Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger was on top of the world when he won the 2019 National League MVP award, after hitting a monster .305/.406/.629 with 47 home runs, 121 runs, 115 RBI, and 15 stolen bases.
After that season, however, he has been on a downward slide in subsequent seasons.
In 2020, he hit .239/.333/.455 with 12 homers in 56 games during the pandemic season: not MVP-like, but adequate.
Still, people began to worry about his performance drop-off.
The disaster came in 2021.
A 2021 To Forget
In 350 plate appearances, the lefty-hitting slugger hit a paltry .165/.240/.302 with just 10 homers and a career-high 26.9 percent strikeout rate.
He was much, much worse than the MLB average judging by his 48 wRC+ (weighted Runs Created Plus, where 100 is considered average).
For reference, he had a 161 wRC+ during his MVP year and he was at 113 in 2020.
His ugly 2021 performance complicates his prospects of getting an extension from the Dodgers.
Los Angeles isn’t afraid to spend some money, but with two arbitration seasons remaining on Bellinger’s contract, they will surely be happy to see if he can rebound in 2022 before committing to bring him in for the long term.
In early 2020, he was a prime extension candidate, but at this point, it wouldn’t make much sense for the Dodgers to make such a proposal given his ugly 2021 and subpar 2020.
Bellinger, a low-ball hitter, was exploited with high fastballs for much of the 2021 regular season.
He hit .150 against fastballs in 2021, a far cry off the .236 he had in 2020 and the .327 he had in 2019.
The situation was so bad at one point that the Dodgers had to sit him against left-handers: he hit .116 off them.
He was worth a negative 0.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) last season.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic about his 2022 outlook.
Making Adjustments At The Plate
For starters, Bellinger hit .353/.436/.471 in the 2021 postseason, with some crucial hits.
He made adjustments with his swing to better hit high fastballs.
“Starting in the postseason, Cody Bellinger has made a few adjustments. He’s shifted his position in the box, he’s striding more toward the pitcher (as opposed to the first base dugout), and he’s shown an ability to flatten his bat path on high fastballs. Anecdotally, he looks a little less stiff to me and his swing decisions seem better.”
During the National League Championship Series, he had an impressive home run against a Luke Jackson 96 mph fastball way up in the zone.
You gotta credit Cody Bellinger for adjusting his big swing and choking up on the bat. He’s been so much better since making the adjustment. .292 BA .851 OPS in the postseason. https://t.co/EXFmRklU2E
— Jason McClure⚾️ (@Jmcclure83) October 20, 2021
This is a very important development for him with an eye on the future.
He has shown he can inflict damage to low pitches, but if he can consistently do the same against high heat, there is a path for him to return to being a well-above average hitter.
If that happens, perhaps the Dodgers could be open to extending him after 2022, given that he contributes defensively at a crucial position (center field), is athletic, can run, and has a solid track record prior to 2020.
Cody Bellinger is such a special player.
He struggled immensely this season – hitting just .165/.240/.302 with 10 HR. He just hit a go-ahead RBI single in the top of the 9th, in a do-or-die, NLDS game 5 on the road.
Superstars perform in October. Bellinger has done just that.
— Kyle Malzhan (@KyleMalzhan) October 15, 2021
Even during his 2021 struggles, Bellinger has given glimpses of his vast potential and could turn things around in 2022.