(2 of 25) Dodger 2021 Rankings: Bellinger

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After Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger is projected to be the Dodger’s second most valuable player by Zips. So let’s take a look at the projections for the 25 year old coming off his shoulder surgery. The former MVP has high expectations and we’ll debate wether we can expect more or less from him throughout 2021.

Highlights

  • Bellinger Projections
  • Bellinger’s 2020
  • Over/Under Projections
  • Our 2021 Projections

2021 Projections

Bellinger is projected for another successful season according to Zips. And Zips is one of the most conservative in their projections for Cody. Here’s the offensive highlights…

  • .273/.366/.545
  • 5.4 WAR, 38 HR, 99 R, 123 RBI, 17/20 SB
  • 29 2B, 5 3B, 82 BB, and 137 SO
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All this, but in 156 games and 648 plate appearances. Bellinger has traditionally been an iron man so far, but he is coming off of a shoulder surgery. And Zips seems to be the only projection not expecting him to miss any time. Every other projection has him between 141 and 151 games for 2021. (Yet Zips expects less PA than most of the other projections)

His slash line is remarkably similar across all projections. His projected OPS range is only from .908 to .944. It’s going to be hard to beat those projections. Other than that, the only Zips projection that stands out from the rest is actually a higher expected strikeout rate for Bellinger. They expect him to strikeout almost a full 2% more than the next highest projection.

Bellinger’s 2020

Now most Dodger fans were disappointed in Bellinger’s follow up to his MVP season. With the standard set so high in 2019 it was hard not to regress. However, we looked closer and we think Bellinger did much better than we give him credit.

Before we talk about where he underperformed, we want to look at where Bellinger still shined in 2020. First off, no matter what happens to the bat, you could argue that Bellinger is currently the best center fielder in baseball.

He was the leader in OAA, as in the 100th percentile. The once 1st base prospect now ranks in the 85th percentile in outfielder jump (how fast and well he’s reading the ball) AND he ranks in the 91st percentile in sprint speed. AKA only 15% of outfielders moved more efficiently, and only 9% of all MLB players could cover as much ground as him. And yet, he lost to Trent Grisham in the gold glove race. (Grisham was 99th percentile in OAA, 89 in Outfielder jump, and 96 in sprint speed)

But no one complained about Bellinger’s performance in CF. LA was shocked by just how much Bellinger fell off offensively. His 2020 slash line dropped to .239/.333/.455 for a career low OPS of .789. He still was on pace for 30+ doubles, 30 plus homers, and almost 20 SB.

However, statcast says he should’ve been much better. His expected slash line was .284/.360/.497 for an expected OPS of .857. Our theory is that Bellinger’s overall contact was at a career low, but he was also on the unlucky side with his hard hit balls. Just to start, he had 3 expected homers turned doubles on his spray chart.

His hard hit rate was still 41.5%, he downed his career strikeout %, had his second best BB%, but his sweet spot % was well below the MLB average for the first time. His BABIP was .245 compared to his .300+ career average before 2020. Overall, everything just screams that Bellinger was unlucky last year. He looks like a safe bet to rebound from his 2020 lows. But can he out-do his 2021 projections?

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Over/Under Projections

Here are his projections again.

  • .273/.366/.545
  • 5.4 WAR, 38 HR, 99 R, 123 RBI, 17/20 SB
  • 29 2B, 5 3B, 82 BB, and 137 SO

OPS

Will Bellinger OPS over or under .911? In our opinion expect the UNDER.

They put the projection EXACTLY on Bellinger’s career OPS. His career slash line? .273/.364/.547. Awfully close and too “safe of a bet” in our opinion. And that’s a great gauge for a lot of players, except Bellinger has had an OPS range of .789 to 1.035 in his brief career. In fact, he’s finished every season so far with a different first number in OPS.

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/cody-bellinger-641355?stats=career-r-hitting-mlb

Even more so, Bellinger seems to have two very different end of season outcomes so far. His averages are pulled up mainly by his ridiculous MVP season and record setting rookie campaign. The biggest reason we expect under .911? The slug rate of .545. We doubt that Bellinger will cross the 40 homer barrier to reach that mark.

We do think he can outperform his batting average and on-base rate though. We think that Bellinger is going to focus more on getting on base with walks, and stealing bags this upcoming season. Which is awesome for the team, but not so great for his slugging percentage and overall OPS. (slugging is the easiest way to up OPS). Avg and OBP peak at 1.000. Slugging peaks at 4.000 (If a batter only hit home runs every at bat)

WAR

Bellinger is projected 5.4 WAR in 2020. This one was tough for us, but we’re going to say OVER even though he’s only passed this milestone in his MVP year. But we think Bellinger is going to put all of his tools on display throughout the year.

Last year, Bellinger paced for roughly 5.0 WAR despite his comparatively down performance.

Finally, it’s worth noting that he plays one of the most valuable defensive positions. WAR changes based on your position. Even though he played almost a gold glove 1st base early on, because the position is so loaded and defensive variation is so low, his WAR defensively was actually negative when that was his primary position. Again, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. It’s easy to replace a 1st baseman. It’s hard to replace your CF.

So once he moved to CF, his value skyrocketed to MVP levels thanks to the boost from his new defensive value. Now in 2021, we’d be shocked to see Bellinger start more than 5 games somewhere other than CF.

Counting Stats

Really quickly, here are the counting stats we’re talking about, our Over/Under calls, and a quick explanation why.

  • 38 HR – Under
    • We expect less homers in 2020
  • 99 R – Over
    • We expect Bellinger to cross 100+ Runs thanks to depth in the lineup, an uptick in him stealing his way into scoring position, and his speed makes him a scoring threat even from 1st base
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  • 123 RBI – Under
    • With less homers come less RBI’s (Specifically, he won’t be knocking himself in as much)
  • 17/20 SB – Over
    • We think Bellinger will go for 25HR/25SB this year, be on 1st base more than usual, and attempt more SB of 3rd.
  • 29 2B – Over
    • We think some of those homers turn into doubles with the “deaden” ball
  • 5 3B – Under
    • We honestly just expect about 4 triples, so technically, under…
  • 82 BB – Over
    • More patience plus pitchers will pitch around him most of the time.
  • 137 SO – Under
    • He actually strikeouts much less than the average MLB player for the past 2 years.

To sum up these counting stats, our biggest themes are

  • expect Bellinger to use his legs more than before
  • expect less power not only from him, but all of baseball
  • expect Bellinger to increase his OBP, but not necessarily his AVG or SLG
  • expect more of a Mike Trout good to great all around, but elite no where stats

Our 2021 Projections

Overall we expect Bellinger to end the year right around here….

  • .285/.390/.475/.865
  • 6.0 WAR, 31 HR, 105 R, 110 RBI, 29/36 SB
  • 35 2B, 4 3B, 100 BB, and 115 SO

He wins a gold glove, a sliver slugger, and once again makes the All-Star team. He’s no MVP, but he’ll get some top 10 maybe even top 5 votes. He finds himself spending the year batting in between the 3-5 spots, although the team experiments with him as a leadoff hitter later on to give the Dodgers a killer L-R lineup all the way down of Belli, Betts, Seager, Turner, Muncy, Smith, Lux, Taylor.

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He starts 150 games, but plays/pinch hits in all but 5 games. We have him falling short of the 30/30 mark, but we’re honestly not sure on which side. Both are hard to force, but we have a feeling he’ll start getting CS more as the season goes on.

Overall, expect the Bellinger bounceback. We doubt he flys all the way back up to MVP levels, but we expect him to be in the OF tier of Betts and Acuna and right above Yelich and Harper. Mainly thanks to his defensive advantage and a massiv uptick in stolen bases.

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