THE MIRAGE THAT IS CODY BELLINGER

Cody Bellinger had become the buzz of the game. It seems that many fans and fantasy players are under the impression that Bellinger has ascended to an elite status and is the favorite for the NL MVP. It’s a shock, considering how before this season he looked like a strikeout heavy slugger who may or may not have peaked during his outstanding debut in 2017. Bellinger is currently batting a remarkable .433/.509/.918 with 13 home runs, 33 RBI and 4 stolen bases. These are video game numbers, and unfortunately for him, they’re completely unsustainable.

Bellinger has a .397 BABIP. That by itself should be enough to bring many of his advocates down to earth. That’s more than a 100 points higher than the average BABIP, and as such is simply unsustainable. Steamer expects it to drop down all the way to .301 (which is still above average), which in turn will bring his batting line to a far less impressive (though still good) line of .275/.364/.547. It’s certainly not bad at all, but hardly one that you would expect from an MVP candidate.

Bellinger’s strikeout percentage has dropped from his career average of 23.9% down to an astounding 11.2%. That’ a remarkable improvement, yet while he certainly improved his plate discipline, it doesn’t look as if his improvements correlate with that number. His Z-Swing% has dropped from 66.9% in 2018 to just 66.5% in 2019. Yet his Z-Contact% has improved from 78% in 2018 to 87.1% in 2019. in other words, he’s just slightly more patient with pitches on the inside, but somehow hits a lot more of them than expected. He also swings at only 4.6% less pitches in general.

Bellinger seems to have turned into an elite home run hitter, but that’s a mirage. First of all, his HR/FB% is an unsustainable 43.3%, which means that half of his home runs are lucky. More so, he’s been hitting less fly balls every year: 47.2% in 2017, 40.2% in 2018 and 34.9% in 2019. in short, he’s hitting less fly balls, but a significantly larger than average amount of them end up as home runs.

Cody Bellinger is a good player, but he’s not an elite one. He improved his walk percentage, but his strikeout percentage will likely rise, his batting line will significantly decline and he might actually be hitting less home runs going forward.

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25 comments

  • Take a break from StatCrunch and actually watch him play; he is elite. While I do not agree with your assertion I appreciate the time and research you put into the article.

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    • Thank you for your response. I don’t doubt that he improved, but I think that it’s too early to call him elite.

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      • Jerry Carmona

        Did you just say half his home runs are lucky? Lucky?? Wow

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      • Yeah that’s possible according to all experts, so it’s odd that you don’t know this, then again you’re probably not interested in statistics, as otherwise you wouldn’t something so silly. HR/FB rate is a statistic that tracks how many fly balls turn into home runs, double the average rate is considered very lucky and unsustainable. His HR/FB% is double the average rate, which shows that too many of his fly balls have been home runs, which means that he’s been very lucky.

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  • Of course his BABIP and HR/FB rate are unsustainable.

    His Z-Contact improving is a good thing. It means he’s improved at making contact, which is a skill that correlates with a lower strikeout rate. Z-contact doesn’t mean pitches on the inside, it means pitches in the zone. His overall contact rate has improved from 72.4% to 84.3%, which is fantastic. The league average is 75.9%. He dropped his swinging strike rate from 12.3% to 6.4%, which is also fantastic. The league average is 11%. These are all good things that indicate a skills improvement.

    He’s not going to keep hitting home runs at a 43% clip, but guys who hit the ball as hard as Bellinger typically run higher than average BABIPs.

    It would be concerning if he was hitting fewer fly balls and turning them into ground balls, but he’s not. He’s hitting fewer ground balls as well, and hitting more line drives.

    Overall this looks like a legitimate skills improvement to me. These numbers are fantastic.

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    • He did improve, I’m definitely not denying that. I just don’t think that he improved enough to be an elite bat. The thing is he has been hitting less fly balls: 40.2% last year and 36.3% this year. He hits more line drives now (33.3%) compared to last year (19.9%). That will likely change and those line drives will become ground balls.

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      • I’m not sure I understand why those line drives are likely to turn into ground balls. What’s the basis for that? Why aren’t they likely to turn into home runs, or just stay line drives?

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      • Well that means he’s not hitting the ball in the air. Line drives are base hits that are in layman’s terms hit just above ground. They’re not ground balls because he’s getting lucky on them not being caught (BABIP). Once his BABIP normalizes, a lot of them will be ground outs. Line drives however are not fly balls.

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      • Line drives are ground balls that aren’t caught? That’s not true.

        Appreciate the analysis, but you may want to read up on the different types on balls in play.

        Here are some useful links:
        https://library.fangraphs.com/offense/batted-ball/
        https://fantasy.fangraphs.com/anglebbtypes/

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      • It says that line drives are balls in play, however according to Fangraphs, they’re not fly balls or ground balls. Which is basically what I said. If those line drives would be caught, then they’re more likely to have been ground outs rather than fly outs.

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      • No, if those line drives were caught they would be line outs.

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      • They still wouldn’t increase his fly ball percentage, so he is still hitting less fly balls with an unsustainable HR/FB%

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    • Neil! He always says such nice things about you!

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  • Correction – I meant why aren’t they likely to turn into fly balls

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  • Another question might be what do you consider elite? Bellinger has a career wRC+ of 141. That’s 41% better than average. Last year Machado ran a 141 wRC+, and that ranked 9th in baseball.

    I’d call a 23 year old top 10 hitter elite, personally.

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    • Well based on his Steamer projections and sustainable over the last few years, I see him as good rather than elite. He’s only a top 10 hitter based on unsustainable results. Off the top of my head: Judge, Lindor, Trout, Yelich, Harper, Acuna, Jose Ramirez, Stanton, JD, Betts, Freeman are all better in my opinion.

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      • No he’s a top 10 hitter based on his 1321 career plate appearances.

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      • He isn’t a top 10 hitter. Steamer projections for hitters for rest of season:

        1. Trout 7.0 .304/.454/.610
        2. Betts 5.4 .296/.383/.525
        3. Lindor 4.8 .280/.353/.506
        4. Yelich 4.6 .302/.394/.543
        5. Bregman 4.5 .277/.374/.500
        6. Rendon 4.5 .290/.378/.502
        7. Bryant 4.4 .274/.386/.506
        8. Jose Ramirez 4.4 .276/.367/.495
        9. Chapman 4.3 .256/.338/.492
        10. Machado 4.1 .271/.343/.505
        11. Posey 4.0 .282/.359/.424
        11. Bellinger 4.0 .275/.362/.540

        That’s also minus Judge and Stanton being injured and having their WAR affected by the missed time.

        2017 top 10 WAR leaders among hitters:

        1. Judge 8.2
        2. Altuve 7.6
        3. Stanton 7.3
        4. Trout 6.9
        5. Rendon 6.7
        6. Bryant 6.7
        7. Ramírez 6.5
        8. Blackmon 6.5
        9. Votto 6.5
        10. Pham 6.1

        38. Bellinger 4.0

        2018 Top 10 WAR for hitters

        1. Betts 10.4
        2. Trout 9.8
        3. Ramírez 8.0
        4. Bregman 7.6
        5. Lindor 7.6
        6. Yelich 7.6
        7. Chapman 6.5
        8. Machado 6.2
        9. Rendon 6.2
        10. J.D. 5.9

        42. Bellinger 3.6

        https://www.fangraphs.com/projections.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&type=steamerr&team=0&lg=all&players=0&sort=27,d

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      • Steamer projects him to have a 142 wRC+ over the the rest of the season. Steamer thinks only 6 hitters will be better.

        You think his Steamer projections say he is good not elite, when Steamer projects him to be the 7th best hitter over the rest of the season?

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      • I just don’t see it. I think that the players that I named are all better. Judge, Stanton and Lindor missed/are missing some time but are all better players. Betts, JD, Jose Ramirez, Acuna, Freeman, Trout, Yelich are all better. That’s already 10 players. Then we have Chapman, Arenado, Harper. Bellinger is a .275/.350/.520 player in my view, that’s not elite or great.

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      • Got it Neil! He is not elite. Now let’s not push this issue to hard or we might think this is a hidden agenda.

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      • I’m not, I’m responding to the guy who I’m having a conversation with about him. What agenda would I have? I don’t have any personal investment in Bellinger.

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  • Bellinger is not elite, but you know who is? Bryce Harper! First and last time I read anything from this clown…

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    • You mean a player once considered a generational prospect with the second richest contract in history and 31.6 career fWAR by age 26 isn’t elite to you? In 2017 for example, he batted .319/.413/.595. He’s inconsistent and gets injury prone but has elite plate discipline, 40 HR power and speed. There’s a reason why so many experts were surprised that he wasn’t pursued by every team that could afford him last offseason.

      Bellinger on the other hand was not considered elite by anyone until a month of play with unsustainable stats this season. Harper was considered elite for 7 years.

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