Learning from Cody Bellinger’s Hot Start

Cody Bellinger has been superb in his call up with the Dodgers, hitting 6 home runs in 65 plate appearances. With Andrew Toles out for the season with a torn ACL, the likelihood of Bellinger staying in the big leagues has improved. However, what should reasonably be expected for the Dodgers phenom for the rest of 2017? It doesn’t take an advanced statistician to understand that the .446 wOBA he has posted thus far will regress, but the question is how far? Does Bellinger’s performance line up with what was expected? The first place I want to start is with Bellinger’s scouting report courtesy of our own Eric Longenhagen. (Trimmed it down a bit)

…That power comes from the monster hacks that Bellinger takes in all counts. He doesn’t protect or shorten up with two strikes and instead he’s constantly threatening low-flying aircraft with his incredible torque, hand speed and uppercut swing. This results in lots of airborne contact (majestic blasts as well as weak pop ups) and plenty of strikeouts… Bellinger has shown the ability to stay back on breaking balls, as well the ability to turn on plus velocity in on the hands and, while he does try to pull everything, he has solid plate coverage…

He’s also seen time in the outfield, including center, and there are scouts who think he could play all three outfield spots in a pinch…

There’s some risk here because of the swing and miss, and I expect major-league pitchers will feed Bellinger a steady diet of offspeed pitches, especially back-foot sliders, once they see the swings he takes…

Jeff Zimmerman has already dived into Bellinger’s defense in the OF, which may be better than expected. While defense isn’t really pertinent to our discussions for ottoneu/fantasy, (Bellinger has already secured OF eligibility for 2018), Jeff does good work. If you’re not reading it, you’re missing out.

Back to the scouting report. To dive into this, I started with Bellinger’s plate discipline numbers. While he only has 65 plate appearance, I wanted to see what type of hitter he has been so far to better understand the selection of pitches he is taking. While these numbers have a degree of error to them, they should help to loosely guide us and inform our projections of his future.

Cody Bellinger Plate Discipline
O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
33.8% 72.2% 49.3% 63.0% 71.8% 68.2% 40.3% 49.2% 15.5%

It looks like the scouting report, so far, has been spot on. Bellinger is taking monster hacks and his power is apparent. However, the swing and miss is a real thing. That doesn’t necessarily doom him or create a problem – one would expect a player swinging for the fences to make less contact – but it does show the profile of a power hitter, with the typical warts. He is seeing a below average number of pitches in the zone (typical for power hitters), swings at an above average rate, and makes below average contact. For reference, the 2016 league averages:

– pitches in the zone 44.6%
– contact 78.2%
– swing rate 46.5%

While making contact doesn’t need to be Bellinger’s forte for sustained success, we want to see that he has the bat speed to sustain a lack of contact. To put it another way, we want to see that he hits the ball hard when he makes contact in the air. We know that he has a swing (from the scouting reports) designed to produce balls in the air, so we want to confirm that the balls in the air are being hit hard enough to be productive fly balls. To view this in terms of players, we don’t need him to be Ben Revere (making contact on everything, hitting a buch of ground balls, with zero power). We want him to keep his apparent power, and make sure we don’t have a Byron Buxton or Michael Taylor on our hands (swing and miss without the power to justify it.) If Bellinger can hit for enough power to justify the pop-ups and lack of contact, we can live with that.

Thanks to Andrew Perpetua, we can examine how Bellinger is impacting the baseball by looking at his exit velocity by batted ball types. If these fall below average, we could garner some information on if Bellinger’s power is being overstated. (Shameless Plug, Andrew’s piece from yesterday is excellent for any baseball fan trying to understand what all this talk of exit velocity and launch angles means. You should read it.)

From Andrew’s site, we can see the various launch angles classifications for each type of batted ball, along with the average exit velocity and wOBA from each batted ball type.

Batted Ball Classifications
Class LA EV wOBA
Dribble Balls <0 83.2 0.176
Ground Balls 0-10 92.9 0.436
Low Drives 10-19 92.8 0.710
High Drives 19-26 92.0 0.730
Fly Balls 26-39 89.7 0.502
Pop Ups >39 82.6 0.055
SOURCE: xstats.org

In looking at Bellinger’s batted balls, I want to see if his average exit velocity on fly balls is above average. Examining Bellinger’s batted ball types, we can see the that his average exit velocity on low drives, high drives, and fly balls is comfortably above average (98.5, 95.8, and 96.2 respectively). This is encouraging. Bellinger has swing and miss. Many power hitters do. However, he also hits the ball hard enough to warrant this sacrifice in his profile.

While many of us base our views of a player’s talent on projections, especially in fantasy circles, it is not uncommon for there to be discourse regarding the rate at which projections update for either a player’s debut, or a change in approach. Because of this, I wanted to look at a list of comparable hitters from the past 10 years who appear to be in similar classes to Bellinger. For display purposes, I have only shown the seasons from 2014-2016, though all seasons from 2007-2016 were included in the average calculation. Let’s put some faces on similar hitters to Bellinger.

Cody Bellinger Comparables
Season Name Swing% Contact% Zone% SwStr% BB% K% ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
2017 Cody Bellinger 49.3% 68.2% 40.3% 15.5% 9% 22% 0.373 0.333 0.446 180
Proj. Cody Bellinger 9% 27% 0.217 0.287 0.329 108
2014 Adam Jones 55.6% 74.4% 41.0% 14.2% 3% 20% 0.188 0.311 0.340 117
2015 Ben Paulsen 56.7% 71.9% 42.8% 15.9% 7% 26% 0.185 0.351 0.339 97
2016 Brandon Moss 51.0% 67.5% 42.4% 16.5% 8% 30% 0.259 0.261 0.329 105
2014 Carlos Gomez 56.3% 74.8% 40.6% 14.2% 7% 22% 0.193 0.339 0.368 132
2015 Carlos Gonzalez 53.8% 71.5% 39.8% 15.2% 8% 22% 0.269 0.284 0.364 114
2016 Carlos Gonzalez 51.6% 71.4% 39.9% 14.7% 7% 20% 0.207 0.346 0.361 108
2014 Chris Carter 48.5% 65.3% 42.6% 16.7% 10% 32% 0.264 0.267 0.346 125
2015 Chris Colabello 50.2% 71.3% 43.8% 14.4% 6% 27% 0.198 0.411 0.381 142
2014 Chris Davis 46.8% 66.3% 40.4% 15.5% 11% 33% 0.209 0.242 0.308 94
2015 Chris Davis 47.5% 67.0% 41.3% 15.6% 13% 31% 0.300 0.319 0.390 148
2014 Colby Rasmus 47.3% 69.8% 39.8% 14.2% 8% 33% 0.223 0.294 0.321 104
2016 Corey Dickerson 56.4% 73.3% 38.9% 14.9% 6% 25% 0.224 0.285 0.319 101
2015 Eddie Rosario 58.9% 75.1% 43.2% 14.5% 3% 25% 0.192 0.332 0.316 97
2014 Evan Gattis 53.1% 73.2% 41.5% 14.1% 6% 24% 0.230 0.298 0.352 125
2016 Freddie Freeman 52.6% 72.5% 41.7% 14.1% 13% 25% 0.267 0.370 0.402 152
2015 J.D. Martinez 53.1% 71.8% 43.8% 14.9% 8% 27% 0.253 0.339 0.372 137
2016 J.D. Martinez 52.5% 73.2% 44.0% 14.1% 10% 25% 0.228 0.378 0.384 142
2015 Jonathan Schoop 60.8% 71.3% 42.7% 17.5% 3% 25% 0.203 0.329 0.338 112
2014 Jose Abreu 54.5% 72.9% 39.6% 14.4% 8% 21% 0.264 0.356 0.411 167
2015 Kris Bryant 49.0% 66.3% 41.3% 16.5% 12% 31% 0.213 0.378 0.371 136
2015 Mark Trumbo 51.6% 71.6% 42.0% 14.6% 7% 24% 0.187 0.313 0.327 107
2014 Marlon Byrd 57.2% 70.8% 43.3% 16.5% 6% 29% 0.181 0.341 0.330 110
2015 Marlon Byrd 60.5% 71.4% 42.1% 17.2% 5% 27% 0.206 0.297 0.317 100
2016 Matt Kemp 55.4% 72.6% 42.9% 15.0% 5% 23% 0.231 0.297 0.333 109
2014 Oswaldo Arcia 52.2% 66.4% 41.3% 17.4% 8% 31% 0.220 0.292 0.328 108
2015 Randal Grichuk 51.8% 69.8% 44.3% 15.5% 6% 31% 0.272 0.365 0.370 137
2015 Ryan Howard 54.7% 69.7% 41.4% 16.6% 5% 27% 0.214 0.272 0.308 94
2016 Ryan Howard 55.2% 67.5% 41.5% 17.9% 8% 32% 0.257 0.205 0.298 83
2016 Tyler Naquin 51.2% 72.0% 41.5% 14.2% 10% 31% 0.218 0.411 0.374 135
2016 Yasmany Tomas 58.0% 71.7% 41.2% 16.3% 6% 24% 0.236 0.310 0.345 109
Average 52.6% 70.4% 41.2% 15.4% 8% 27% 0.232 0.317 0.352 121
– All seasons 2007-2016 with 300PAs
– Swinging Strike Rate above 14%
– Below average pitches in the zone (44.6%)
– Below average contact (78.2%)
– Above average swing rate (46.5%)
– ISO above .180
– n=56

I tried not to filter the list too much because I didn’t want to take Bellinger’s statistics with too much credibility due to sample size issues. To account for this I simply judged if he was below or above league average in relation to a couple statistics. Additionally, I made judgement calls on only including seasons with 14%+ swinging strikes, and over .180 ISO as both appear to be comfortably within the range of possibility.

This is a very encouraging list. To give a few names, you have a couple seasons of Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Davis, and J.D. Martinez. Along with the good version of Jose Abreu, and Kris Bryant and Freddie Freeman on their path to stardom. There’s also a large chunk of useful seasons from players who are non-stars Russell Branyan (the good seasons), Brandon Moss, and Mark Trumbo. On the low end we are looking at the bad version of Ryan Howard, Ben Paulsen, Juan Francisco, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  This averages out to a ~120 wRC+ for the group, which in Dodger Stadium is around a .350 wOBA. While this isn’t projected in his wOBA projection currently, I would expect projections to inch toward this total as the season continues. The good news is this, of the 56 season that qualify, the chance of a bust (under 105 wRC+) is roughly 21%, with the chance of a 120 wRC+ roughly 43%. While our list certainly includes some survivor bias, it paints a picture of an at least league average player and a current $15-$20 OF in ottoneu fangraphs points leagues.

We hoped you liked reading Learning from Cody Bellinger’s Hot Start by Joe Douglas!

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Joe works at a consulting firm in Pittsburgh. When he isn't working or studying for actuarial exams, he focuses on baseball. He also writes @thepointofpgh. Follow him on twitter @Ottoneutrades

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OddBall Herrera
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OddBall Herrera

Suggested alternate title: “Learning from Joc Pederson’s hot start’.

We’ve seen so many players come up and hit a bushel of home runs right away and then struggle to adjust, it seems like we should assume that’s coming rather than continued success. Particularly in the case where a player has a high K profile with scouts on record saying he’s got a violent swing.