Two seasons can make for some drastic changes when it comes to a Major League Baseball player’s productivity. This is especially true when they’ve been struggling with serious or niggling injuries. In 2019, MLB went out of its way to celebrate the race for the National League MVP between the Milwaukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger. Both were having career years, until Yelich dropped out with an injury toward the end of the season. Last week, we looked at his subsequent struggles at the plate. This week, we’re digging into Cody Bellinger’s numbers to highlight some problem areas.
Bellinger’s productivity dropped significantly between his NL MVP season and the shortened COVID-19 season that saw the Dodgers win the World Series. Even though Bellinger hit the go-ahead HR in Game 7 of the series, there’s no glossing over the fact that the year had been, for the most part, a disappointment. It only got worse when he dislocated his shoulder celebrating the aforementioned homer. The injury would prove costly. His shoulder hasn’t been 100% almost a year after hurting it.
Injuries have played a role in Bellinger’s current season in which he is hitting .175 AVG/.269 OBP/.323 vSLG with 7 HR and 24 RBI. In April, he suffered a hairline fracture in his left fibula, which sidelined him for two months. More recently, he tweaked a hamstring, knocking him out of the lineup once again. Even when he is able to play, Bellinger is almost unrecognizable in the batter’s box. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.
According to USA Today Baseball writer, Bob Nightengale, “Scouts sit behind home plate shaking their head. They watch him stand straight up at the plate, but as the ball is being delivered, his head moves, his hands drop, and his bat moves slow through the zone, with fastball after fastball thrown right past him. ‘He is lost,’ one veteran scout said, ‘just completely lost up there. I don’t know what’s going on with him, but he doesn’t even look like the same guy.’’”
So what’s been happening?
Bellinger’s wOBA and AVG have plummeted since his NL MVP season.
Bellinger is striking out much more than he did in 2019 (in terms of percentage). What started as a trickle in 2020 has exploded into a full-blown whiff crisis in 2021. Making matters worse, he is walking less as can be seen in the steadily decreasing BB%.
The graph below shows that Bellinger is swinging more (Swing%) but making less contact (Contact%), signs that he might be pressing a bit. The whiffs are pretty evenly spread out between the strikezone (Z-Contact%) and outside the zone (O-Contact%).
Unfortunately, when he does make contact, he’s been hitting grounders more (2019) or hitting infield fly balls more (2020). A recipe for a .175 batting average no doubt.
Bellinger is well aware of what’s happening. According to Nightengale, “Bellinger hesitates to make excuses, but says his shoulder still is not fully recovered from his surgery last November. He doesn’t have the same strength. He can’t get around on the high fastballs. And the fly balls that used to clear the fence are now dying on the warning track.”
Fortunately, the Dodgers are still having a very good year (though still trailing the surprisingly good and resilient San Francisco Giants) so Bellinger has some leeway to get his swing back. Had Los Angeles been tanking, more critical attention would undoubtedly been focused on his struggles.