Cody Bellinger was the first player in MLB history to hit a homerun in his first at bat, but he has struggled since then. In 2021, after three years of low production and injuries, Cody’s major league career is likely over.
The “cody bellinger 2021” is a player for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The season started off well, but things went wrong in 2021.
Cody Bellinger was once one of the top players in baseball on one of the best teams in baseball (only two years ago!). The Dodgers’ outfielder/first baseman has 15.0 WAR through his age-23 season, with a 2019 number of 7.7 WAR culminating to a National League MVP award. It was one of the best seasons by a player under the age of 23 in baseball history, ranking among the top 50 by WAR on a list that includes Mike Trout (four times), Alex Rodriguez (twice), Mookie Betts, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper, Grady Sizemore, and Troy Glaus over the past 30 years.
If you’re waiting for the but, be prepared for it to be a big one. In a pandemic-shortened 2020, Bellinger regressed significantly, and this year he was the third-worst position player in baseball (-0.8 WAR, trailing only Jackie Bradley Jr. and the since-released Gregory Polanco) and the second-worst at the plate (48 wRC+; Bradley Jr.), with at least 350 plate appearances.
He re-upped with the Dodgers for $17 million right before the lockout (report leaked lately), a small and almost obligatory rise from his $16.1 million contract in 2021. He’ll face arbitration once more before becoming a free agent following the 2023 season, so the ship must be righted quickly if he wants to justify his pay and contribute to the next Dodgers postseason team.
To figure out what occurred, you can look at Bellinger’s terrible surface metrics, but there’s not much there: he’s simply lot poorer at everything.
From our colleagues at FanGraphs, here’s a graphic depiction of his hitting regression utilizing three important metrics that communicate the tale more clearly (consider becoming a member).
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Bellinger is receiving essentially the same pitches by location for each pitch, but pitchers seem happy with giving him more four-seam fastballs, according to my analysis. That’s the pitch you don’t want to throw him in the past, as seen by the red zone of dread from 2019. Bellinger’s per-100 pitch run value on four-seam fastballs has dropped from 1.91 in 2019 (17th in MLB) to -1.34 in 2021 (14th from last), comparable to his overall decrease.
Take all of it in. At the bat, the pitch that made him an MVP is now the one that makes him a utility infielder, and pitchers are sending it to him far more often.
But why, exactly?
To summarize, Bellinger has had some notable shoulder and leg injuries in the past year, and his power, contact, and plate discipline have all suffered as a result of those injuries. We can assume he’s feeling some (unknown) effects from those injuries, and he’s certainly tinkering to try to solve the problem. I don’t believe slowing down a number of swings to detect a mechanical problem from a few of films is beneficial, but launch angle over time is one approach to track tinkering. Bellinger’s launch angle has fluctuated throughout his career (graph from Baseball Savant, years indicated across the top), so it’s fair to assume he’s still working on it.
It’s difficult to determine the cause and effect in this case. Is it possible that his injuries caused less explosion in his swing, which led to more effort to maintain raw power, which led to having to commit to pitches earlier, which led to less plate discipline, which led to chasing bad pitches and bad results, which led to swing tinkering, and none of it can be reversed until he’s fully healthy with a clear head and a clean slate? That is my best hypothesis and makes logical sense, although there are around 1,000 alternative possibilities.
Bellinger performed substantially better in the playoffs, with much better results in a limited sample, continuing a solid trend from late in the regular season. His swing was noticeably less violent to help simplify things, which I believe was the greatest short-term solution for getting better outcomes in important postseason circumstances. Given these clues and the opportunity to assist him get into peak physical form while clearing his thoughts, I believe he’ll look lot more like the greatest version of himself in 2022.
Bellinger, one of the faces of baseball just a year ago, would have been a clear non-tender/trade-for-a-middle-prospect candidate if he were in Tampa Bay, Oakland, or Pittsburgh, where no player makes $17 million in 2022 — but it was an easy call for the Dodgers to keep him around, even if it is as a big-money role player with value given his versatility and defense. Bellinger’s position is comparable to Kris Bryant’s with the Cubs last winter — a costly former MVP with a decrease in performance that injuries played a difficult-to-pinpoint degree in triggering — but he’s still 26 years old and has two years of control remaining. Now the issue is whether he can bounce into the 2019 MVP form, or whether the Dodgers will get what they saw in 2021 again next season.
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Cody Bellinger was a promising baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2021, he was traded to the Chicago Cubs and his career took a turn for the worse. Reference: cody bellinger wife.
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