Dodgers

Dodgers: Is Cody Bellinger Falling Back in MVP Race?

The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger has been the center of attention this year for being the best player on MLB’s best team. From his hitting ability to speed, to power, to glove and arm, the 24-year-old has flashed all his skills consistently, correctly displaying what a five-tool player is supposed to look like, and getting some to anoint him right next to Mike Trout.

As of Wednesday morning, his .330/.431/.673 line with 34 home runs and 16 Defensive Runs Saved in 103 games are splendid and worthy of legitimate MVP talk, as are his league-leading 6.8 bWAR and second-best 6.2 fWAR (to Mike Trout). He’s been so good that he’s either the MVP frontrunner in the National League or a close second to the Milwaukee Brewers’ Christian Yelich.

However, while Milwaukee’s star man has held steady, Bellinger has quietly tapered off. His numbers are dropping- power in particular- causing him to fall behind Yelich in the awards race and showing once again, we need to pause before giving Trout a fair counterpart.

After a historic March/April in which he had an OPS over 1.400 with 14 home runs, his numbers have dipped. He had six home runs and a .998 OPS in May, seven homers with a .967 OPS in June, and a .966 OPS with seven home runs in July (with two games left). Those are still elite, but not at the MVP-level he was at.

Per FanGraphs, since May 22 (the last day he was above a .400 batting average), he’s hitting .268/.384/.580 with a 2.3 WAR, .387 wOBA, 144 wRC+, and 17 home runs in 245 plate appearances. Those aren’t terrible numbers by any stretch of the imagination. They are excellent. But compared to his 1.270 OPS, 3.9 WAR, .505 wOBA, 221 wRC+ and 17 homers during his first 199 plate appearances, there’s a significant drop-off.

His types of contact are still very similar, while his groundball/flyball ratio has actually decreased, which is an excellent combination when you’re hitting the ball hard.

But luck has finally left him. Through May 21, he had a highly unsustainable .403 BABIP (.300 is roughly average). Since then, it’s down to .253. A lot of his hard hits are going straight to defenders or getting gobbled up by the shift. However, it’s a more recent slump that we should focus on.

Bellinger is hitting .288/.424/.558 with four home runs in his last 15 games for the Dodgers. “But that’s not bad, though.” Well, those numbers are skewed from his monster four-hit, two-homer game against the Philadelphia Phillies about two weeks ago.

Take that appearance away, and he’s hitting .239/.397/.413 with two long balls in 14 contests. And since that big game? A .686 OPS in 42 plate appearances.

On the flip-side, Christian Yelich has stayed consistent and is getting hot again. He hit his MLB-leading 36th home run a couple of nights ago to help keep his batting average seven points higher than the Dodgers’ outfielder, on-base three points higher, and a slugging percentage 34 points better while trumping his counterpart in the more advanced metrics such as wOBA and wRC+. Oh, and he has 23 stolen bases compared to Bellinger’s nine.

Now, this isn’t an overreaction arguing that Bellinger is all of a sudden bad and not worthy of MVP consideration. The Dodgers’ outfielder is still the far superior defender. It’s merely to point out what hasn’t been covered: Cody Bellinger is slowing down a tad bit.

The on-base percentage isn’t what it once was because his hits have dropped but it’s held steady because of his high walk rate. He’s still swinging the same amount as earlier in the season, as is the case with chasing pitches. There’s just been a tad increase in swinging-and-missing.

The drop in recent power numbers is particularly worrisome, though. Bellinger’s slugging and extra-bases continue to drop while working on 12 days without a home run.

But he’s still been among the best. Just not the best. Besides, his early-season numbers were going to be highly subject to regression, regardless. We can’t fault him for not sustaining peak-Bonds numbers.

But if you are worried about his last week or two, it’s fair. And you can also be worried that Bellinger’s slowdown shows he is closer to his rookie-self than what he was in April (as May-to-July has shown). But that’s not a bad thing; it’s just don’t expect Trout-level production.

But history has also shown that this is just the sport of baseball. Slumps are part of the game. You’re not always going to find holes, no matter how hard you hit it. These are the dog days of summer, and they can take tolls on players, especially on those that have a division lead of 14 games.

It’s all about sticking to the process and adjusting to any flaws the opposition may have picked up on you. He’s still a young player, so finding consistency for the standard he set may just be the next step in his development.

But for now, Yelich is proving to be the slight favorite (he has narrative on his side). However, don’t be surprised if the Dodgers outfielder goes on a tear to finish the season off strong.

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