On the floor, Cody Bellinger’s life is about to get higher a technique or one other. He was an MVP candidate final season heading into free company, in addition to a former MVP and Rookie of the 12 months. He would have been known as a unicorn again within the day, given his capability to defend at a Gold Glove degree in centerfield and at first base, besides now Shohei Ohtani has redefined what unicorn means in baseball. Bellinger is barely 28 and doubtless nonetheless has some high years left. Usually this type of man would get a fanbase that went all loopy with the information of his signing.
And Bellinger will get his cash. However once you learn the place he is going, or what he is being provided, there’s an undertone of warning or hesitation, which sounds fairly unusual for somebody who can play these two positions whereas trailing .525. And once more, on the age of 28. Hear Seinfeld’s voice: “What is going on on?”
To start with, Bellinger solely had one good season after the 2 seasons the place he was disappointment and despair in human kind. Most attributed that to shoulder and knee accidents he suffered in 2020, however he is nonetheless the man in 2021 who put up a 47 wRC+ and an 83 in 2022. It was ugly, although Bellinger had an alibi. But these seasons are usually not far sufficient up to now to be forgotten.
There are additionally some flashing lights about his comeback season with the Chicago Cubs final season. The nice factor is that his energy returned. Not on the degree of his ROY or MVP season, however that .525 slugging mark is an antihistamine quantity (to not sneeze at! I will present myself). And once more, to reiterate, somebody who can ship that sort of energy whereas enjoying two positions nearly flawlessly is an absolute brick bitch of a participant to have. Bellinger additionally considerably diminished his strikeout fee, from over 25 p.c within the earlier two campaigns to simply 15.6 p.c final yr. Energy, protection, self-discipline on the board, that is going to be fairly tasty, proper?
The issue for some when learning Bellinger is that his contact numbers are simply plain bizarre. As a result of Bellinger did not hit the ball that arduous in any respect. His common exit velocity of 87.9 was simply the twenty second percentile. His barrel fee was within the twenty seventh percentile. His hard-hit fee was simply the tenth percentile. His anticipated batting common was about 30 factors decrease than his precise, and his anticipated slugging was nearly 100 factors decrease than his precise. It is bizarre. Belinger’s BABIP was .319, a career-high and 34 factors above his profession common. However .319 is not some mutated complete that is so out of step with the conventional .300 you discover within the league. It can most likely come down, however not in a violent swing. Possibly. Who can predict?
The excellent news for Bellinger and whoever indicators him is that after coming back from a knee harm that compelled him to overlook a month in June, his exit velocity elevated each month from then on, peaking at 89.7 MPH in September. His barrel fee did not rise on the identical fee, however nonetheless improved the additional he acquired from that harm layoff.
One other change for Bellinger in 2023 was how a lot contact he made, particularly within the strike zone. Bellinger related on 87 p.c of the photographs he made on pitches within the zone, a profession excessive. He additionally made extra contact on pitches exterior the zone than ever earlier than. Bellinger’s swing fee was according to what he had accomplished in ’21 and ’22, however we all know what these seasons had been. It is the primary time he is proven that sort of bat-to-ball capability since his MVP season. Is that this the brand new regular or will the smells return to his recreation?
One other warning signal is that Bellinger has reached excessive velocity. Throughout his MVP season in 2019, on fastballs of 95 MPH or greater, Bellinger batted .278 and batted .611. Final yr? .203 and .362. And his projected numbers counsel he was very fortunate to even attain these ranges on premium warmth. That most likely will not get higher as he strikes into his thirties. Drop that benchmark to 93 MPH or greater, which is just about everybody’s fastball exterior of Kyle Hendricks, and the numbers go as much as .254 BA and .485 SLG. Can conclude that Bellinger may nonetheless hit good fastballs, however something higher and it was a wrestle.
Then again, Bellinger completely murdered off-speed pitches final yr, to the tune of a .630 slugging and .458 wOBA. However how a lot of that may he see sooner or later, given what everybody can see him doing towards plus warmth?
The ground on Bellinger is a plus-plus glove mixed with, probably, a consultant quantity of manufacturing on the plate, however not on the star degree we noticed final yr. He is simply not hitting the ball that arduous proper now. He’ll run sufficient and never strike out sufficient to make up for that. However that pop-gun contact may simply end in many extra outs than final yr. Or he may signal with the Yankees and simply hit 30-35 house runs over the canine park fence they put in proper subject and nobody will care. Put it in Oracle Park 81 instances a yr and ask it to battle the wind coming in from the bay, and that is a unique story. He has additionally not confirmed for just a few years that he can keep wholesome for 162 years.
There are extra questions lurking beneath the floor about Bellinger’s outburst than you may assume given the headlines on his baseball card. He is undoubtedly getting his cash’s value, the free agent class simply is not that good and he stands out. Whether or not followers of that staff will lean their heads in direction of him in two, three years or sooner…
Observe Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social