tonycpsu

Cody Bellinger 2020 Outlook

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The 2019 NL MVP is going 4th overall in 2020 drafts, and I'm starting to read articles about how he's not worth the price.  It's true that the days of getting a significant discount are over, but having just taken him 3rd overall in the RW forums mock, I'd like to try to articulate why this is an extremely fair price.

I'll start by quoting from this Athletic piece, in which Michael Salfino makes the case that he's worth the high pick using Baseball Reference player comparisons:

Quote

My theory with Bellinger is that Hall of Fame talents have to pass through two doors. The first is the easiest — they have to merely arrive and announce themselves with stellar play like Bellinger did in 2017 when he won Rookie of the Year by hitting 39 homers and slugging .581 in 132 games.

But there’s another door. The big leagues is filled with the greatest pitching talent on earth and they will work to find your weaknesses and then attack it relentlessly; like in Bellinger’s sophomore year when he slumped to 25 homers and a .470 slugging in 162 games — still very good at age 22 but a setback nonetheless. The Hall of Fame talent has to solve his weaknesses as a hitter after they have been attacked and rise like a phoenix to true greatness again, as Bellinger did in 2019 when he slashed .305/.406/.629 with 47 bombs. Once you make it through the second door, that’s it. There is nothing that pitchers can do to stop you. You played to your strengths and conquered your weaknesses. Barring injury or personal tragedy, you basically have your ticket punched to Cooperstown.

So that’s my theory on Bellinger. He’s great now for good.

 

I don't doubt there are many counterexamples to this just-so theory.  The criteria for what constitutes a sophomore slump and what constitutes overcoming it aren't specified well enough for us to test them.  Nonetheless, the piece does a good job comparing Bellinger's third year breakout to other players who've accomplished similar feats, and the results are a lot of Hall of Famers, or at least inner circle "Hall of Really Good Non-Hall-of-Famers".  Salfino suggests that Bellinger's AVG didn't look very fluky, and that his steals look safe as well when comparing him to other players with similar profiles in their first three years.

Still, in drafts, it's not just about getting a good player, but getting a player who's better than the rest of the players on the board at that point in the draft.  Assuming most leagues go Acuna/Trout or Trout/Acuna, the choice is going to be between Bellinger, Yelich, Betts for most people unless they want to take an elite arm with a top 3 pick, and while I can understand why someone might prefer the two more established stud outfielders with a higher stolen base floor, I see several reasons to jump Bellinger up into the top 3, namely:

1. Dual (1B/OF) eligibility.  Much has been said about how historically shallow 1B is, and while Bellinger is primarily an outfielder now due to the emergence of Max Muncy and surplus of effective infield bats, he's important enough to the team that I think they will find ways to get him off the grass on a regular basis to protect his body.  It's not like the team is going to suffer if they have to slide Betts into CF every once in a while...

Having an elite five-category contributor you can slide into so many slots on your roster is pretty much a cheat code during the season, and on draft day, it allows you to let the bargains come to you rather than having to jump on a 1B when you get a sense that there's a tier drop.

2. Youth.  Despite the volumes of evidence against it, I still see people cite the age 27 range as the time players peak.  At least for fantasy, this is a young man's game, and 27 isn't "young" anymore.  Nobody should expect a huge decline from Mookie Betts or Christian Yelich because they're 27 and 28 respectively, but they are getting into a phase of their careers where, statistically speaking, they've already likely shown us their greatest individual seasons.

Does Bellinger have another level higher than his MVP performance last season?  The odds are against it, but as a 24 year-old, it's not out of the question, and with a MLB stolen base success rate of 81%, right around Bettts and Yelich's 83% career rate, there could be another gear in his fantasy production even if he reverts back to merely "great" as a real-life player.  (He was a nose ahead of Yelich in Statcast sprint speed last season, and well ahead of Betts.)

3. Health.  This intersects with youth, of course, but aside from aging curve considerations, Bellinger's youth makes him a better bet to stay healthy in 2020 than Yelich, and possibly better than Betts as well.  We all know about Yelich's injury derailing his MVP hopes last season, and while it's not a red flag, it's at least yellow when you're talking about a top 3 pick.  Betts, meanwhile, has always enjoyed high PA numbers as a leadoff hitter, but excluding their partial rookie seasons, Bellinger has averaged 150 games played per year to Betts' 148 and Yelich's 143.  Because Bellinger can slide to 1B when needed, he has a better chance of remaining productive when he's a little banged up than Betts, and his youth makes him a better bet to heal quickly, all else being equal.

I understand why others might go in a different direction at #3, choosing to chase speed or a longer track record, but I can assure you one of Trout, Acuna, or Bellinger will be on any team where I'm drafting from the 3 position.  It isn't a question of trying to win the draft in the first round by banking on an improvement, either -- I really think he's already the best 5x5 fantasy player available at 1.03.

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I still have Yelich ahead just because I don't think the knee injury will have any ill effects on him going forward, and he actually was much better on a per game basis than Bellinger, Acuna, and Trout. To me, you really can't lose with a top 4 pick.

The 1B eligibility is bigger than people realize with the lack of front line options at the position this year, while OF is completely loaded with stars, routine fantasy starters, and plenty of deep sleepers.

Yelich was on a better HR pace, better SB pace (30/32 is insane), and was hitting 30 points above Bellinger's average. That is enough for me to choose him over Bellinger.

I don't blame anyone for going Bellinger over him, though. I would be ecstatic to have the #4 pick in a snake draft and get whoever comes to me.

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K-BB% in 2018 was 13 (23.9 K rate, 10.9 BB rate)

It was 2 in 2019. (16.4 K rate, 14.4 BB rate).

I was skeptical heading into 2019 after the 30% K rate in the 2018 playoffs, but was totally proven wrong. Did slow down a bit second half, but still .913 OPS in the second half.  

 

He will produce first round numbers, with a chance for the #1 crown.  Dual eligibility (1B is somewhat thin, too) a plus. Only way he's a disappointment is with injury.

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Great first post @tonycpsu. Do you happen to have any links to those articles saying Cody isn’t worth the price? I’m curious of what the rationale is. Having the 4th overall pick this year is a nice place to draft. I’d be happy with any of those guys. There’s a fairly substantial drop to the 5th player.

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1 hour ago, meh2 said:

Great first post @tonycpsu. Do you happen to have any links to those articles saying Cody isn’t worth the price? I’m curious of what the rationale is. Having the 4th overall pick this year is a nice place to draft. I’d be happy with any of those guys. There’s a fairly substantial drop to the 5th player.

 

I would say Betts is still elite and not a huge drop from 4, but clearly outside of that top 4 elite group. The drop after Betts is pretty enormous. In NFBC it looks like at the 6 and 7 spot players are pivoting to Cole and deGrom rather then the next offensive player: Francisco Lindor.

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I personally still ding him a little and would take Betts and Lindor ahead of him (in addition to the “big 3”) only because he came back down to earth in the 2nd half of 2019, including a hint of vulnerability vs lefties that earned him light platoon treatment in 2018, so the sample size isn’t quite where I want it to be just yet.  

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I remember watching his highlights early last season.  He was by far the most exciting player to watch all season long for me.  Even though I like to win in fantasy, I'm also a fan and love owning players who are capable of being world beaters.  Fun to watch and own.

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9 minutes ago, Weekday Warrior said:

Maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea for Cody to tinker with his swing coming off an MVP season after all...


I haven’t watched all of his AB’s but the returns have been crap. Anyone been watching?

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1 hour ago, Weekday Warrior said:

Maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea for Cody to tinker with his swing coming off an MVP season after all...

It’s been like five games lol

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6 hours ago, hangin n wangin said:

It’s been like five games lol

Normally I would agree, but in this short season that could get shorter I'd be a little nervous. 

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Look at what all of the top 5 guys in drafts are currently doing. Trout drug his average up to .292 but was just above the mendoza line yesterday. The rest of them are .206 or worse with Yelich tearing the cover off at .037

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, kwelch said:

Normally I would agree, but in this short season that could get shorter I'd be a little nervous. 

I get it's a shortened season, but it's still 5 games. That is a minuscule sample size in baseball.

In a season like this you can't really take things to seriously. It's all kind of a joke really. If you drafted Belly, just ride him out and hope for the best. 

Edited by hangin n wangin
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Come on Cody! I watched him today and he's clearly not seeing the ball well, taking easy strikes, lazy grounders, looks uncomfortable. I believe in Bellinger though, he'll catch fire soon, he's too talented not to.

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2 hours ago, Ecofolux said:

Come on Cody! I watched him today and he's clearly not seeing the ball well, taking easy strikes, lazy grounders, looks uncomfortable. I believe in Bellinger though, he'll catch fire soon, he's too talented not to.

 

Agreed. At some point he'll get hot and we'll get something like 5-6 HRs in 10 games and be happy.

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He has been really underwhelming so far. To pay top dollar for him and this is my first time owning him, I'm not impressed so far.

If he did tweak his swing then he needs to go back to what made him a stud, fast.

K rate is still fine, he's just hitting too many weak grounders. Means the swing needs fixing.

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What's his problem right now? Is he just not physically there enough to turn on the ball? He stand so close to the plate and it seems like all of the balls he hits are hitting below the barrel. 

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Really don't understand his tinkering with his swing after his amazing season last year. Always felt to me like trying to be too perfect. Still a small sample though in a weird season so I'm still nowhere close to worried.

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3 hours ago, sportsfreak2744 said:

Still a small sample though in a weird season so I'm still nowhere close to worried.

I would agree except that the season itself is a small sample. Unfortunately (in Roto anyway), I am a little worried. I’d rather be defending a statistical lead than trying to make up ground when there’s only weeks to go. 

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Is he gonna change his batting stance again? What a bust. There will be so many better first round choices next year, guys that are actually reliable and consistent. 

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11 minutes ago, marble_donut said:

Is he gonna change his batting stance again? What a bust. There will be so many better first round choices next year, guys that are actually reliable and consistent. 

I hope this this consensus so he is at a discount next season when there is hopefully 162 games

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