It’s winter, and it’s late at night. I’m staring at the ceiling wondering not about the things I need to do tomorrow, but rather about life’s more important quandaries.
Can Cody Bellinger possibly top what he did in 2017 and knock 40 over the fence in the coming season?
If you’re listening to the noise, the majority is answering with a resounding ‘no’. The Hot Stove months tend to be when fantasy baseball experts point towards the second half of 2017 when Bellinger hit ‘just’ 14 home runs and pitchers seemed to figure out a book on how to get him out.
— Fantasy Sports Radio (@SiriusXMFantasy) January 13, 2018
Other projection systems like Fangraph’s Steamer have him projected for a very respectable 36 round-trippers and a slugging percentage that drops from his herculean .581 to a 2016 Corey Seager-esque .516 in 2018.
This is concerning to me. And it’s not because that wouldn’t be a fine follow-up act to his record-setting rookie season in which he entered his name into the sports almanac for most National League home runs by a newcomer. It’s because the home run is so paramount in the game today – that if Bellinger, the Dodger’s “Showstopper” – does anything less than top his rookie total of 39, it may be perceived as some kind of ‘sophomore slump’.
We’re here to examine the possibility that Bellinger betters the number. We’ll do that because we’re Dodger fans, and we’re baseball fans. And the home run is exciting. When it’s a 22-year old player with his whole career in front of him and he’s got the opportunity in front of him to eclipse 40, you begin to hear talk of a legend being cemented at Chavez Ravine.
When we think back to there being a consistent way to get Bellinger out in the regular season, one could make the case that it really didn’t exist. Bellinger’s longest streak of hitless games came at the very end of the season, which saw him go without a knock four consecutive games from September 25th until September 29th.
And then the postseason happened – where the starters and relievers are all better and the sample sizes are all smaller. More eyes are watching nationally and conclusions are drawn by those who didn’t get the opportunity to watch a larger volume of a player’s at-bats. We all have the lasting memory of those dark nights in Houston and Los Angeles during the World Series where Bellinger swung and it seemed like his bat was a Katana blade. The Astros went low and away with off-speed and Bellinger seemed helpless. It looked like a one trick pony trying to do the only thing he knows how to do: pull the ball regardless of location or pitch type. I am referring specifically to the first three games of the 2017 World Series.
But just then, a light went on. Bellinger did not what a typical 21-year old hitter does, but what great hitters do. Take a look at this and be happy! Listen to the excitement, almost surprised exclamation of the Charlie Steiner call.
It didn’t leave the yard, but Bellinger emerged from one of the worst looking slumps in his professional career to drive a ball to the left-center gap in a World Series game. If you thought he lucked into that one, he had a quick answer for you. In game five, he hit a scorching line drive to center that resulted in a triple.
Just with the eyeball test, Bellinger is going to be a player who is always able to turn on a fastball and drive it out to right field like most of the good power hitters in the game. Word is out, so he will get less of those opportunities in the coming year. Scouting departments around the game are going to try to build off of what the Astros began doing to Bellinger in the World Series and see if he can replicate the skill that allowed him to break out of his slump and help the Dodgers extend the series. This principle was simple, use the entire field and hit the ball where it’s pitched.
It sounds simple, almost like a high-school approach. But in a game of adjustments, sometimes keeping the approach dumbed-down and simple is the answer. From the article I linked above:
Yet with two consecutive swings, Bellinger thought better of over-swinging, and he attempted the swing he’d just worked on in practice. This isn’t something groundbreaking, something novel — hitters have been told forever to try to cut down when their swings get too long. But Bellinger figured out how he could be successful, and he was able to implement his intentions. Bellinger thought about left-center field, and he finished with a couple of big doubles to left-center field. Bellinger, simply, made an on-the-fly adjustment, which is the mark of a great hitter. It’s not that great hitters don’t ever go through slumps. It’s that great hitters are able to get out of their slumps before they get swallowed. Cody Bellinger has his two hits, and he’s got his confidence back. It’s hard to know if a three-game slump should even be called a slump at all.
I think therein lies the key to whether the Dodgers All-Star cornerstone can allow us to all enjoy milestone of 40-plus trips around the bases in 2018. There’s no better home run trot in the game than that of Bellinger’s when he’s going well.
Here are some facts that point towards Bellinger being able to hit 40 or more:
- He is 25 to 1 odds to lead baseball in home runs in sports-books. This is tied for 7th best in all of baseball with Nolan Arenado(!) and compares to our own Corey Seager at 200 to 1 and Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig each at 300 to 1.
- His exit velocity, launch angle, and other advanced metrics compare most with Baltimore’s Chris Davis; who has twice-bested 40 home runs.
- Bellinger’s fly ball percentage was 10th best in baseball in 2017, at 47.1 percent. You cannot hit a home run unless you have a swing that naturally produces fly balls.
- His ground ball percentage was 35.3 percent, 22nd lowest in all of baseball in 2017. You cannot hit a home run if the ball is on the ground. The 21st lowest you ask? That player was Aaron Judge (34.9 percent).
So call your shot: how many home runs does 2018 hold for one Cody James Bellinger?