, we hear about Mike’s reaction to some of Kris’s prep scouting reports and the adjustments that led to a phenomenal college career. Mike even shares some thoughts on writing and coaching.
Cubs Insider: When Kris was drafted, there were a few scouting reports that criticized him on what they described as a quick transfer to his front side. An example they gave was there was an off-speed pitch. It looked like he was on his front side a little bit too quick and that left him susceptible to off-speed pitches. I don’t know if you’re visualizing that with me.
Funny enough, he destroys off-speed pitches and that never actually became a problem. But had that ever been a concern when he was a younger college player, leaning over on that front side too much? Do you know what I’m trying to say? It looked like he was sliding forward a little bit too much. It never ended up being a problem but any thoughts on that?
Mike Bryant: Put it in perspective. What’s the pitcher’s job? A pitcher’s job is to disrupt the hitter’s timing. In other words, to pull him out of position, to get his back right elbow separated away from his body. That’s the thing right there.
If you stay connected with the elbow, the back right elbow to your rib cage on the back side or the side of your body, not the front of your body because if he gets in front you’re disconnecting now. That elbow needs to stay connected to your rib cage on this side and as you turn through the ball it releases. That’s what a pitcher’s job is, to separate the hands from the hips, if we want to get stupid technical and everything. I like to simplify.
That’s what a pitcher’s job is, is to separate the hands from the hips, if we want to get stupid technical and everything. I like to simplify.
How many times does a pitcher do that in a game? A lot, okay? A lot.
If we get into scouting reports — and back when Kris was in high school let me just tell you, with all due respect to the people that do their job out there — they were more focused on what he couldn’t do than what he could do and they held him to a much higher standard. I don’t want to bad-mouth scouts, I’m an associate scout right now. I help out the Cubs scout through California so I’ll be bad-mouthing me if I do, but I read scouting reports on Kris that just frickin’ made my blood boil.
They were saying stuff about Kris like he has trouble barreling balls up with wood. The power only shows up when he’s got an aluminum bat in his hands or in batting practice. And I’m like, “Okay, so great. Why don’t you just call him a frickin’ five o’clock hitter, okay?”
I was seething, just seething. Oh, you can’t believe it. And I know where the sources come from and I know why they did it and why they gave all this pejorative information to baseball America. They were saying stuff about Kris like he has trouble barreling balls up with wood. The power only shows up when he’s got an aluminum bat in his hands or in batting practice. And I’m like, “Okay, so great. Why don’t you just call him a frickin’ five o’clock hitter, okay?”
CI: I know, I read the same stuff. I’m like, “That’s not right.”
MB: This is great stuff for my book. I really want to write a book. I really do. If you use stuff like that, look, if I’m a dad that never played baseball I would look at that very differently than as a professional hitting instructor who taught his kid all his life and tried to prepare him for success. I take it freaking personal, dude.
People need to think that way before they write stuff about my kid because I take it personally. I know that’s just my dynamic personality. Type A, Kris is type B. It’s okay, I got demons that I got to deal with. When you say that, that’s totally irresponsible.
All the guys that weren’t held to the high standard that Kris was held coming out of high school are not playing in the big leagues now. He made it there before everybody and I can name names and I’m not doing it to be derogatory about stuff. But there’s guys that got drafted way higher than him out of high school, and the only guy that made it was Harper. That’s the only one that comes to mind. I knew Bryce was going to make it because he’s really good.
His feet were close together and he took about a two-foot stride. So in that two-foot stride area it’s easy to pull a guy out of position. So what did we do?
So yeah, did Kris get on his front side? Yeah. You know why he did? Because he had an open stance like Evan Longoria. His feet were close together and he took about a two-foot stride. So in that two-foot stride area it’s easy to pull a guy out of position. So what did we do?
CI: You widened him up.
MB: We widened him up, shortened his step, got him to believe that he could still generate the same amount of power or the fact that he didn’t have to hit it 600 feet, he could hit it 500 feet or 450. And that’s what it was. So we widened him up, got his head closer to the ground by about 10 inches, he was closer to the outside pitch.
We…not flattened his swing, but moved in the direction of reducing his vertical then, which we didn’t have all the information that we have now. And he was going on gut instinct and he went out and just tore it up in college the last two years. It was that simple. It was a real simple fix.
So we widened him up, got his head closer to the ground by about 10 inches, he was closer to the outside pitch. And he was going on gut instinct and he went out and just tore it up in college the last two years. It was that simple. It was a real simple fix.
Evan Longoria gets out on his front side a lot. So did Manny Ramirez and so did A-Rod and all the big steppers with the high leg kick. So does Josh Donaldson, he gets out on his front side. (Jose) Bautista, that’s why they’re pull hitters.
CI: That makes sense. Cool. Mike, I appreciate you talking to me. Definitely cool insight. I was never a great baseball player myself but it’s funny because listening to you is the complete opposite to what I was taught when I was a kid so it’s interesting to see this culture change.
MB: Kris has a dad that’s…I don’t want to say I’m a media-hungry dude but I love talking baseball. I love talking baseball and I don’t have any other ulterior motives other than just talking baseball. I was in the spotlight anyways. It was inevitable.
CI: In what we do, I try to incorporate some of the stat stuff. I’ll do my own stats, but to me baseball’s a lot of gray area. It’s never black, it’s never white. No absolutes.
Whenever I read a lot of the baseball media stuff, they talk in absolutes. Like, for example, like, “Oh, Kris’s dad is messing up his swing.” That’s really not true. I hope with some of the stat stuff I write that it reads more like gray area, more interpretation, which is kind of cool.
MB: You know what? One rule you can live by as a writer — and I got a relationship with Jess Rogers, I tell him this, kind of open his eyes — you’ve got to make the story really human and not put the guy up on a pedestal because he’s just like you. He’s just anybody else, no matter who it is. Just because he’s good at baseball doesn’t mean he’s this…he’s just popular, that’s all.
One rule you can live by as a writer: you’ve got to make the story really human and not put the guy up on a pedestal because he’s just like you. He’s just anybody else, no matter who it is.
But he’s human and all the emotions that go with being human are the same to a guy like that that it is to you and I. If you write like that and that comes through that’s what’s going to make you popular. That’s what’s going to propel you to make people want to read your stuff. You’ll get more and more popular because of it, because of your writing style.
Then the passion comes out and no anger comes out and no vitriol comes out and no got-a-bone-to-pick-type attitude comes out. That’s why I’m always walking that fine line, dude, I’m telling you. It’s hard sometimes because that’s where I’m coming from. I just love to talk baseball. I always say when you talk baseball you’re never wrong. You’re just always learning and you’re always correcting, and you just get better and better at it.
I always say when you talk baseball you’re never wrong. You’re just always learning and you’re always correcting, and you just get better and better at it.
Your self-deprecating humor about how you never played baseball, it doesn’t matter. You can become really good at this. You got kids or whatever, you can teach them because you can acquire knowledge and become a really good coach, teacher, having not played.
Ed. note: I don’t know that I can adequately explain how cool a project this was for me. From checking my email to find a note from Mike Bryant (“yes, Kris’s dad” he added to the subject line) saying to contact him if we wanted the scoop on his son’s swing adjustments to Googling his email address and confirming its legitimacy to hearing the interview to editing through it, this was incredible.
As a Cubs fan and a baseball junkie, it was great to get a peak behind the curtain. I hope you enjoyed that inside information as well, whether it was the talk of angles and approach or just the general nature of KB’s ongoing adjustments. Even with all that, I think my favorite part was the closing advice Mike offered about writing and coaching and even just enjoying the game. Very empowering.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a big thanks to Brendan Miller for conducting the interview and getting this all put together. As you may know, Brendan (along with Corey Freedman) ran Cubs Related before jumping aboard with us here at Cubs Insider. It’s no coincidence that our popularity has spiked in the time since Brendan and Corey joined myself and Jon Ferlise (who ran Cubs Kingdom) over here.
Finally, thanks to Mike Bryant for being such a good sport about this. If it wasn’t already incredibly obvious, he’s just a guy who loves to talk and coach baseball and happens to have a son whose exploits allow him to do a lot of it. Mike was awesome and was so open about the work he and Kris have put in, much of which I’ve not seen out there anywhere before. Not to the degree of detail we got here, anyway.