Cody Bellinger and the Sophomore Slump

cody bellinger
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

You hear the term Sophomore slump a lot when it comes to second-year players. Players that perform well in their rookie year get knighted as the next wave of elite hitters. Cody Bellinger was no exception to that rule coming into the 2018 season, after all, he broke the NL record for most home runs by a rookie in 2017 with 39. Expectations were understandably high. Even I bought into the hype, thinking he was a power hitter who could also sprinkle in some steals here and there. So what happened to that Cody Bellinger?

Well, there is an easy answer if you look at the numbers, He simply isn’t what we expected coming into the season. He isn’t taking as many walks, only walking 9.1% of the time, down 2.6% from last year. His average is down, and with a BABIP only .25 points lower than last year, it is not just bad luck on his part. Cody Bellinger was never going to be a high average guy, as he only batted .267 last year, however, a .232 average is hard to stomach.

cody bellinger graphs

Those aren’t even the most alarming numbers. Bellinger has a ridiculous 16.9% infield fly rate, up over double his rate in the 2017 season. His groundball percentage is 41.8%, which is a 6.8% increase, with nearly the same drop in flyball rate. His HR/FB rate went from 25.2% to 12.3%. Let’s take a moment and step back from listing these troubling numbers for a second. You are probably staring at those stats and wondering where the silver lining is. To be honest, I was too when I first glanced at them. The scary thing is, I couldn’t find one. Bellinger’s walk rate is up and his strikeouts are down, but not high or low enough to make you think he is just getting unlucky. His soft contact rate is over 20% and his hard contact rate is under 37%, both major declines compared to last year. This, despite the fact that he is pulling the ball more in 2018.

When you look at what pitchers are throwing to him, it’s more offspeed, Curveballs and changeups and Bellinger is having a hard time adjusting. Now he is only 22 years old and I am not advocating dropping Bellinger or giving up on his future, what I am suggesting is that even good players have off years. He will adjust to more offspeed being thrown to him, but it will take time. Right now, outside of deep leagues, I do not think Bellinger is a must-start option in fantasy leagues. I would label him as a “hold” right now, don’t sell low just yet, but outside of dynasty leagues, I wouldn’t go out of my way to acquire him either.

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