And yet one more post on Cody Bellinger. This could be the last one I write with Cody as a LAD. If that happens I will not be surprised, but I will be saddened.
I admit my affinity for Cody Bellinger has me waffling more about any player that I can remember. I mentioned earlier this week that I thought that maybe not only could LAD tender Belli a contract, but perhaps they should. If this were any of the low contract teams, it would be a no-brainer. But this is the LA Dodgers. Money should not be the #1 concern, but finally putting a team together than can actually finish. Is Belli part of that team?
I have always been an advocate for strong defense up the middle. While Belli has not been a GG CF, he is a plus defender. I do not like the balls that drop in front of him, but he goes back on a ball very well. And he is very good in the gap. So I will take the singles in front vs the doubles and triples over his head.
We know he has speed, and is a plus base runner.
But his offense has been horrendous over the last three years, especially the last two, thus eliminating any positives on defense and base running.
I subscribe to MLBTR and receive twice weekly newsletters and weekly exclusive chats, amongst other perks. One of the primary writers, Anthony Franco, penned the last newsletter I received in anticipation of Friday’s non tender day. Specifically he addressed why MLBTR believes that Belli will be non-tendered. I did not intend to write another post on Cody, but Franco’s newsletter got me to thinking. Franco wrote:
“Bellinger’s cumulative line over the past two seasons is .193/.256/.355 in an even 900 PA. Of the 186 players with 750+ plate appearances in that time, only Jackie Bradley Jr. and Maikel Franco have a worse on-base percentage. Martín Maldonado, Bradley and Joey Gallo are the only players with a lower batting average, while Bellinger ranks in the bottom 15 in slugging. Bellinger has been among the worst offensive regulars two years running.”
“Bellinger’s successive strikeout rates these past two seasons — 26.9% and 27.3% — have been the highest marks of his career. He’s paired that with his worst two walk percentages –8.9% and 6.9%, respectively. That’s an alarming combination on its own, made worse by the fact he’s popping the ball up as much as he ever has.”
Franco goes on to say that because of his recent propensity for strikeouts and popups, any benefit from banning the shift specifically for Belli should be tempered, because pop-ups and strikeouts are outs no matter the defensive alignment.
We have all read those numbers before, and every Dodger fan has experienced the angst watching him. But what is the reason? Franco does conclude that part of the problem could be the lingering shoulder injury.
“His respective 34.4% and 38.1% hard contact rates the last two seasons are the two lowest marks of his career. Bellinger hasn’t hit a single ball in play with an exit velocity at or above 108 MPH since the start of the 2021 season; he’d had 48 such batted balls through his first four years.”
Okay, that makes sense that the injury could still be hampering his hard hit balls, but it is not clear how that manifests itself into the increased strikeout and decreased walks.
Franco goes on to discuss his increased aggressiveness at the plate.
“Bellinger has swung more often on 0-0 counts over the last three seasons, but it hasn’t been the kind of focused aggressiveness one would want from a hitter. He’s not swinging dramatically more often at first-pitch meatballs; he’s increasingly going after balls on the edges or just off the strike zone. He’s finding himself in disadvantageous counts as a result, leaving pitchers more opportunity to put him away with breaking stuff later in an at-bat.”
I thought that I would take a little deeper dive into Cody’s numbers. Below are Belli’s 2022 batting line metrics for each count when he makes contact.
Belli did very well when making contact on the first pitch. He had more HRs on an 0-0 pitch than on any other count. This is where I differ from Franco. It is not necessarily the aggressiveness, but more accurately the increased chase for Strike One. Why did he chase? Maybe this is a condition developed from pressing. Trying to do too much. He would not be an anomaly in this regard. Psychological impediments disrupt a lot of careers. It is those who can overcome those impediments that can go on to have long productive careers. Is this Cody’s problem? I have no basis for making any kind of speculative diagnosis here. I have been in a lot of therapy sessions, but only as the patient, not the therapist.
Or is his poor pitch and location recognition more of who Cody is now?
One other 2022 metric deserves some comment. On 3-0 counts, again perhaps being too aggressive, Belli was .105/.485/.316/.801. But when the count is 3-1, Belli hit .297/.567/.568/1.134. Maybe he needs to take a strike at 3-0. Simply reading something into a stat. Not coaching.
Actually, except for the last two years, Belli has been extremely successful hitting the first pitch.
To me, it appears that the problem with his aggressiveness, as Anthony Franco refers to it, is more a reflection of poor pitch and location recognition than attacking first pitch.
Pitch type and location recognition could get his strikeouts back in line, but it probably has nothing to do with the increased popups. But how pervasive are his popups?
Yes, his popup percentages are up the last two years, but are in line with this 1st two years. His fly ball percentage is up quite a bit, and his ground ball rate is down. I think his lack of production is more indicative of his lack of exit velocity and hard hit balls. Balls that used to go for HRs are now dying on the warning track. His ground ball percentage was increased last year, and that could portend for better numbers without the shift. But the best medicine seems to be a stronger shoulder.
Where is his contact?
|Year||Weak %||Topped %||Under %||Flare/Burner %||Solid %||Barrel %||Barrel/PA|
This seems to indicate that when Belli does make contact, he is getting more solid vs weak contact. He is not topping the ball more than before, and less than MLB average. His under % does indicate that his swing could probably use some leveling, especially with 2 strikes. What might be discerned from above is that Belli is making good barrel contact, but he is not driving the ball as much as hitting underneath and not getting the carry he used to. His decreased exit velo would impact the results here.
Maybe the most telling chart as to where Belli is struggling is below:
|Year||Exit Velo||Max EV||Launch Angle||Sweet Spot %|
Belli’s velo is way down and his launch angle is way up. He is still getting as much sweet spot as before (except 2019), but not the results. Seems to be a warning track power issue.
Below is Belli’s Statcast chart for 2022.
Not that I am a better analyst, but I have a different reasoning for Belli’s struggles than does Anthony Franco. He is swinging at more first pitches, but I do not see that in and of itself as a problem. Is he chasing more? Almost certainly. He is in the bottom third percentile for whiff and chase.
But I see the problem more of exit velocity. Is that a problem with his shoulder or mechanics or both? Is his increase in launch angle due to his shoulder injury?
It is being reported that he is at Camelback working his tail off trying to work through his mechanics. I know there are dozens of eyes on him as he works out, and I am sure that AF/BG are getting daily reports. I am not there, so I have no clue as to whether there is a change in approach.
There is no issue in his defense or sprint speed. He is elite in OAA, but well above average with OF jump and arm strength. His sprint speed is also above.
The above also seems to be pointing that 2019 was the anomaly. But if Cody can get back to even his 2018 numbers, he would be worth the $18.1MM projected investment. In 2018, Cody batted .260/.343/.420/.814, with 28 doubles and 25 HRs. Can he do that again? That is what the Dodgers need to determine before Friday 4:00 PM (PST).