Cody Bellinger was being championed the National League MVP in April. Although he still may very well win it ahead of fierce competitors like the Brewers’ Christian Yelich and the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr., he has slowed down some.
He has slowed down a lot actually…on the surface. From the start of the season through the end of June, Bellinger posted a ridiculous slash line of .346/.442/.695. Since then, he has ‘sunk down’ to .243/.353/.561. While his most recent stretch has seen a decline, that is still good for a .914 OPS despite the average being low. It is just a different numerical line than we saw in the beginning of the season and it warrants a deeper look.
Nobody expected Cody Bellinger to bat .350 over the course of the regular season. No player has batted over that mark since Josh Hamilton hit .359 in Texas in 2009. Still, Bellinger sits at an MVP-caliber .308/.409/.625 slash line and 166 wRC+. He has been worth a fantastic 6.9 fWAR and has also been worth 23 defensive runs saved in the field. He has crushed his fair share of bombs with 42. But, is there reason for concern? Maybe. Is he still the MVP? Maybe not.
I polled Dodgers Nation regarding the struggles of Cody Bellinger and here is what you thought about them:
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most concerned, how concerned are you with Cody Bellinger's recent 'struggles'?
Through June: 185 wRC+
Since July 17: 114 wRC+
— Daniel Preciado (@DanJPreciado) August 29, 2019
Behind the Scenes: Bad Luck
For this deep-dive, we will be using March 18 through July 16 as Stretch 1 and July 17 to the present as Stretch 2.
Cody Bellinger’s 2019 season has been marked by a renewed eye at the plate, tremendous power, and one of the greatest defensive seasons the Dodgers have seen in recent memory. But what has changed in his profile? The answer is many things. However, nothing dramatically sticks out except a common case of bad luck.
During Bellinger’s Stretch 1, he was not lucky, he was simply just really good. His BABIP sat at a sustainable .327. In Stretch 2, it has dropped down to a very unlucky .236. This is not indicative of Cody Bellinger’s true skill set and it should not be the Bellinger we expect down the stretch.
Yes, he is striking out more, but he is actually walking more, too. His walk and strikeout rates went from 14.2% and 15.0% in Stretch 1 to a very strong 14.9% and 21.4% in Stretch 2, respectively. His eye has not evaded him, even though at times it appears it does.
Behind the Scenes: The Batted Ball Profile
His hard-hit rate has declined from 51.6% to 45.4%, according to Fangraphs, but that latter number is still the mark of an All-Star. Even better than that, actually. For reference, Mike Trout’s is 44.7% on the year and Christian Yelich’s is 49.1%. He sits right in between the best player in the game and his primary competition for the NL MVP. Pretty impressive for a ‘cold stretch’ if you ask me.
His line drive percentage has seen the most significant decline overall, with Stretch 1 seeing a 30.6% mark and Stretch 2 dipping all the way down to 16.7%. His ground ball and fly ball percentages have increased 5.6% and 8.4% as a result. The issue is, more of his fly balls have been lazy, as opposed to having them leave the yard, as was the case to begin the season.
Behind the Scenes: Plate Discipline
Cody Bellinger has demonstrated arguably not just the best eye on the Dodgers this season, but the best in baseball. Although his plate discipline has declined somewhat over the last month, it still rests at an elite level and has not seen an alarming decline.
His O-Swing% — the percentage of pitches he swings at outside of the zone — has only gone up 1.8% from 26.2% to 28.0%. He is not chasing.
His Z-Contact% — the percentage of pitches he makes contact within the zone — has only declined 3.3% from 83.7% to 80.4%. He is still hitting the pitches he should be hitting.
His SwSTR% — the percentage of swings and misses he has — has only increased from 9.3% to 11.0%. He is still not flailing at pitches.
So what is the issue? The answer is nothing. Nothing is wrong with Cody Bellinger, who was the front-runner for the MVP race as of a few weeks ago and might still be. All the tools remain there, but if you expected him to remain on fire for the entirety of the season, then maybe you are disappointed.
Let him go through his cold spell now so he gets hot in September so he heads into October with steam.
He remains one of baseball’s best and there is nothing in his profile that suggests otherwise. Expect more bombs and expect more fantastic plays from Cody Bellinger through the end of the 2019 campaign.