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Investigating Cody Bellinger’s slump

Cody Bellinger was the Dodger's version of Aaron Judge, until he wasn't. What happened?

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

(Stats updated through 6/4/2017)

If you take a look at FanGraphs' depth charts and are constantly scrolling through leaderboards, you’ll notice that Cody Bellinger is the top rookie in the National League this year. Should the BBWAA grant him the title of Rookie of the Year, the Dodgers would have won the award two years in a row thanks to him and Seager. Still, topping him are uber-player Aaron Judge and Seattle sensation Mitch Haniger, the former continuing to wow us every chance he gets.

Three weeks ago, I checked Bellinger's stats to see how he was doing and concluded that he was amazing! Due to Aaron Judge’s impressive rookie season, little mention has been made of him — other than the possibility of Adrian Gonzalez getting Wally Pipped. Bellinger’s hitting, on-base percentage and production stats were nearly identical to those of the Yankee right fielder. What surprised me even more was, while nearly everbody was fawning over Judge, nobody was into Bellinger, even though they are both key cogs in their respective teams machinery.

These were their stats three weeks ago when I first arrived to my previous conclusion:

Judge vs Bellinger — 5/12/17

Player PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
Player PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
Cody Bellinger 69 10.1% 23.2% 0.4 .323 .391 .726 1.117 .403 .457 192
Aaron Judge 129 13.2% 27.1% 0.5 .315 .411 .739 1.150 .423 .470 202
Data from Fangraphs.com

See that? The Dodgers had their own little executioner raking in their lineup. Yes, conspiracies abound about Los Angeles’ pitching staff, but look at Bellinger’s slash line, wOBA, and wRC+, they are nearly identical to those of Judge. And nobody was paying attention! Then again, Judge has been at the top level a month longer than Bellinger so, because of sample size, I decided to sit a while on this piece and let the narrative brew a bit longer.

Fast forward to three weeks later and I decided to dust this baby off the shelf and check how things are going between the top two rookies. Good thing I waited, because Bellinger has seemingly fallen off a cliff in comparison to Judge.

Judge vs Bellinger — 6/4/17

Player PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
Player PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO wOBA wRC+
Cody Bellinger 160 10.0% 32.5% 0.31 .252 .325 .559 .884 .308 .365 131
Aaron Judge 219 14.6% 29.2% 0.50 .324 .429 .681 1.110 .357 .458 194
Data from Fangraphs.com

Good thing I put the original piece in the backburner, because I would’ve been hoisted by my own hype petard. Bellinger is no longer producing at the same pace as Judge. Pitchers have adjusted to both players, but only Judge has managed to remain successful. Bellinger just keeps getting worse and worse and doesn’t seem to be able to turn it around.

In fact, if we look at Bellinger and Judge’s 7-day rolling OPS, this becomes much clearer:

Bellinger vs Judge OPS 7-day rolling average

When he arrived at the major level, Bellinger was on fire. Though he hasn’t reach Judge’s height (both literally and figuratively), he was holding his own. At two points during their short careers, their OPSes have crossed; I just managed to grab a peek at that moment. Yet by mid-May, Bellinger’s offense started to spiral downward and hasn’t seemed to stop. As it stands, his rolling OPS average is just .750, though he still commands a respectible 135 wRC+. Judge, on the other hand, has managed to surpass 1.000 OPS after a couple of days of subpar performance.

Yet not all is bad. Though Bellinger's performance has seen better days, he still remains the top rookie in the National League. Furthermore, when compared to the rest of the Dodgers lineup, he is still ranked third among those with more than 100 PA. Then again, this speaks more to Los Angeles’ hitters than Bellinger himself.

Neither Bellinger nor Judge is capable of carrying a lineup on his own. No big-leaguer is capable of such a feat; just look at Mike Trout and the Angels. In fact, when he was called up, the idea was to have Bellinger replace Gonzalez — and nearly Wally Pipp him — while gaining some reps at the Senior Circuit. His stardom is just icing on the cake.

Fortunately for Bellinger, because of injuries and a lack of depth at the corner outfield positions, his slump is not likely to earn him a demotion. Furthermore, despite his slump, he is still one of the Dodgers’ top performers by wRC+; unless they trade for a much better player, he is more than likely to avoid another stint in the minors. He will therefore have to adjust quickly to major league pitching to recapture his initial form.

Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is contantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.