Opponents of the Los Angeles Dodgers have done their best. But try as they might, nobody has figured out the mystery of Cody Bellinger in 2019.
Bellinger has absolutely lit up MLB pitching this season. His numbers would look outrageous in a video game. Only he’s achieved them in real life.
- Bellinger is hitting .424 with a 1.382 OPS.
- He has 11 home runs, four doubles, and a triple.
- For good measure, he’s also thrown in four steals.
That puts Bellinger on pace to hit 74 home runs, steal 27 bases, and slash at .424/.500/.882. That would be the best season in baseball history by a comfortable margin. But the question here isn’t whether Bellinger will maintain that pace. We know he won’t.
The question is this: Is Bellinger simply a good player enjoying a great month? Or has he really turned a corner? A lot of the numbers are positive for the Dodgers and their fans.
Contact: It’s always important to know how hard a hitter is making contact. That tells us how severe the dropoff will be. That’s good news for Bellinger.
- Per Fangraphs, Bellinger is hitting the ball on the ground only 31.1% of the time. By comparison, he was at 35.3% in 2017 and 40.0% in 2018.
- He’s also hitting line drives 33.8% of the time. That’s well up from both 2017 (17.6%) and 2018 (19.9%).
Impact: So, he’s hitting the ball and hitting it hard. That’s great. Even better is that Bellinger is staying strong no matter who’s on the hill and no matter what the pitcher is throwing.
- In 2018, Bellinger hit .260/.343/.470.
- Against righties, he hit a solid .278/.363/.518.
- But against lefties, he hit .226/.305/.376. In fact, Bellinger struggled so much against left-handed pitching that he didn’t start the first two games of the World Series — and that was after winning the NLCS MVP.
- In 2019, Bellinger has hit .280/.333/.640 against southpaws. And yes, that’s well down from the .483/.562/.983 he’s hitting against righties. But it’s more than good enough to stay in the lineup and be a significant threat.
And this isn’t just happening because Bellinger is seeing fastballs. Far from it.
- Bellinger has seen fastballs 51.4% of the time.
- That’s down from 2017 (58.0%) and 2018 (55.5%)
Making good contact against all forms of pitchers is a lot to be encouraged by. But there’s something else.
The upgrade: In the past, Bellinger has been very prone to strike out. He K’d 146 times in 2017 (in only 132 games) and 151 times in 2018.
2019 has been a different story. In fact, looking at his strikeout total alone, we’d almost think that Bellinger was a slap hitter.
- Prior to this month, the best month of Bellinger’s career would probably be August of 2018. That month, he hit .355/.413/.548.
- Granted, he hit only four home runs that month. But while a good slash line combined with modest (for his standards, anyway) power totals would normally suggest a limited K-rate. That didn’t happen.
- He struck out 22 times last August. If we extrapolate that out to his full season AB total (557), that’s a strikeout pace of 132.
- In April, Bellinger has struck out only 12 times in 85 at-bats. That puts him on pace for 81 for the season. Over 557 at-bats, that pace would work out to 79.
So, going back to the original question — Is Bellinger simply a good player having a great month? Or has he really turned a corner towards superstardom?
We’re not psychics, of course. But every indicator tells us that Door No. 2 is looking pretty likely.