Kris Bryant's patience paying off

CINCINNATI -- If there is one statistic that can describe Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant's first 10 days in the big leagues, it has nothing to do with home runs. He has zero so far after hitting 43 last season in the minors, nine more in spring training and three at Triple-A this year before being called up. But no one associated with the team -- or Bryant himself -- is worried about the long ball. That part of his game will show up.

Most impressive is the fact that he’s walked as much as he’s struck out so far. It may not sound sexy to have a 1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but it’s really impressive -- even after just eight games.

“That’s what you strive for, but that’s a tough feat,” Bryant said Sunday morning before the Cubs played the Reds. “Especially for me because strikeouts are part of my game. Right now I’m seeing the ball and being patient up there and seeing a pitch I can hit.”

For comparison, fellow rookie Jorge Soler has about a 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“Normally those guys should strike out over 100 times, if they walk 50-60 it’s fabulous,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s doing a nice job of not biting.”

And remember, three of Bryant’s eight strikeouts came in his first game, on three hours sleep and more hype for his debut than anyone can remember for a rookie. Since then, he’s been as patient as any first-year player -- or most veterans for that matter.

“The reputation has followed him here and they’re being very careful,” Cubs television analyst Jim Deshaies said. “One-to-one? Who does that? Especially in his first week.”

Just how careful are pitchers with Bryant? It’s common knowledge most rookies will be challenged with fastballs, and once they prove they can catch up to them they’ll start to see more off-speed pitches. That trend has not been the case with Bryant.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bryant is seeing about 40 percent fastballs so far. The league average -- for everyone, not just rookies -- is 54 percent. As the chart below shows, opposing pitchers are hoping to capitalize on his anxiousness -- or height -- by throwing more change-ups and especially sinkers to Bryant. Look at the difference between the amount of sinkers he’s seeing as opposed to the league average. Pitchers want Bryant to hit a ground ball, but he won’t touch them if they’re out of the zone and he won’t swing for the fences if it’s not the right pitch, hence the 1-to-1 ratio. Bryant knows exactly what opposing pitchers are trying to do.

“Not getting too many fastballs, but if I was a veteran pitcher, pitching to a rookie, I would throw a lot of off-speed stuff, too,” he said. “My first game I was little too anxious. After that first game I changed my approach to make the pitcher get me out, not myself get me out.”

Smart thinking, and the Cubs are benefiting. A great example came Friday night in the 11th inning of a 3-3 game with Anthony Rizzo on base after a one-out single. Bryant saw five sinkers in a row, getting ahead of the count 2-1 by laying off two out of the zone. After a foul ball, he took a sinker back up the middle for a base hit. The Cubs scored four runs in the inning and went on to win 7-3.

“Some guys have a steep learning curve,” Deshaies said. “Other guys are just special. To his credit, he’s just not swinging at everything.”