Cubs

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

Kris Bryant earns prestigious Hank Aaron Award as NL's top hitter

CLEVELAND - The World Series isn't over yet, but the awards are already rolling in for the Cubs.

Kris Bryant was named the Hank Aaron Award winner Wednesday evening, an accolade for the best hitter in each league. Aaron was on hand at the World Series in Cleveland to hand the award to Bryant and American League recipient David Ortiz, the now-retired Boston Red Sox legend.

"I want to thank all the fans and everyone who supported me for this award," Bryant said. "It's truly an honor to be up here with two of the best baseball players to ever play this game. I grew up watching Big Papi on the Red Sox get to this point and win a World Series, and hopefully I can do that here.

To accept an award with one of the best baseball players ever with [Hank Aaron's] name on it is a true honor for me, so thank you."

Bryant led the National League with 121 runs scored while also slugging 39 homers and driving in 102 runs. He hit .292 with a .385 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage (for a .939 OPS).

“Well, it’s ‘Hammerin’ KB,’” manager Joe Maddon said. “Just be a young player in KB’s shoes, and to win that award and then have that particular man present it to you, it’s impressive. It’s very impressive at a young age to be considered and then win it. There’s a lot of great competition out there.

“An award like this for KB could absolutely galvanize his thoughts about himself as a Major League Baseball player. It’s a great achievement for him. I’m very happy for him. And I know he will humbly accept it in the right way.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

After winning Rookie of the Year honors last season, Bryant may also be in line for the NL MVP this year as the anchor of a 103-win Cubs team.

"Kris, I watched him all year," Aaron said. "And I must say without any pun intended, that the Cubs are my favorite, of course. And the reason for that is because my friend who is no longer here, Mr. Ernie Banks. He was an idol of mine. I loved him, and I'm sure wherever he is today, he is smiling in his grave.

"I just want to say that I am smiling with him. I just wish that he could be here to play one more game, as he always said."

Josh Donaldson was the American League winner last season while Bryce Harper took home the NL honors.

Bryant is the second Cubs player to win the award after Sammy Sosa in 1999 (the first ever Hank Aaron Award). That season, Sosa hit 63 homers with 141 RBI, 114 rusn and a 1.002 OPS.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Fred Mitchell, Seth Gruen and Jason Goch join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs bats come alive against the Giants while Theo says there have been plenty of trade rumors but no trade talks. Do the Cubs need to make a deal?

Plus, Ray Ratto joins Kap to talk about the Warriors struggles and the guys debate if LeBron is playing his final game in a Cavaliers uniform.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Anthony Rizzo
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. are close to their career marks, too.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."