Dodgers: Cody Bellinger’s Breakthrough has Begun

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 10: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a fifth inning RBI single to go ahead of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on August 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 10: Cody Bellinger #35 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a fifth inning RBI single to go ahead of the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on August 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

We all remember last year’s World Series performance by the Dodgers. More ingrained in my brain is the way that Lance McCullers & Co. wiped through Cody Bellinger’s picturesque launch-pad otherwise known as his swing. Nothing was more disheartening nor frustrating. Bellinger’s breakout in his rookie year had abruptly ended.

Those breaking balls on the inner half, from his head down to his ankles (also known as quadrants 3-6-and 9 of the strike zone), seemed to virtually disappear through his bat and reappear in the catcher’s glove. Our hero had been slain by those orange dragons. Still, to this day, the Astro’s wrath is felt even after a mere 3-game series. Which led me to think about Bellinger’s season thus far. 

Upon watching Lance McCullers’ slurve cut through Bellinger’s swing like a hot knife through butter in the World Series, the rest of the league took copious notes. Bellinger would expect to see the same approach from every rotation and bullpen across baseball until he could eventually counterpunch their attack.

Now into August, a daunting trial has proven itself to be. To come back and fight after the entire league watched your personal kryptonite spill across the diamond must be at the very least, difficult. However, the will to bounce back speaks to the type of person Cody Bellinger is, the fight and determination this kid has deep down, and it speaks volumes to his exemplary work-ethic, poise, and talent.

All of these attributes have built upon each other and his confidence has risen exponentially. I believe that right now is the tipping-point for Bellinger’s long-awaited resurgence. Since the beginning of August, Bellinger has been a man possessed. Throughout most of the year, we’ve seen Belly go down (sometimes) 1-2-3 or 1-2-3-4. Both are very common occurrences.

But through the grind of the season, constant work at hitting those inside breaking balls, and eventually gaining more confidence, actual gains are starting to show themselves and lately, in bunches. Take his August-line for example.

As of Thursday night, Cody has a .385 AVG, .484 OBP, and a .654 SLG%, which equals an impressive 1.138 OPS. He’s 10 of 26 with one double and 2 (what I like to call) Belly Bombs (HR’s).

More impressive for Bellinger is his nearly identical strikeout and BB rate. He currently has 5 BB to his 6 K’s and though this is admittedly a small sample size, it is leaps and bounds better than the rest of his season thus far. Lastly, to top all that off, Bellinger has 3 steals. 

You can see it in the way he rounds the bases, the way he attacks the zone, and the way he trusts his instincts. Just last night alone, his round-tripper and his single were both struck on the first pitch. When Bellinger is “on,” he doesn’t need a lot of pitches to make his bat heard. That’s a sign of improved confidence.

We’ve seen him guess a lot throughout the year, get out on his front foot, and get beat sometimes before the pitch even crosses the plate. Last night, none of this was going on. I think I know why. His first HR in exactly one month came on August 2nd against the Brewers, only two games after Lorenzo Cain jumped 50 feet in the air to yank away our hopes and dreams.

His HR also came on the same day that the Dodgers put up a staggering 21 runs on those same Brewers. Lastly, that HR (a grand slam, remember?) which hung over the foul-line for 45 minutes and eventually clung-off of the foul-pole with that glorious “glooong!” came off of a Jhoulys Chacin slider, low and inside. A breaking ball, low and inside. Not the exact same pitch that McCullers used in that fateful game but it was close. He turned on that pitch and BOOM! Revelation maybe? You tell me. 

It would be unfair to expect Cody to automatically hit every breaking ball on the inner-half as a consequence of taking Jhoulys Chacin deep. However, it would be fair to expect a certain level of confidence increase while watching an almost identical trouble-pitch clang off of that foul-pole. Also, not all pitchers (in fact, very few pitchers) are able to hit quadrants 3-6-and 9 with regularity and even more-so with a breaking ball.

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Therefore, the pitches that are immediately outside of the 3-6-9 are the 2-5-and 8 quadrants, otherwise known as; middle-high, middle-middle, and middle-low, respectively. When a player focuses so intently upon improving the area of his game that is the most unfamiliar and alien to him, he inadvertently improves his capabilities in the areas that already feel good.

In other words, those pitches that are intended to hit his 3-6-9 and wind up outside of their intended destination (middle to outside-zone) will be that much easier to put a stroke to. And we all know that Belly is at his best when he is able to fully extend those arms of his. Once those arms are fully extended, watch out. 

Now that Bellinger has the ability to stroke that 9th-quadrant breaking ball there’s a newfound, or maybe just dormant, confidence that should propel him throughout the rest of the year and into the postseason. Since the Granny, Bellinger has 6 hits resulting from pitches in just the inner and middle-zones and another 4 on the outside-zones.

Next. The Dodger bullpen will survive without Jansen. dark

Remember, when Bellinger gets those arms extended, look out. He’s starting to hit the ball on the inside, middle, and he’s always hit the ball on the outside. What’s left? That’s for us to sit back and find out.