The 2019 season was Cody Bellinger ’s coming out party. After hitting at least 25 home runs with double-digit stolen bases and a .260+ average in each of the two years prior, he decided that wasn’t good enough. His magical 2019 campaign featured 47 home runs, 121 runs scored, 115 RBI, 15 stolen bases and an astounding .305/.406/.629. Also, to add on top of that, not only were those numbers career bests, but so was his 14.4 percent walk rate, 16.4 percent strikeout rate, .324 ISO and .415 wOBA. He was a very early pick in 2020 drafts, and while he delivered in the power department, his slash line fell, even lower than his marks from 2017 and 2018. What happened?

His exit velocity dropped a bit from 2019, but it was on par with marks from previous years, albeit slightly lower. His 9.4 percent barrel rate was the second lowest mark since he entered the bigs and his fly balls weren’t leaving the yard with as much frequency as before. His 17.4 percent HR/FB ratio was a far cry from his 24.6 percent mark in 2019, and was the second-lowest mark of his career. What also aided that statistical downturn was the fact that he posted the second-highest ground ball rate of his career in 2020.

His 17.3 percent strikeout rate in 2020 is good for Bellinger, considering a lot of metrics indicate that it could have been significantly worse. He left the zone more frequently, his swinging strike rate was up and the second graphic below shows that his overall trend for strikeout rate elevated after a lengthy dip into and through 2019.

Look, he’s still significantly better than where he was a few years ago, but if his peripherals continue, it’s hard to see him post another sub-18% strikeout rate for the third year in a row. Will he be north of 20 percent? Probably not, but if you’re making me pick, it’ll be higher than 18 percent in 2021. There’s still room for him to be dominant with an elevated strikeout rate, but understand there will be some regression to the mean if he doesn’t get back to staying in the zone.

Compare his 2019 and 2020 visuals from below and you see a similar story.




More swings out of the zone and more whiffs out of the zone. Bellinger’s unique swing makes it tough to pitch to at times, but pitchers seem to have an edge on Bellinger up in the zone. From the graphic below, courtesy of Baseball Savant, you’ll notice that Bellinger is overwhelmingly below average in the upper part of the zone.


Did pitchers figure him out a bit? Perhaps. Can he make adjustments? Sure he can. Bellinger is going to be an elite fantasy asset again in 2021, but expecting a return to those herculean numbers in 2019 might be a tad overzealous. However, if you think his 2020 season was so poor, his expected wOBA was on par with 2017 and 2018, when he averaged 32 home runs, 12 stolen bases and a mid .260s batting average.

Along with hammering Bellinger up in the zone, there’s another adjustment from 2020 that I expect to carry over into 2021, and that involves deploying a shift against Bellinger. After not being drastically affected by it in recent seasons, the numbers in 2020 were a bit more drastic as he used the left side of the field under 20 percent of the time, which was obviously a career low for him (previous low was 22.6 percent in 2017).


Shift %

wOBA - No Shift

wOBA - Shift

















Bellinger isn’t cheap and nor should he be. If his batting average rebounds, even to the .260 days of pre-2019, he’s an average to above average producer in each and every offensive category. How many guys can potentially hit 40 home runs and steal 15 bases this year? Furthermore, you can slot him at first base or in the outfield! It really depends on what version of Bellinger you believe that we see. A lot of the metrics point to something closer to his 2017 and 2018 days, but the upside is there to get back to those 2019 numbers. For me, the numbers are likely going to be closer to 2017 here in 2021.

Bellinger should hit around 40 home runs, steal 10-15 bags and hit no lower than .260 this year. He’ll reward fantasy owners handsomely who select him in the first round, or potentially even early second round in some formats, and he gives your team a nice start in all offensive categories to begin your draft.

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