Can Cubs' Bryant bounce back from brutal 2020 batting slump?
Maybe you didn't hear, but things didn't go particularly well for Kris Bryant in 2020.
The former rookie of the year and MVP hit .206 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI. Two of those home runs came on the final two days of the regular season against the White Sox.
But even that success took a wrong turn. After finding his hitting stroke in the final weekend series, with gold chains bouncing on his chest, Bryant went 0 for 8 in the wild-card series against Miami.
"I've played this game for almost 24 years, since I was four," Bryant said when the season ended. "It's come easy at times, it's been a grind at time. You just kind of wait for those times when it comes easy again. It comes in cycles."
It's possible this was just one of those seasons where nothing went right for Bryant. No one had a proper spring training after the hiatus. He endured back spasms before the regular season began in July, sprained his left wrist while diving for a ball in the outfield on Aug. 12 and went on the injured list, got hit by a pitch on the elbow on Sept. 8, then had an oblique strain late in the regular season.
The third baseman started the season 1-for-17 at the plate and his batting average never rose above .208 for the rest of the year.
Bryant had some injury issues in 2018, as well, when he missed a total of 60 games with a shoulder problem. His production plummeted, but not like it did in 2020. Bryant bounced back to hit .282 with 31 home runs in 2019.
When the season ended, he talked about wanting to stay healthy.
"Yeah, I'm going to address everything," he said. "Not just for baseball, but for my overall well-being. I don't want to wake up when I'm 50 with my back going out. I'm going to what I need to do this offseason to make sure I'm feeling fine."
It used to be the threat of a $300-million free-agent deal for Bryant in 2021 hung over the Cubs heads. Between the league's loss of revenue and Bryant's extended slump, it doesn't seem likely he'll get anywhere near that figure on the open market.
So should they trade him? Lock him up long-term at a reasonable price? Wait and see how next season goes?
There are concerns that the league might be catching up to Bryant. Teams seemed to focus on pitching him high and outside, and he didn't deliver when there were pitches to hit.
According to NextGen stats on mlb.com, Bryant ranked 238th in the league in hard-hit swing percentage at 10.2. The only player on the Cubs with a lower rate was Jason Kipnis.
In average exit velocity, Bryant was last on the Cubs and 228th in the league at 86.1 miles per hour. This appears to be proof he wasn't making solid contact all year.
And it started in spring training, when Bryant hit .226 with no home runs in 13 games. Shortstop Javy Baez had an equally miserable year, but he hit .324 with 3 home runs in the spring, when everything was going normally.
When trying to predict Bryant's future, it seems like anything's possible. He could sign an extension and be a Cubs lifer, be traded before next season begins, return to MVP form or continue to see diminishing production.
There won't be many easy answers to fixing the Cubs this winter and Bryant certainly ranks among the most perplexing decisions.