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How the Cardinals contain Kris Bryant

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I’m going to lose it if this headline backfires

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals currently lead the Cubs, winners of five straight, by two games atop the NL Central. Of St. Louis’ final 12 games, seven are against the Cubs. For all intents and purposes, those two series will likely decide who claims the division title.

Chicago’s late-season push has been driven in no small part by one Kris Bryant. He’s fresh off an NL Player of the Week performance in which he posted a .500/.538/1.182 slashline and homered more frequently (five times) than he struck out.

But if the Evil Squadron to the North’s catalyst has had one weakness, it’s Cardinals pitching. His career OPS against El Birdos is 36% below his overall lifetime mark, far and away his lowest against any opposing NL club. (The only other team within relative shouting distance are, fittingly enough, the Brewers, who have held Bryant to an OPS 24% under his career figure.)

Kris Bryant: Overview

Metric vs. STL Overall Career Difference
Metric vs. STL Overall Career Difference
OPS 0.740 0.905 -0.165
wOBA 0.319 0.385 -0.066
ISO 0.172 0.234 -0.062
BB% 9.2% 11.9% -2.7%
K% 25.7% 23.5% 2.2%
Avg. Exit Velocity 85.2 88.0 -2.8
Avg. Launch Angle 13.7 19.0 -5.3

When facing the Cardinals, Bryant has fanned more, walked less, and hit for less power on generally weaker contact at a lower launch angle.

Baseball Savant’s Statcast search query tool categorizes pitches into one of three main categories: fastball, offspeed, or breaking.

Kris Bryant: by Pitch

Metric vs. STL Overall Career Difference
Metric vs. STL Overall Career Difference
Fastball% 59.1% 57.6% 1.5%
Fastball wOBA 0.324 0.419 -0.095
Offspeed% 10.6% 12.4% -1.8%
Offspeed wOBA 0.237 0.332 -0.095
Breaking% 30.2% 29.5% 0.7%
Breaking wOBA 0.345 0.331 0.014

The Cardinals don’t appear to attack Bryant much differently than their peers from a pitch type standpoint, but both their offspeed and fastball offerings have been 95 points more effective by weighted on-base average (wOBA).

Regarding the former pitch cluster, compare his career heat maps first on offspeed pitches against the Cardinals and then for all of baseball.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant
Courtesy of Baseball Savant

The graphic depicting all offspeed pitches to Bryant from Cardinals hurlers features a core (i.e. the darker-colored splotches representing the most common pitch locales) that catches more of the inside portion of the plate. 47.5% of St. Louis offspeed pitches to Bryant end up inside compared to 41.7% leaguewide. Sure enough, on inside offspeed pitches he has mustered a measly .176 wOBA against the Cardinals and .313 overall, both considerably below his wOBA on all offspeed deliveries.

As far fastball, here are two more heatmaps, again with the Cardinals first followed by all teams.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant
Courtesy of Baseball Savant

The Cardinals’ fastball core to Bryant is more concentrated in a singular spot as opposed to hopping all over the zone, sometimes indicative of better general pitch command.

Also consider Bryant’s slugging percentage of fastballs and it becomes apparent that the two optimal places to approach him with the heater are upstairs and away.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The Cardinals’ core fastball location is visibly higher than that of all MLB clubs, and though it may not be as apparent through image, 20.2% of St. Louis fastballs were on the outer third of the strike zone–but still within the zone–to 16.7% overall. That location has been secretly potent versus Bryant, resulting in a .270 wOBA versus the Cardinals and .296 wOBA against all pitchers.

If the Cardinals are to hold off the Cubs this weekend and later during their final series of the regular season, preventing Kris Bryant from erupting will be crucial*. If obscenely small sample sizes are your cup of tea, he is currently in the midst of his worst season to date against the Cardinals to the tune of a .670 OPS. Knock on wood that history repeats itself in this sense.

*Disclaimer: Vox Media, Inc. and its subsidiaries are not liable should Kristopher Lee Bryant and the Chicago Cubs absolutely demolish the St. Louis Cardinals en route to winning the NL Central.