Mixing Fantasy & Reality: Bellinger & Duffy

Cody Bellinger’s Outfield Defense

As long as Adrian Gonzalez can physically take the field, Cody Bellinger will not be the Dodgers regular first baseman. He will need to be able to play the outfield until the Dodgers part ways with Gonzalez. To find out if Bellinger has what it takes to play the outfield, I will break down his physical traits.  here are his available scouting grades.

First, here are his available scouting grades.

Cody Bellinger’s Component Prospect Grades
Year Source Hit Power Run Field Arm
2017 FG 45 70 40 70 60
2016 BA 55 60 55 60 50
2017 BA 60 70 50 70 60
2014 MLB 55 45 50 60 50
2015 MLB 50 55 50 60 50
2016 MLB 50 55 50 60 50
2017 MLB 55 65 45 70 55

Before I get to the field grades, I would like to address his Run grades. They project him as an average future runner. For this season, I don’t care about his future. I want to know if he is athletic enough to play outfield now. While watching Nick Pivetta pitch, I saw Bellinger beat out this throw to first base.

I broke out my AccuSplit AX725 and timed his run to first base. I did it about a half dozen more times. Then I asked someone else to verify the time.

It took Bellinger 4.00 or fewer seconds to get to first base. An even 4.00 seconds puts him as a 70-grade runner. While the swing was a little awkward, he wasn’t trying to bunt himself on base and taking off running with the swing. With just this piece of information, he should be athletic enough to cover quite a bit of ground in the outfield.

Now onto the preseason defensive evaluations from the three sources listed above.

Eric Longenhagen

The offensive bar at first base is high but Bellinger’s power and approach profile there, and he’s an excellent defensive first baseman, garnering several 70 grades from scouts. 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 — though the glove is so good at first base that nobody will actively endorse it. The thought of a bat like this playing center field, even if he’s a 40 there, is enticing, but Bellinger’s leatherwork at first is special and major-league clubs like sound defensive first basemen because they’re constantly handling the ball. I don’t see him moving to the outfield unless it’s necessary to get his bat in the lineup at the big-league level immediately.

MLB.com

Scouts rarely rave about a first-base prospect’s defensive skills, but Bellinger is an exception who’s smooth around the bag and excels at digging throws out of the dirt. Considered a future Gold Glover at first base, he moves and throws well enough that he also has seen time at all three outfield positions and hasn’t looked overmatched in center field. His versatility will help him crack the lineup in Los Angeles, where All-Star Adrian Gonzalez is still under contract for two more seasons.

Baseball America (2017 Prospect Handbook)

He’s a potential Gold Glove winner with excellent range, smooth actions, clean footwork and soft hands to go along with a plus lefthanded arm. Bellinger is even an average runner, so the Dodgers have had him play the outfield as well. He’s stretched thin in center field but is playable at both corners.

The simple answer seems to be great first baseman, acceptable outfielder.

There is no need to rely 100% on scouting reports. Hopefully, most people have watched enough baseball to know what level athleticism is need to play acceptable major league outfield defense. I went through all the batted balls he fielded so far with the Dodgers (up to May 3rd) to measure his performance first hand.

First, he wasn’t challenged much. Quite a few of the play were easy outs or line drive hits over the shortstop. Here are the three “hardest” plays he has made so far.

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It’s tough to tell the full level of his athleticism in the plays but he is not at the Matt Adams fielding level.

Here is a play I beleive some outfielders would have made but Bellinger couldn’t.

The center fielder covered more ground than Bellinger with both just ending up short on making the catch. I don’t see his defensive range being subpar.

Finally, here are two plays in which he showed off his arm.

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In the first example, he showed plenty of strength but limited accuracy. In the second one, he was on line but bounced the throw to third. He doesn’t seem to have a plus arm at this point but I could see it improve if given more outfield reps.

No glaring weakness exists that keeps him from playing left field. He isn’t an elite outfielder or even an above average one. He doesn’t have to be. Average defense is fine with his bat.

Right now, Bellinger is hitting .303/.361/.576 with two home runs. The Dodgers will have a tough decision when Joc Pederson (.220/.322/.340) returns from his rehab assignment today (they might have made the decision before this article publishes). The Dodgers need to decide if they are going to keep Bellinger in the majors and then how much time he splits with Pederson, Yasiel Puig (.235/.316/.412), and Andrew Toles (.268/.310/.476).

Bellinger may get sent back to the minors but I believe he has the ability to step in and play in the outfield if Puig and/or Pederson continue to struggle. Additionally, Tholes has just a .310 OBP. A bad week and the non-prospect could also be replaced. Right now I would be betting on Bellinger being the most productive of the quartet.

Notes:

• In Tout Wars, Danny Duffy is driving me nuts and contributing to my horrible pitching staff (I can’t blame it all on him). While Duffy has a reasonable ERA (3.89), his xFIP (4.76) and SIERA (4.73) point to a higher future ERA. He does have a decent FIP (3.58). He won’t be able to continue to suppress home runs (0.5 HR/9) with his flyball tendencies so his FIP will likely jump as the summer heats up.

Basically, he’s struggling with strikeouts (too few) and walks (too many). Of the 100 qualified pitchers, he’s 78th in the league with an 8.4% K%-BB%. Last season, it was 19.8% as a starter. He has declined because for a couple reasons.

First, he’s not throwing the ball in the strike zone as much. His Zone% is down from 50% to 45%. Hitters aren’t chasing the out-of-zone pitches and his walk shows it.

Additionally, what first pitches he does throw in the zone are right down the middle. Here’s his fastball placement on 0-0 counts.

 

These pitches are meatballs and hitters are teeing off on them. The league rate for first pitch swinging is 29% but it’s 39% for Duffy. Hitters who make contact with his first pitch are hitting .333/.367/.526 while those who wait are hitting .228/.330/.266.

With these issues, I don’t have an idea if/when he will correct them. For now, I am not dropping him. I plan on being careful with his matchups until he improves. With so many variables to check, I will just keep it simple and watch for better walk and strikeout numbers.

Yonder Alonso has changed his swing and approach and Michael Clair of MLB.com goes into the details.

That’s all in the past. Like many players, Alonso has been reborn with the fly ball. With players like Murphy attributing their breakout to the glory of loft — and the advent of Statcast™ showing the benefits of getting the ball in the air — Alonso has drastically changed his swing.

I don’t have much to add. It is a great breakdown of the changes which have led to him hitting six home runs this season.

 

Book Review: Do You Want to Baseball: Inside Baseball Operations by Bill Givett (28 years of experience as a player, scout, and front office executive for the Angels, Yankees, Expos, Rays, Dodgers, and Rockies)

The only reason I bought this book was because I found out there was a scouting section. With so little scouting information available, I thought it would be worth the additional insight. What I ended up finding was so much more.

The book has basically three sections. The first part is about creating the knowledge and connections to get an interview and hired by a team (it recommends writing for FanGraphs). I skipped most of this section as I was interested in the second part on scouting.

There are four chapters on the basics of scouting. I liked his emphasis on creating a simple workflow for evaluating a player. Initially, he recommends a scout not to do too much and eventually add variables and traits as the scout get more comfortable and grows. While I don’t agree with every detail, the structure he sets up is the best I have seen.

The third and final section was seven chapters on player development. As far as I know, this is the only literature on how to set up and run an entire player development system. I gained so many pieces of info from it. One example is to focus on the top four to five hitters on each minor league team. These are the top prospects according to the organization because they are trying to get them as many at-bats as possible.

I think the book would be getting more love in the baseball circles if he had just written and advertised it on the scouting and player development aspects. He didn’t but that shouldn’t stop people from consuming this hidden gem.





Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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tommybonesnyc
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tommybonesnyc

I’m betting they put Agon on the DL to get him healthy and buy another 10 days+ test for Bellinger.