Cody Bellinger experienced a power drop-off in 2018, but he sounds confident he’ll rebound nicely this year.
Upon arriving in the big leagues in 2017 Cody Bellinger was a revelation, hitting 39 home runs and driving in 97 along with a .933 OPS on his way to winning NL Rookie of the Year. He also played a lot of first base (93 games-83 starts) and outfield (46 games-43 starts) to increase his value to fantasy baseball owners.
Bellinger started slowly in 2018, going hitless for the first three games, getting bench for a lack of hustle in April and hitting .180 in May. When the calendar flipped to June he was hitting .232 (.728 OPS), and never fully recovered on his way to hitting .260/.343/.470 with 25 home runs and 76 RBI.
Much of Bellinger’s erosion was rooted in struggles against left-handers. After hitting .271 against southpaws as a rookie, with a .903 OPS and a 24.2 percent strikeout rate, he dropped to .226 with a .681 OPS with a 25.7 strikeout rate last year. A slight drop in BABIP against lefties (.291 in 2017, .281 in 2018), less contact overall and an uptick in ground balls (41.8 percent in 2018, 33.3 percent in 2017) all played a part.
In comments to Pedro Moura of The Athletic, Bellinger dismissed his 2018 struggles against lefties last year as a blip.
“I should be in the lineup every single day,” Bellinger told The Athletic. “I don’t think there’s a question about that. Even when I’m not good, I’m still really good.
There’s truth to that last part. Despite hitting 14 fewer home runs over 84 more plate appearances, Bellinger played all 162 games last season. He also posted the same Baseball Reference WAR as he did in 2017 (4.2) with only a slight drop in WAR via FanGraphs (4.0 in 2017, 3.6 in 2018)
Even with a drop-off in power numbers, Bellinger was a top-10 fantasy first baseman and a top-25 fantasy outfielder last year. He stole a few more bases than he did in 2017 (14 vs. 10), and he of course remains eligible as a first baseman (110 games last year) and an outfielder (81 games last year) this year.
Bellinger’s high-water mark for batting average feels like .270, so he at least won’t hamper his fantasy owners in that category. Somewhere between 2017 and 2018 is easy to see as the sweet spot for his 2019 power numbers, say 35 home runs and 90 RBI, with legit potential for 40 and 100 to go with 90 runs scored and double-digit steals.
With an ADP around pick 45 overall right now (back half of the fourth round in a 12-team league, via Fantasy Pros), Bellinger looks like a solid draft day value. The first baseman just above him in ADP, Rhys Hoskins, threatens being a batting average liability and he won’t steal 10 bases like Bellinger seems a lock to do.