If you’ve been following baseball, chances are you know of the NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner. The son of former baseball player Clay Bellinger (183 games), Cody Bellinger has more than 2.5 times as many home runs his father did in less than half the games. Bellinger has been worth 3 Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) in only 91 games, putting him at a 5.3 WAR pace over a full season.
Bellinger tore up the minor leagues showcasing his prodigious power, consistently posting Isolated Power ratings above .220. Realistically, he won’t keep up an ISO over .300 but the mid-high 200s is within his capabilities. Last night his power was on full display as he cranked out his 32nd of the year.
Bellinger’s average exit velocity (97.1 MPH) on flyballs and line drives puts him tenth. He leads the league in Isolated Power. Scouts routinely gave Bellinger raw power grades 1-2 standard deviations above the mean. Challenging for the home run crown has been within his range of possibilities.
He was the top rated prospect in a deep Dodgers system per MLB.com, and Baseball America. Multiple outlets had him within the top 3. The big issues with Bellinger was his propensity for strikeouts and defence not being strong enough. Many believed Bellinger could be an average corner outfield defender if not one of the best defensive first baseman. In the majors, he has held his own. As a baserunner, he’s been good as well swiping 7 bags in 9 attempts. His BaseRunning statistic on Fangraphs is considered above average. Per Statcast, Bellinger is also the fastest first baseman and 29th fastest player in terms of sprint speed.
As for the strikeout issues, it’s related to his nature as a power hitter. Batters who hit home runs generally carry higher strikeout rates. And then there were mechanical concerns. Bellinger’s uppercut swing is a thing of beauty. It is thunderous but gentle. At its best, this happens:
While uppercut swings are great for lifting the ball, they can lead to popup and strikeout issues. These issues have yet to be of concern however. His 26.8% strikeout rate isn’t good but not bad considering how well he hits and taking into account his age. Bellinger’s 7% popup rate is above average. Altogether, Bellinger seems to have control of his vicious swing which along with his plate approach has lead him to a 142 wRC+ good for 16th in the league. Over the past decade, only six players have had a greater wRC+ in their rookie season (minimum 350 plate appearances).
Further to the strikeout issue, the most intriguing aspect of Cody Bellinger’s season has been his decreasing strikeout rate and increasing walk rate from May to July (April and August excluded for lack of sample size).
With additional experience, Bellinger’s strikeout issues will likely fade. He’s 21 and in his first major league campaign. He’s shown the ability to adjust. Even if he hovers around the 25% mark, his ability to hit the ball far will keep him as a positive offensive force.
Every team in the league would love to have Cody Bellinger. A player on a 5 Win pace in his rookie year will only get better. Bellinger is 21 and the best is yet to come. He’s shown the ability to adapt and is a key cog in a dangerous Dodgers team.