Let the record show that Cody Bellinger did not homer in his 50th career game in the majors, as he went 1-for-5 with a double and a run scored in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 8-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Hey, you can’t hit a home run every game, even though it feels like that’s what Bellinger did over the nine days in which he hit seven home runs in seven games, including two two-homer games.
Through those first 50 games, the 21-year-old has hit .261 with 19 home runs -- most in the majors since he made his debut in April and tying Gary Sanchez’s record for most home runs through 50 games.
A quick comparison of those two starts:
Bellinger: .261/.333/.628, 19 HRs, 10.0% BB rate, 30.5% SO rate, 45.6% fly ball rate
Sanchez: .312/.384/.683, 19 HRs, 10.0% BB rate, 24.2% SO rate, 32.4% fly ball rate
Sanchez had the better overall numbers due to a higher batting average that resulted in part from a lower strikeout rate, but also from a higher average on balls in play that weren’t home runs (.333 versus .283). Bellinger has the higher rate of fly balls, so in one sense you can argue that his power numbers were a little more legitimate since he has the more classic profile as a guy who lofts the ball.
Indeed, Sanchez’s early home-run barrage was driven by an insane ratio of home runs to fly balls. His home runs were expected to regress in 2017 and they have, as he has hit 11 in 150 at-bats compared to 20 in 201 at-bats in 2016. His overall numbers are still excellent at .287/.371/.540, as he has maintained his strikeout and walk rates and he’s strong enough to still pop 30 home runs even with a fly ball rate that is right about league average.
Bellinger, meanwhile, would have the seventh-highest fly ball rate if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. His ratio of home runs to fly balls would rank fifth, behind only Justin Bour, Ryan Zimmerman, Jake Lamb and Aaron Judge. His average home run distance of 401.4 feet is right about the MLB average of 400.5 feet, so he doesn’t have the raw power of a Judge (average home run distance of 414.1 feet), Joey Gallo (415.5 feet) or even teammate Corey Seager (419.4 feet).
What he’s adept at doing, however, is pulling the ball. You don’t have to hit them as far when you do that. Compare his hit chart to Seager’s:
Seager basically never pulls the balls in the air – at least this season. He was a little more effective last year, when he pulled 12 of his 26 home runs. Until he starts pulling ball more often, he’s going to be somewhat limited in his power upside. Bellinger is already doing this.
Of course, pitchers will make adjustments, although based on this recent onslaught of home runs, I’d suggest Bellinger is the one already making adjustments. He has cut his strikeout rate slightly so far in June, from 34 percent in May to 28 percent. That’s a huge positive that shows, like Judge, he seems to be on a quick learning path. His walk rate may increase as well if pitchers start throwing to him a little more carefully.
If you triple his numbers over a full season, you’re looking at 57 home runs in 150 games. Is he that good? Hey, these young hitters today are so smart and so polished -- Bellinger is one who has tailored his swing to produce a higher launch angle -- that you never want to say never. He’ll likely cool off at some point as the strikeout rate is still pretty high, which could make him prone to a lengthy slump, but the early returns appear that Bellinger looks like the game’s next great power hitter.