Givanni Damico | May 25th, 2019
Who’s hitting the ball better than Cody Bellinger right now? There are a couple of guys who are close, but Bellinger is easily the best hitter in baseball so far in 2019. With a line of .394/.478/.765 and 17 home runs through just 48 games, Bellinger is a Triple Crown threat. He also is sporting a 4.5 WAR, which is currently leading the league. What did he change from last year to make himself into what he is today? Let’s dive into it.
After winning rookie of the year in 2017, Bellinger went through a bit of a sophomore slump. He hit 39 home runs in 2017, but just 25 in 2018 despite playing in 30 more games. In 2017, Bellinger had a higher fly ball rate (47.1%) compared to 2018 (40.2%). His hard-hit rate was also three percent higher in 2017. Looking at his plate discipline statistics, nothing really changed from 2017 to 2018 that would make such a drastic impact on his power. In 2017, his OPS+ was 143, while in 2018 it was down to 120. For those of you who don’t know, OPS+ takes a player’s OPS and normalizes it with the rest of the league, accounting for factors like the ballpark that they play in. The MLB average is 100. His ISO (isolated power, as if this stat means anything) was down over 100 points in 2018, from .310 to .205. I denounce ISO every chance I get, but this drop truly shows how much his power fell off in 2018. It’s safe to say that his ISO is back up in 2019.
So what has changed in 2019? Bellinger’s line drive rate has been through the roof in 2019. Last year, he only hit line drives 19.9% of the time, but in 2019, that number is up to 34.3%. Line drives mean that he is barreling the ball more which results in more balls over the wall. His flyball rate is surprisingly at a career-low 35.7%. One factor that affected his power and average in 2018 was Bellinger’s high IFFB (infield fly ball) rate. This number was at 16.5% last year which is far above the league average. This year, he is only hitting infield fly balls 3.9% of the time. His launch angle has been lower due to less of an uppercut in his swing. This has seriously worked in his favor.
Here is a link to a great video analyzing Bellinger’s swing by a woman named Alexa Peterson over at “The Hitting Vault” on YouTube:
The line drive rate is not the only thing that has been vital to Bellinger’s power. After making hard contact just 40.1%, that number has skyrocketed to 52.8%. So over half of the time that Bellinger puts the ball in play, it is hit hard. He is also pulling the ball 50.7% of the time, as opposed to just 45.2% of the time in 2018. Pulling the ball more has allowed him to get the barrel to the ball early and send it to orbit. We aren’t just focusing on Bellinger’s power though. The man is hitting .394. That is outstanding, especially this far into the season. Is it sustainable? I don’t think so, considering that through March and April, Bellinger was hitting .431, but in May, he is hitting just .317. The majority of his power came in the first five weeks, hitting 14 home runs in March/April but only three so far in May. His slugging percentage was at .891 after April, but in May, he is only slugging .541. His numbers in May are still good, but they’re nowhere near what they were in April.
Bellinger has been essential to the Dodgers’ success in 2019 so far. When they win, it’s usually because of how good he is hitting. In games that Los Angeles has won this season, Bellinger is slashing .436/.508/.909 (yes that is his slugging percentage, not OPS) with 14 home runs and 37 RBIs. In games that the Dodgers have lost, he is slashing .317/.423/.500 with just three home runs. These numbers are very similar to his April and May splits as well. When he performs well, the team performs well. When he is playing at an average level (for his standards this season), the team doesn’t perform as well. He is the most important player to that team and if he continues to do what he’s doing now without much regression, he could easily be hoisting his first MVP trophy this season. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be the first Triple Crown winner since 2012 as well.
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