With all the ongoing chaos, sometimes it’s important to stop and smell the roses. Indeed, in this case I ask you to pause and recognize that the Los Angeles Dodgers arguably have the best player in the National League at the current time.
While there’s no guarantee that Bellinger holds the title belt for any defined amount of time, the case can be made right now that he’s among the game’s best. Furthermore, if Bellinger can post a season similar to his 2017 and 2019 campaigns, suddenly 2018 begins to look like the outlier ‘weird’ year.
Altogether, Bellinger has bWAR totals of 4.2, 4.2, and 9.0 in three straight seasons. Therefore, another 8 to 9 tally in that category could put him in Mike Trout territory being that he is entering his age-24 season.
Recently, Dodgers Nation asked you how Bellinger can build upon his already great resume.
How do you think Cody Bellinger can improve on an MVP season?
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) January 24, 2020
Furthermore, we all hope that this is a generational talent and that the ride has only begun. Let’s look at some items that could help Bellinger begin to cement a legacy.
Can Bellinger Win Back-To-Back MVP Awards?
Notably, the 2020 NL MVP odds are fresh off the press at the Las Vegas Westgate. Right now, Ronald Acuña Jr. leads the pack with a +300. Then, Christian Yelich checks in second. From there, Bellinger is in a three-way logjam with Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. for third most likely as it sits today.
Here is a look at the full frontrunner odds:
Good stuff here pic.twitter.com/4amWnvHZEk
— Clint (@DiamondHoggers) January 29, 2020
So what does this mean? Right now, oddsmakers don’t necessarily see Bellinger as a lock to repeat as MVP. While that is no shock, it’s important to note that he’s not a longshot either. There are some excellent players below him, and it won’t take anything out of the realm of his ability to win back-to-back MVP awards.
What Will Improve Bellinger’s Overall Game?
Overall, the majority of responses point towards one thing in regards to Bellinger. Of course that word I read over and over was ‘consistency’. Whether people want to see better performance from the first half to the second, Bellinger at one spot defensively, or postseason performance that matches his regular season production; this was the overriding theme of response.
Already, it seems the Dodgers have given into the thought of making Bellinger a full-time centerfielder. Still, he will see his time at first-base in those spots that they lean on their versatile roster. However, Bellinger should expect to see a bulk of his playing time as the keystone outfielder in the upcoming year. This is probably the best move to take advantage of the fact he’s probably the most athletic player on the team. While it will help his defensive metrics if he performs to career norms, it could provide a second advantage.
Players in the big leagues thrive upon comfort. Constantly, you hear players like Bellinger talk about the importance of a routine. When you come to the ballpark knowing you’re going to play in the same spot every day, it can only help the mental approach. Now, could this mean that we get a more stable performing player on a daily basis? Perhaps, and judging by the responses to our tweet; you all feel this is important as well.
Performing During Stretch Run & October
This next segment builds on our last one. While I read some responses that said ‘steal more bases’ – something I would love to see – there is nothing right now that indicates the Dodgers will give Bellinger a green light on the bases more in 2020. In fact, if Bellinger can steal 15 bases again like he did in 2020; I’ll sign up for that right now.
We have all talked about Bellinger’s struggles in the second half of 2019 and his overall body of work in October. So far, he’s a .178 hitter in playoff baseball with a .560 OPS. He has 52 strikeouts to 10 walks. Forget comparing those numbers to his regular season career, you don’t need to do that to know he’s hit like a pitcher in the postseason; four home runs notwithstanding.
The best theory I can develop is that Bellinger needs a better plan or approach when it comes to October. Not only is he facing the best arms the game has to offer whether it’s a starter or reliever, he’s facing coaching staffs who know how to exploit him.
Bellinger has been at his best in the regular season when he keeps his approach and stance simple, with little tinkering. Is it possible that in the playoffs he begins thinking too much when asked to make adjustments? In a vacuum, one can deduct that Bellinger must find a way to be mentally sharper when it counts most. Already one of the most physically gifted players in the game, those boxes are checked. In the postseason and pennant race, it will come down to his approach between the ears.
The prescription for this? Continued work with Dr. Brant Brown and Dr. Robert Van Scoyoc, and let the rest happen organically. With a player as talented as Bellinger, you have to believe that he will eventually make the adjustment and become a great player in October, and more consistent overall. Great coaches bring out greatness in great players by reminding them of the things they already know. We saw this in 2019 with a few tweaks to Bellinger’s game, and he became an even better version of the 2017 rookie that exploded on the scene.
Overall, we are living a charmed life watching Bellinger play on a nightly basis. Every organization in the game aspires to land a player who can do what Bellinger has already done by the age of 23. I believe most Dodgers fans realize how special Bellinger is – and the scariest part is his ceiling could even be higher.
In all likelihood, you are looking at a guy who will hit at least .270 to .280 with 35 to 40 home runs and all the other beautiful counting stats he’s provided in his first three years. Nothing suggests that his defense will suffer, and it could even improve with regularity at one position. Moreover, when Bellinger gets hot; the team can ride the crest of the wave that can carry them for one or two week stretches.
Last but not least, a consistent hitter behind Bellinger in the order on a nightly basis could do wonders for keeping his valleys and peaks more even-keel. Don’t forget the benefit of a great hitter in the on-deck circle getting the batter at the plate pitches to hit. In 2019, the Dodgers never really had one guy behind Bellinger full time that did this, making his MVP season numbers that much more impressive. Could that player be Corey Seager or Max Muncy? Without question, those two or a thumper the Dodgers add in a trade could fill that role.
Here’s to an MVP season, and improving upon an already all-around solid game in all facets for Bellinger in 2020.