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Dodgers: Examining Cody Bellinger’s Slump

Cody Bellinger has not been on an MVP pace recently, but what is the reason for it?

Bellinger and Yelich are going to take the NL MVP race of 2019 down to the wire.

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:

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.

Collective View

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.

Written by Daniel Preciado

My name is Daniel Preciado and I am 18 years old. I am a sophomore Sport Analytics major and Cognitive Science and Economics dual minor at Syracuse University. When I am not in New York, I live in Whittier, California --- not too far from Chavez Ravine. I am pretty old-school for being an analytics guy and I will always embrace debate. Also, Chase Utley did absolutely nothing wrong.

15 Comments

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  1. I’d worry less about Bellinger slump and more about Jensen and Ryu. The good part is there are capable replacements. Start getting a plan for the next 70 days and figure on replacements for next year. The 36-38 million on those two can be spent in better ways

  2. I think the issue is frustration. We saw a super fun June & July with exciting rookies participating in bringing the team to its current record while core guys were on the IL. Verdugo prime among them. Roberts switches everyone up all the time and now core guys are back and rookies are in and out. It seems like a lot of up and down every day– which seems kind of frustrating.

  3. We need Verdugo to bring back some life and juice to this team.Very boring to watch with most of players slumping especially Bellinger.If you watch Bellinger he steps toward first base on his swing,front shoulder flying out and that’s why he islate on fastballs and can’t hit the outside pitch Ryu has pitched way more innings than in the past. He looks fatigued and should take a couple of starts off .His location on pitches has been terrible. Most of all the league has figured him out and now he has to readjust to the competition.Jansen should be removed from the closer and Kelly given a chance to close out games. Lastly Lux should be brought up and on the playoff roster. He can play second base,lead off and he hits both right handed and left handed pitching. Some changes have to be made before the playoffs or it will a long cold off season and no parade.

    • It would be fine if Lux was brought up here for the PS roster but in reality it would not be too fair to him or others who have been up here all year or most of it. Realize that what Lux has been doing has been against minor league pitching and we all know that MLB pitching is on a whole different level.

  4. Bellinger has to adjust his swing and that is why you have a hitting coach. Everyone is pitching him inside and he continues swinging for the fences. With Muncey hurt give Lux a shot. We know Kiki is not the offensive answer. Agree, Kelly should be given the opportunity to close. Give Ryu a rest go with May for a couple of starts.

    • Great observation.

      “Everyone is pitching him inside and he continues swinging for the fences”.

      That was exactly how the Astros pitched to Cody Bellinger in the 2017 World Series, to the inside, when he struck out a record 17 times. There’s nothing wrong with Cody, he just reverted back to his old habits, trying to pull the ball too much instead of making contact.

  5. Throw out the 308 BA. Doesn’t mean a thing now. 2 months do not make a season. The 243 BA in the last 4 months is what we should look at. You can keep saying how great he was but that was then and this is now.

  6. I’m really tired of nerds using “advanced metrics” to prove that I’m not really seeing what my eyes are telling me. All spring I argued with guys who said Barnes would hit .270 because “pecota said so”. Now I’m not really seeing Belli struggle, fail in clutch spots and consistently make soft outs. .236 over two and a half months just isn’t attributable to “bad luck.” Maybe the .308 should be attributed to good luck then? Before this year he hit .260 and .267. Maybe it’s more of a “water finding its level” than luck of any kind.

    • Oh, and was the 1-10 with a single and six ks vs the Yanks in really the only important series in the last three months also just “bad luck”?

      • No it wasn’t just bad luck but it was seeing much better pitching than what he was seeing earlier in the year. And he, like the rest of the Dodgers will be facing much more elite pitching in the PS and perhaps it will tell us that this Dodger offense isn’t as good as many make it out to be. But in the Yankee’s series it was the pitching that was just as guilty for the way the Dodgers got beat because the pitching served up 9 HR’s in those 3 games compared to the Dodger’s 2 they hit. Heck the entire offense ‘scored’ 5 runs total in those 3 games, which meant that the Yankees hit more HR’s in those 3 games than the Dodgers scored in in total runs.

  7. So why do our excellent hitting coaches just do nothing. He’s reverted back to his old habits. In the playoffs I’d hope they would actually do their jobs when they see stuff like this happening not just to Bellinger but anyone that might be struggling in a particular series. It’s going to be key for them to notice these things and begin working on them immediately especially if we’re in the World Series against HOU and their starters

  8. Let me suggest one perhaps real problem for Bellinger is the player Roberts puts in the lineup batting 5th trying to offer ‘protection’ for him.. Notice an increase in Cody’s walks and that is a big reason for it, when Roberts puts certain players who have NO business batting 5th behind him and trying to protect him in the lineup.

  9. An extremely high percent of Cody’s hard-hit line drives and grounders are in very predictable locations: from the first base line to about halfway between first and second base. The shift defenses take away a lot of his value. He will have to use more of the field if he wants more of his hard-hit balls to be hits.

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