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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Bellinger Tolls For the 2019 NL MVP

Bellinger’s offensive decline is among the largest for a young star in baseball history. To see who had a comparable dropoff at the plate, if anyone, I took every player from 1901 to 2019 who had a 150 wRC+ in at least 400 PA in a year in which they were 25 or younger, then compared their next three seasons. Two players were eliminated from the dataset as they did not play in the next three seasons — the only time Wally Judnich gets to be in the same sentence as Ted Williams. That left 215 total player-seasons and 130 unique players:...

Bellinger’s dropoff was the largest of the group, and he was the only player among the 130 who dipped below a wRC+ of 100 over the next three seasons. By and large, these players continued to be stars; the average career WAR for that group is 61.1, and that’s with more than a dozen other players still active. Even not counting mortal Hall of Fame locks like Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Adrián Beltré, there are 46 players in this group in Cooperstown. Beltré may represent the best-case scenario for Bellinger, as someone who was still a solid player despite the offensive drop-off from his breakout year, making up for an ordinary bat with Hall of Fame defense, before eventually finding his personal renaissance in his 30s.

It’s understandable that the Dodgers, a team that has repaired all sorts of seemingly broken players, have been stymied so far by the collapse of Bellinger’s offense. After all, there’s a reasonable case to make that, among young superstar hitters, the magnitude of his fall has been unprecedented. It may be someone else’s problem soon, with the Dodgers not even allowed to offer him less than $13.4 million for the 2023 season, suggesting that he’s a prime candidate to be non-tendered this offseason. Next time a young star signs a long-term contract that trades a reasonable amount of money in order to mitigate risk, remember the tale of Cody Bellinger, who has seen his dream become more of a requiem for one.

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 24, 2022 at 10:36 AM | 38 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: cody bellinger

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   1. The Duke Posted: August 24, 2022 at 11:52 AM (#6092995)
I posted this in the Max muncy thread but when I looked around for modern day comps (a broader search than Dans very specific search), rhe names that kind of pop out are:

Mattingly
Strawberry
Pinson
Heyward
Yelich

Dan's list shows Harper but he's not really a comp. Anyone could fall off from a spectacular year

The most interesting thing is that these guys are all lefties. It was harder to find righties. Colavito came to mind but his decline happened later
   2. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: August 24, 2022 at 04:01 PM (#6093050)
names that kind of pop out are:

Mattingly
Strawberry
Pinson
Heyward
Yelich


I think that list shows how unique Bellinger is; none are good comps. Mattingly and Strawberry cratered at 29 and 30 respectively. It's very common for guys to collapse around 30.

Pinson didn't collapse, he just kind of slowly declined. The four years before his big year he had a 123 OPS+ , the four years after 113. Heyward did collapse, but was nowhere near as good as Bellinger. His career OPS+ was 114 pre-collapse vs. 140 for Bellinger.

Yelich is probably the best comp, and even he hasn't been nearly as bad.
   3. BDC Posted: August 24, 2022 at 04:30 PM (#6093057)
The unknowable from the outside, as TFA acknowledges, is how injuries have affected Bellinger. He says he is in good shape now, but it's still anyone's guess as to how he's been affected.

In baseball such sudden injury-related decline happens more often to pitchers, but there are position players who never had another great year after having one or two very early. Pete Reiser's broken skull comes to mind. Or the late Tommy Davis: almost all Davis' career value was between ages 21-25, before his broke his ankle running the bases.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: August 24, 2022 at 04:40 PM (#6093059)
Everything about it is weird. The man had a BABIP below 200 in a full season (2021) ... that shouldn't even be possible, that's worse than pitchers BABIP. It's not been good in 2020 or 2022 either and, unlike other guys with low BABIPs, it's not because he's hitting "too many" over the wall. His 2019 was amazing because he basically hit the same when he did hit the ball while dropping his K-rate by 7-8%. Then in 2020, he kept the low K-rate and gave everything else away ... then in 2021-22, the Ks came back which is disastrous. But his G/F and pull rates were prettty stable; his average EV was pretty stable ... his hard-hit %age dropped badl (but still around league average).

In thinking of comps, I wondered about Kris Bryant. Except for 2020 his bat has always been good even if not as good as we'd hoped. But watching him, it seemed clear to me that there were plenty of PAs (including several key ones) where he was just laying the bat on the ball not to K. Looking in more detail, his components are'nt a good comp for Bellinger but looking at them only makes you more worried for Bryant. He debuted with an average EV around 90 -- that's already not elite. But since then, he's been 88 or below, crashing to 85 this season. He debuted with 43% hard-hit, he's been down to 36% over the last several years. Other than 2017 and this year, cutting down on his swing hasn't reduced the K-rate.

Now, it's just 42 starts due to missed injury time but Bryant's splits: 323/387/374 with 0 HR in 111 PA ... at COORS!! 279/357/639 with 5 HR in 70 PA on the road. Bryant can't even get the Coors hangover right.

It obviously didn't happen (and shouldn't have for real-world reasons) but in theory a Bellinger-Heyward swap would make sense.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: August 24, 2022 at 05:12 PM (#6093065)
It's of course very, very hard to find comps for Bellinger. The number of players who hit that well that young (MVP at 23) is of course small. The number of players allowed to keep a full-time job while hitting as poorly as he has the last few years is of course small. The overlap in the Venn diagram then has to be minuscule. I mean Claudell Washington and Garry Templeton "disappointed" but Bellinger is in Daenerys Targaryen territory here. It's the second circle that's so unusual ... it's rare for a player to get away with hitting this poorly for this long without losing playing time. Usually you have to be a C or an elite defensive SS to get away with it. There have probably been more Bellingers than we realize but they lost their jobs before establishing just how far they'd fallen. (Not that any non-injury cases spring to mind.)

Somebody like Richard Hidalgo might be closer. Good at 22-23, bad at 24, excellent at 25, average at 26, bad at 27, excellent at 28, bad at 29, terrible at 30 and out of the game. Looking at it now, Hidalgo's BABIP was at 350 down to 240 up to 310 down to 260 up to 340 down to 270 then 240. BABIP is highly variable (sample size) but Hidalgo's career BABIP was 292 but he has only one season within 25 points of his average (and even that was 15 points above). Or maybe somebody like Miguel Sano -- starts off as an excellent hitter in 2016-17 but is so bad in 2018 he was back in the minors for a bit ... but he bounced back so not him.



   6. The Duke Posted: August 24, 2022 at 06:50 PM (#6093091)
A great example right under my nose is Paul Dejong. 10+ WAR by 25, 2nd in ROY, an all star and then complete collapse leading to half a season in the minors this year. He came back with a few big hits but has now collapsed again and is on his way back to the bench for the remainder of his contract.

Even today, he's only 28, but he looks done as a full time player

As Walt points out, it's hard to fail this badly and hold onto your job
   7. sunday silence (again) Posted: August 24, 2022 at 07:11 PM (#6093095)
if the criterion are age and peak value we should consider Cedeno. He didnt fall as far as Bellinger and the others though ...

Its also weird that he's dropped off both in hitting and fielding which suggests something has gone wrong in the player himself instead of a shoulder or an approach issue or some tinkering.
   8. Rough Carrigan Posted: August 24, 2022 at 09:29 PM (#6093113)
In that DQ commercial he appears in with Tatis, I was surprised at how unimpressive Bellinger looks, not especially muscular or athletic.
   9. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: August 24, 2022 at 10:29 PM (#6093120)
A great example right under my nose is Paul Dejong. 10+ WAR by 25, 2nd in ROY, an all star and then complete collapse leading to half a season in the minors this year. He came back with a few big hits but has now collapsed again and is on his way back to the bench for the remainder of his contract.

Even today, he's only 28, but he looks done as a full time player


He's a 90 OPS+ player who fluked into a 121 year. Not really a comp for Bellinger at all. His one "star" season disappears if you use UZR instead of DRS.
   10. sunday silence (again) Posted: August 24, 2022 at 10:46 PM (#6093125)
He had 5.3 WAR in 2019, his 121 OPS+ was 2017. He was 102/99 in 2018/19.

Also it's pretty disengenous to purport to understand statistics and then view 660 AB as some sort of fluke. That should be well beyond normal error bars otherwise why even pretend use logic here?

But your pt. about defense is good. Statcast doesnt like him in 2018 (-6) and likes him some in 2019 (5). So yeah DRS seems pretty generous in 2019.
   11. JJ1986 Posted: August 24, 2022 at 10:49 PM (#6093127)
Bellinger's WAR is also boosted by high fielding numbers, but DeJong had RBat of 12, 2 and 2 before his fall. Bellinger had a 3-year run of 24, 16, 51.
   12. baxter Posted: August 24, 2022 at 11:12 PM (#6093135)
The Bellinger tolls?
No man is an Eiland (Dave)
   13. John Reynard Posted: August 25, 2022 at 03:20 AM (#6093146)
Somebody like Richard Hidalgo might be closer.


I agree with this sentiment. Hidalgo had a similar-feeling collapse though the bounceback year feels different and his wife had a sickness or something which may have drained his will to work hard in MLB.

Bellinger is kind of one-of-a-kind because I doubt there is any player in MLB history to have full seasons as close as his MVP 2019 and his "pitcher-like-hitting" of 2021 with so many PA in them both. Its quite possible the shoulder injury at the end of 2020 may have made his 2021 worse than you'd usually see but he played through it because he was so close to 2019 still.

2022 suggests that either the 2020 injury was worse than advertised or that Bellinger has "lost it" at the moment, perhaps by playing through the injury, perhaps by not adjusting to what the league is doing with him. Regardless, I expect he'll be a Brewer or Ray after the Dodgers non-tender him.
   14. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: August 25, 2022 at 10:12 AM (#6093181)
Reminds me a bit of Bernard Gilkey. 113 career OPS+ player through age 28 (which was really more like three years of 120+ and 2 years of <90) then 155 at 29 and then basically fell off a Cliff, although not quite as precipitously as Bellinger. IIRC were rumors about Gilkey having eyesight issues, maybe something similar is happening here?

Darin Erstad is another guy who had two good hitting years at 23-24, a bad year at 25, a very good year at 26 (137 OPS+) and then fell off a cliff offensively (82 OPS+ for the rest of his career).
   15. . Posted: August 25, 2022 at 10:53 AM (#6093189)
I'll throw out the very real possibility that a swing consciously aimed at and trained for launch angle and other Trackman variables (as opposed to sensible mechanics that fit the player and his body and his skill set and his natural aptitude more closely) is more prone to catastrophic collapse.(*)

Bellinger is basically the quintessence of Frankenstein's monster for the Trackman/Statcast era. I'd frankly expect more of this.

(*) There's a psychology to hitting and in plugging through adversity, making adjustments, etc. A Trackman guy doesn't really have anything natural to fall back on when he's thinking things through and self-analyzing. There's an artificiality there that seems more potentially causative of catastrophe -- kind of an ultra-modern version of Mackey Sasser or Steve Blass.
   16. HBO disappeared Oscar Posted: August 25, 2022 at 11:54 AM (#6093201)
Yelich fouled the ball off his knee and then the following year began having back problems

The combo screwed up his swing so that he became a ground ball machine. He keeps trying to get back to elevating but apparently in so doing his back starts to bother him

Kind of looks like the Yelich of 18 and 19 is gone. Cubs fans on Twitter says it’s because he can’t cheat anymore. I think it’s the injuries but I am biased
   17. Sweatpants Posted: August 25, 2022 at 12:11 PM (#6093207)
Hidalgo had a similar-feeling collapse though the bounceback year feels different and his wife had a sickness or something which may have drained his will to work hard in MLB.
Hidalgo also got shot in a carjacking, although that happened in the offseason preceding his strong comeback year in 2003.
   18. Greg Pope Posted: August 25, 2022 at 06:17 PM (#6093278)
How about Ben Grieve as a comparison? Although I guess Grieve had 3 decent seasons before falling off a cliff.
   19. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: August 25, 2022 at 06:30 PM (#6093280)
How about Ben Grieve as a comparison? Although I guess Grieve had 3 decent seasons before falling off a cliff.


I seem to remember about Grieve that he was always a bit of a paper tiger, because, despite being big and slow, he hit the ball on the ground all the time. These days they'd teach him an uppercut, but that's not how it worked back then. He was never going to develop the power required to make a player of his profile valuable.
   20. Perry Posted: August 25, 2022 at 06:53 PM (#6093281)
Bobby Tolan had a 124 OPS+ at 23 and 126 at 24 while stealing lots of bases and playing a fine CF. He missed his age 25 season after tearing his Achilles playing basketball but came back with a 110 and 42 steals at 26. He fell off to 57 at 27 and was basically done.
   21. ReggieThomasLives Posted: August 26, 2022 at 01:37 AM (#6093311)
I think the Dodgers give him a tender offer. His collapse is so unprecedented that a rebound has to be a bit more likely than usual.
   22. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: August 26, 2022 at 02:01 AM (#6093314)
In my mind Bellinger always swung INCREDIBLY hard. As folks note above, he isn't that impressive of a physical specimen. There was some kind of magic involved that allowed him to swing so hard and hit the ball regularly. That magic seems to have disappeared. In some sense it's like Steve Blass disease - he simply has forgotten the magic that allowed him to swing that hard and hit the ball.

Ben Grieve was someone who had been coached- and coached- and coached- from when he was very little, and my impression was that he did so well because he had been coached into having "old player skills", which made up for the fact that he wasn't that skilled in the first place. More importantly, it seemed like he didn't really like baseball that much - I don't get that same vibe from Bellinger. In that sense, I imagine there is better chance for Bellinger to rebound. But it's all in his head, it's not mechanics, it's whatever allowed him to see the ball and swing so damn hard. Now he just swings and misses all the time.

To some extent it reminds me of Yasiel Puig, who also had an incredible stretch, and also swung really hard, and also kinda lost it, though Puig never lost it completely and had/has other issues.
   23. sunday silence (again) Posted: August 26, 2022 at 04:16 PM (#6093370)
there's another guy who I think resembles Bellinger even more than all those mentioned in either this thread or the other one. And he's not some ancient guy either. Andy would definitely remember him, and I think a lot of us would at least recognize his name if not seen him play.

He hadnt really established himself as long as Bellinger but he fell equally far and equally fast....
   24. Dillon Gee Escape Plan Posted: August 26, 2022 at 07:47 PM (#6093393)
Ellis Valentine had hit .290/.332/.480 with a 123 OPS+ and 16.8 WAR in 2447 PA through age 26. He hit .248/.273/.402 with an 87 OPS+ and 0.3 WAR after that.
   25. JJ1986 Posted: August 26, 2022 at 07:54 PM (#6093395)
there's another guy who I think resembles Bellinger even more than all those mentioned in either this thread or the other one. And he's not some ancient guy either. Andy would definitely remember him, and I think a lot of us would at least recognize his name if not seen him play.

He hadnt really established himself as long as Bellinger but he fell equally far and equally fast....
Kevin Maas?
   26. DCA Posted: August 26, 2022 at 08:16 PM (#6093397)
Zoilo? Went from legit MVP to below replacement in two seasons, just like Bellinger.

Not quite as good as Bellinger at peak, and 1.5 years older, but the fall was similar.
   27. BDC Posted: August 26, 2022 at 08:28 PM (#6093398)
Andy would definitely remember him

George Sisler?
   28. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: August 26, 2022 at 08:53 PM (#6093400)
Ellis Valentine had hit .290/.332/.480 with a 123 OPS+ and 16.8 WAR in 2447 PA through age 26. He hit .248/.273/.402 with an 87 OPS+ and 0.3 WAR after that.


Lots of injuries, the big one being a pitch to the face in May 1980.
   29. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: August 26, 2022 at 09:44 PM (#6093405)
Jack Fimple?
   30. Ron J Posted: August 26, 2022 at 10:05 PM (#6093407)
Paul Blair went from a very good player to a nothing but a glove. It all goes back to a terrible beaning -- or to be more precise anxiety from being pitched inside after the beaning. He'd be fine for long stretches and then anything even slightly inside would have him bailing out. And major league pitchers will ruthlessly exploit this. Sad to see.

I think #23 had Pete Reiser in mind. Tough to say. Those 3 years in the service did keep him away from outfield walls. But then he caught pneumonia in the army.

And got injured playing for the base team so ...

   31. sunday silence (again) Posted: August 26, 2022 at 10:13 PM (#6093408)
Zoilo in my opinion. Cause he won the mvp and dropped to replacement level the next year. He was age 25 at mvp. Some of the other suggestions were good too
   32. Howie Menckel Posted: August 26, 2022 at 10:15 PM (#6093409)
Andy would definitely remember him

George Sisler?

well played
   33. The Duke Posted: August 26, 2022 at 11:36 PM (#6093419)
Zoilo is a great comp also an injury victim

"But statistics alone won’t ever unlock the full story of Versalles’s post-MVP comedown. An abnormally slow start in April and May resulted mainly from an extended bout with a severe case of the flu which kept the infielder in subpar condition – hovered around the Mendoza Line (sub-.200) for the first eight full weeks of the season. There was more bad news in early late June and early July in the form of a heel injury that also caused a painful hematoma (blood leakage and consequent tissue swelling) in the ballplayer’s lower back. The immediate result was a brief stint on the disabled list. The long-term consequence was constant recurring back pain that not only sabotaged the remainder of Zoilo’s playing career but also hampered his post-baseball life severely."
   34. JJ1986 Posted: August 27, 2022 at 07:52 AM (#6093427)
Zoilo had an OPS+ of 115 in his MVP season.
   35. sunday silence (again) Posted: August 27, 2022 at 09:47 AM (#6093433)
First off ops+ is quite a bit biased towards power so probably runs created or the equivalent + version would be more accurate.

2nd is our discussion only limited toward significant hitters?
   36. Sweatpants Posted: August 27, 2022 at 11:58 AM (#6093440)
OPS+ being biased in favor of power works in Versalles' favor. His 1965 OBP was below the league average for position players.
   37. JJ1986 Posted: August 27, 2022 at 02:50 PM (#6093450)
I think players fielding numbers collapse (or at least vacillate) all the time, so I would say Bellinger's collapse is all about his bat collapsing.
   38. sunday silence (again) Posted: August 27, 2022 at 06:09 PM (#6093468)
Yea I think thats a good pt at least with numbers we have to work with. Very erratic

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