Cody Bellinger tied for fifth place on MLB.com’s list of the 10 hitters who have improved the most since the All-Star break.
Bellinger, who became a household name in Korea as Ryu Hyun-jin’s “helper” during his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, is playing for the Chicago Cubs this year.
He was injured in the bottom of the seventh inning of a game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 16 when he leaped to catch Kyle Tucker’s home run to right-center field and slammed his left knee into the fence railing as he came down. After a few days of rest, Bellinger spent a month on the disabled list.
Before the injury, he was batting .271 (39-for-144) with seven home runs, 20 RBIs, and an OPS of .830. Compare that to a .193 batting average and 0.611 OPS over two years in 2021-2022, and it was a “perfect resurgence.
But his bat got even hotter after his return. After making a weighty return statement with a timely double against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 16, Bellinger went on a 13-game hitting streak from June 25 to July 8, finally pushing his batting average into the triple digits.
His accurate and powerful hitting was reminiscent of 2019, when he won NL MVP honors. Suddenly, he had his second breakout season, being named NL Player of the Month for July. After a month-long absence that left him short on at-bats, Bellinger recently filled his plate appearances, leading the NL in every offensive category.
Bellinger went 1-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs in a 6-4 win over the Detroit Tigers on April 24. As of that day, he ranks fourth in the NL in batting average (.320) and fifth in both OPS (.920) and wRC+ (145), the highest among Cubs hitters. He’s only 20th in home runs (20) and 67th in RBIs (67) because he missed a month, but expect him to put up some serious numbers the rest of the season.
What could have “woken up” Bellinger from his slump?
The Dodgers released Bellinger as a non-tender last November after much deliberation. The term “non-tender” means “we’re not re-signing you for next season, so we’re letting you go as a free agent. Bellinger’s major league career peaked in 2019, when he was named MVP, and then plummeted. His batting average dropped to .239 in a 60-game shortened season the following year, and then dropped to the low teens in 2021-2022.
Conversely, Bellinger’s salary grew exponentially as he accumulated more years of service time and became salary-adjustable, reaching $17 million in 2022. The bottom line for the Dodgers is that there’s no point in paying a player over $17 million if he’s never going to regain his old form.
The reason for Bellinger’s sudden decline is that he injured his shoulder in the 2020 postseason. After hitting a game-winning solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves, Bellinger went into a wild celebration with his teammates and tweaked his left shoulder. He underwent surgery that winter and has been on a steep decline since 2021.
But Bellinger’s agent, Scott Boras, thought differently. He convinced teams that Bellinger would regain his form once his shoulder was healed, and three or four teams actually made specific offers. Boras’s strategy was to play one year and then become a free agent, and Bellinger was confident in his resurgence this year, eventually landing with the Cubs, who offered him a $12.5 million salary for 2023 and a $12.5 million mutual option for 2024 with a $5 million buyout.
Boras told ESPN, “There’s something I emphasized to the Cubs, including president Jed Hoyer. “When you have a guy who has never had an OPS below .800 for three years, who’s been in the .900 to 1.000 range, who’s been Rookie of the Year and MVP, and all of a sudden his OPS drops to .550 to .650, it’s obviously not a skill issue,” Boras said, adding, “Cody just lost power after his shoulder surgery. Jed agreed. A healthy Cody is a five-tool MVP.”
As Boras explained, once Bellinger got over his shoulder injury, he returned to his career-high form at the plate this season. He’s expected to receive some, if not all, of the votes in this year’s NL MVP voting.
Team contribution. During Bellinger’s month-long absence, the Cubs struggled to an 11-15 record, and the Cubs offense saw its OPS drop a whopping 112 points, from .763 to .651. After finishing the first half with a 42-47 record, the Cubs are now 66-60 and in the second NL Wild Card spot. A postseason berth seems likely. It’s safe to say that Bellinger has a lot to do with that.
Let’s look at it from a hitting perspective. Bellinger’s average bat speed this year is 87.2 mph, the lowest of his career. However, the difference between his pre-season batting average (.262) and his actual batting average according to FanGraphs’ projection program ZiPS is the largest among all major league hitters. Part of the reason for that is his .333 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which means he’s hitting the ball right. Bellinger’s strikeout rate has been cut in half, from 27.3% last year to 15.7% this season.
“If you can control the bat, you can hit more pitches,” Bellinger said. “You can’t just hit one part of the zone anymore. “You can’t just hit one part of the zone anymore, and I think that’s why I’m seeing good results.
Another is the help of his assistants. According to ESPN, Bellinger’s resurgence project was spearheaded by his father after he was released by the Dodgers late last year. He then met with the Cubs coaching staff at spring training camp to work on his mechanics. Hitting coaches Dustin Kelly and Johnny Washington were in the same circle when Bellinger was with the Dodgers, so they know him well.토스카지노
The way things are going, Bellinger will likely pick up his option for next year and hit the market again. That was the original plan. He was born in July 1995 and could get a 10-year deal. Boras could command a total of $300 million.