The Dodgers’ rookie sensation has the city of Los Angeles feeling optimistic about the rest of the season.
When Cody Bellinger was promoted on April 25th, the Los Angeles Dodgers were getting a prospect who was destroying Triple-A. Before his call up to the big leagues, Bellinger was hitting .343 with Triple-A Oklahoma City, making his promotion to Los Angeles an easy decision for the Dodgers management to make.
Despite the numerous injuries that have plagued the Dodgers, they find themselves sitting at the top of a competitive NL West with a 51-26 record, the best mark in the National League. Bellinger has been a big part of the Dodgers’ success, with their ranking near the top in most offensive statistical categories, even with several key contributors out injured.
After Sunday’s win over the Colorado Rockies, Bellinger added another multi-homer game to his short career, giving him six for the season and the second most for a rookie behind Mark McGwire. For the 2017 season, Bellinger is hitting .274/.342/.679 with 24 home runs and 55 RBIs and is showing no signs of slowing down.
The most notable aspect of Bellinger’s success is his prowess against breaking pitches. A comparison of his numbers shows that he has fared better against offspeed pitches in general:
Fastballs: .236/.301/.545, HR each 12.22 ABs
Off-speed pitches: .310/.351/.851, HR each 6.69 ABs
Although Bellinger is still very good at hitting fastballs out of the park as Sunday’s game shows, his success with breaking pitches has made him a formidable opponent. A look into Bellinger’s heatmap shows one option that pitchers may want to consider going forward:
As the heatmap shows, Bellinger has yet to adjust to inside fastballs. As long as pitchers kept their fastball away from the middle of the plate, they have been successful in limiting Bellinger’s offensive impact. The good thing for Bellinger is that commanding a fastball on the inside part of the plate is difficult for pitchers, leaving him at an advantage.
Pitchers, however, are having even more difficulty against him with breaking pitches:
Bellinger has been hitting breaking balls well, both for contact and power:
Bellinger is also hitting the ball hard, with a 49% hard hit ball percentage. His average launch angle, coupled with his average exit velocity and hard hit ball percentage, has placed him among the top power hitters in the league. He is only one of three players currently in the top 25 in both average exit velocity and average launch angle:
Therefore, Bellinger’s high home run total is a product of him having perfected an upper cut swing and hitting the ball hard. If Bellinger can continue to hit for power, it would not be surprising to see him challenge Mark McGwire’s records of most home runs (49) and most multi-homer games (7) by a rookie. As the chart below shows, he is accumulating multi-homer games in a record pace:
Since Bellinger has six already, he would only need one to tie McGwire, making this feat a more than realistic possibility. The second record that Bellinger should be able to chase is the most home runs by a rookie before the All-Star Break. Right now, he is currently nine home runs short of the record, once again held by McGwire:
Both Bellinger and Aaron Judge will be competing for McGwire’s spot. Although it will be a challenge with MLB’s All-Star Weekend fast approaching, the race for the record should make the next couple of weeks interesting.
His power hitting may be garnering the most attention, but Bellinger is impressing with more than just his bat. Although he was drafted as a first baseman, Bellinger has primarily played in the outfield and has shown to be more than up to the task. So far in his short Dodgers career, he’s made the highlight reel more than once with a few diving plays that rival Gold Glove winners:
Bellinger has already displayed the same kind of versatility that many MVPs show. As the season progresses, he should continue to be one of the Dodgers’ most reliable and important players moving forward. It can be expected that Bellinger will continue to play every day for the foreseeable future.
There is new star power in Los Angeles. Although the Dodgers were projected to be good, the team is poised for a run at the World Series crown in October. Bellinger may be the additional star they need to finally bring the first World Series trophy back to Los Angeles since 1988.
*All data has been retrieved from ESPN.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and FanGraphs.com
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