Cody Bellinger had a record-setting rookie season for the Dodgers, let’s look back at his incredible season. As good as he was this year, he can become even better next year and avoid a sophomore slump.
By now you have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about Cody Bellinger. He had been the hottest topic of conversation and arguably made more headlines than any other Dodger this year. The Dodger’s top prospect going into the season wasn’t even supposed to make an impact on the major league roster this year, and he only went on break the NL rookie record for home runs in a season with 39.
It was thought that Bellinger would at some point make his major league debut this season just to get his feet wet, but he was still at least one year away from becoming an everyday player in the big leagues. After all, the ever so reliable veteran Adrian Gonzalez had been holding 1B for years now, and it looked like Bellinger would have to wait until Gonzalez contract was up for his chance to shine. Gonzalez had been one of the most consistent players in baseball for the past decade making five all-star teams and winning four gold gloves.
However, injuries started to catch up to El Titan which opened the door for Bellinger. Bellinger debut for the Dodgers on April 25th starting in left field in a 2-1 win over the rival Giants and went 1-3 with a walk. Bellinger would continue to play mostly outfield until Gonzalez was placed on the DL for the first time in his career on May 5th. By the time Gonzalez returned from the DL on May 18th, Bellinger was hitting .293 with seven home runs already and slugging 1.004. The team was also 13-5 in his games played and a disappointing 9-11 before he got called up.
Despite all of this there was still no guarantee that Bellinger would remain a starter or even stay in the majors for much longer once Gonzalez returned. However, a degenerative disk in Gonzalez’s back which saw the slugger hit only one home run over his first 165 at-bats sidelined him indefinitely on June 13. Finally, Bellinger could take over the starting first base spot for good.
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An incredible June in which Bellinger hit 13 home runs started to put the rookie in MVP talks. From that point on Bellinger never looked back and went on to unanimously win the rookie of the year while also finishing ninth in MVP voting. He would up hitting .271 with his record-breaking 39 home runs, 97 RBI and had a .933 OPS. Bellinger easily deserves an A+ grade for the year he had but for this article I want to focus on ways in which he can improve next season to help avoid a sophomore slump.
Power hitters are going to have their fair share of strikeouts, but 146 SO in 548 plate appearances is a number in which Cody should look to cut down on. His .271 average is very solid, but Cody does have the potential to be a near .300 hitter I believe. He has such a great feel for the strike zone that if he could cut down on those strikeouts a little bit, it would bring up his average and make him a better all-around hitter.
Bellinger did get exposed some in the postseason. He hit .219 with three home runs and hit only .143 with 1 HR in the World Series. He also struck out 29 times in only 67 at-bats. In the World Series alone he struck out 17 times in 29 plate appearances. Despite his struggles in the playoffs, I am not overly concerned about this. Too many times I saw Bellinger swing at pitches he normally would have laid off in the regular season.
I believe the pressure on him being in that big stage broke him out of his rhythm and too many times it looked like he was trying to make the big hit instead of playing his game. He was not the only Dodger player to do this by the way. Bellinger has such a high ceiling that he is only scratching the surface right now. The league is going to adjust to Cody next season, so he has to react to their adjustments as well.