Fear of missing out can be felt by many fantasy owners once draft season ends. After all the analysis, some players stand out with a chance to provide tremendous return on investment. Cody Bellinger burst onto the scene in 2017 blasting 39 home runs in 132 games. But, his strikeout percentage over 26-percent and contact rate below 70-percent suggested a sophomore slump could be in the offing for Bellinger.
He still produced 25 home runs with 14 stolen bases and a .260/.343/.470 slash line, yet, it felt like a disappointment given where Bellinger went in drafts. However, Bellinger potentially sowed the seeds of his hot start this year after the All-Star break. Bellinger traded power for contact hitting .285/.369/.453 over his last 65 games with eight home runs in 214 at-bats. Despite improving his hard hit rate, Bellinger’s home runs ebbed. He did increase his contact percentage to 74.1-percent and reduce his swinging strike percentage to just over 12-percent.
Within his batted ball data in the second half, Bellinger spiked his line drive rate over 24-percent, but also produced ground balls 40-percent of the time. This capped his power. Diving into the numbers, it seems like he consolidated his approach to generate more contact and improve his plate discipline. Which could be fueling his hot start to the season.
Through 10 games, Bellinger’s hit seven home runs with 17 runs, 18 RBI and a robust .455/.489/.1.023 slash line. He’s cut his strikeout percentage to 12.8-percent along with his ground ball rate to 28.9-percent in this small sample. Bellinger’s producing line drives in over 34-percent of his batted data and a 36.8 fly ball percentage. His eye popping hard hit rate above 55-percent on Fangraphs stands out as does his pull percentage spike to 57.9-percent. This will not be sustainable, but note the trading of ground balls for fly balls.
Bellinger’s numbers on Statcast fully support this surge. During his first 38 batted ball events, he owns a 96.2 MPH average exit velocity, over six MPH higher than last season, but with a lower launch angle. His .423 expected average and .897 expected slugging do suggest some regression, but they’re impressive nonetheless. During an 11-game hit streak, which dates back to October first of 2018, Bellinger’s hitting .438 (21-for-48) with two doubles, a triple and eight home runs.
When viewing his performance by pitch group, there’s a familiar feel to his start to this season compared to his debut in 2017. Note the rebound against offspeed pitches at the onset of this year plus the expected numbers so far:
Not only could Bellinger be on a path to 40 or more home runs, but, his improving discipline metrics could result in a career high in batting average, which would push him towards first round status in 2020. For starters, here’s Bellinger’s zone profiles in relation to this skillset:
It’s strange to see, but Bellinger’s not using the middle of the field yet. Rather, he’s hitting the ball hard dependent on where it’s pitched. This aligns with the philosophy adopted by J.D. Martin ez who worked closely with the Dodgers new hitting coach, Robert Van Scoyoc. Again, no guarantee the pull percentage will continue, but Bellinger’s expected isolated power shows no signs of slowing down:
Since baseball continues to be a game of adjustments, there will be a cold stretch for Bellinger. When this happens, perhaps he will take a walk and steal some bases to provide fantasy owners with another valuable asset, speed.
Bellinger home-to-first in 3.84 seconds, 30.7 ft/sec sprint speed.— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) April 8, 2019
3.84 sec is elite: 14th best in MLB this year, behind guys like Hamilton, Bader, DeShields.
30.7 ft/sec is very elite. MLB avg is 27, and 30 is the greatness line. Incredible athlete.
Overreacting to a hot start can be easy to do in the age of social media. However, Cody Bellinger could be on the precipice of a career year, which seemed overlooked at times this preseason. Track his discipline through the year, if he can continue to generate hard hit batted ball events to all fields and if he adjusts his contact to yield an average at .280 or higher. If this happens, with a pocket double digit stolen total, Bellinger may not only breakout again, but turn into a superstar.
Be sure to check back next week to see which power hitting left-handed hitter could take his game to another level. Hint, using the opposite field could be the key.