When we started the 2018 Dodgers player reviews, I signed right up for Cody Bellinger. I was the guy who chronicled every home run he hit – and defended his every move. It’s only fitting that I take an objective look back at his 2018 season along with all of you.
In his age-22 season – many can argue that Bellinger took a step back. It’s hard for me to totally refute that. However, I would say that he took steps forward that will help him in the long run. He showed a lot of glimpses of what make him a prized cornerstone of the Dodgers for years to come. Bellinger showed the mark of being an all-around ballplayer, which is exactly what the Dodgers will need him to be going forward.
Let’s look back at Cody Ballgame’s 2018.
Regular Season Recap
Bellinger played in 162 regular season games to tie for the lead in baseball in that category. He was still worth a 4.2 bWAR just as in his rookie season; although he arrived at that number in a much different manner.
Of course when the year began, he was the Dodgers everyday first baseman. The organization announced that he wouldn’t see time in the outfield. First Max Muncy showed up. Then, David Freese later on. And when platoon lineups took hold – it was Bellinger’s athleticism and versatility that helped the Dodgers win ballgames. His ability to play centerfield allowed for a lot of late-swap and lineup strategy.
Bellinger finished the season with 25 homers, 76 RBI, 84 runs scored, and 69 walks. All of this was good for an .814 OPS – well short of the .933 he posted in his record-setting rookie season. He stole 14 bases in 15 attempts.
A true season of peaks and valleys for Bellinger; he hit .280 in the first month and followed it with .180 in May. He homered eight times in June and turned it on late. His .355 average and .962 OPS in August were among the best in baseball. It was then he began to show the ability to adjust a little bit and shorten his swing and approach. When Cody is going well – he’s using the entire field and hitting the ball where it’s pitched.
Moreover, one wonders if the Dodgers have much of a postseason without the swing he put on this one in game 162.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 1, 2018
For me, that was the zenith of the regular season. Bellinger touched up German Marquez on a day when the flamethrower had his best stuff. Even more, everything was on the line that day for the Dodgers. It was a happy ending to a season of many high and low chapters.
However, there were more chapters left to be written.
How’d He Do in October?
Bellinger’s postseason mirrored his regular season in so many ways. Struggles where you would wonder if he would ever get a hit. Following those stints up with some brilliance that kept the Dodgers alive. And then, followed by more struggles.
Bellinger went hitless in the NLDS against Atlanta to the tune of 0 for 11. In the NLCS against Milwaukee, Bellinger stole the stage with three huge moments that allowed the Dodgers to advance past the Brewers.
- The game-saving catch in right field of game four.
- An extra-inning, game winning base hit in that game that helped swing the series.
- A moonshot home run to get the Dodgers on the board in the deciding game seven.
The Dodgers’ young talent was named NLCS MVP, becoming one of the youngest players to ever garner the award. And more on that home run he hit that buried Milwaukee on the road:
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 21, 2018
Still, Bellinger hit just .200 in that NLCS. The World Series against Boston’s pitching staff did not prove to be the elixir for Bellinger. He went just 1 for 16 in the series.
To date, Bellinger is a .172 career hitter in the postseason, and that average carries some weight because it’s spread over 116 at-bats. He will play in many more playoff games – and he will need to be a lot better.
You should feel good about the experience Bellinger has gained in October, but not the results. Such is life with a young player who is finding his footing and still learning adjustments at the highest level, on the grandest stage.
What Lies Ahead
Bellinger figures to open the 2019 season as a middle of the order hitter for the Dodgers. He will see some time at first base and figures to play regularly in the outfield once again. The hope is that he is not platooned as much against lefties – this may have worked against him in 2019. He hit .271 against them with a .903 OPS as a rookie, and followed that up with just .226 and .681 in his sophomore stint.
It’s not unreasonable to think that Bellinger could hit 35 home runs and post a bWAR between five and six in 2019. While not quite yet at a ‘crossroads’, 2019 will be an important year in terms of learning who Bellinger will be as a ballplayer. He seems at times to be on trajectory of a superstar – but must gain consistency. As of now, he’s a guy who puts fans in the seats. Bellinger ranked 15th in baseball in jersey sales – so he’s very beloved within the Dodgers fan base.
It’s simply time for him to take the next step forward, and with his raw ability it’s not a stretch to believe that it will happen. Consistency will be the name of the game for Cody Bellinger in 2019.
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