Bellinger looking to heat up bat at right time

October 11th, 2020

The Glove, as we saw Wednesday night, is still Gold. But at bat, was a Silver Slugger and MVP last season but has been nothing like one this season. Entering the National League Championship Series, what kind of hitter is he?

The season slash lines provide a quick overview: .305/.406/.629 in 2019; .239/.333/.455 in '20. Same guy, different player. He had two singles in seven at-bats with two strikeouts against the Brewers in the Wild Card Series. The trend appeared on the upswing in the Division Series, as he homered, tripled and went 4-for-12. But both of the pitching staffs the Dodgers faced were crippled.

While the Padres struck out Bellinger three times, he also drew a pair of walks, which might be as vivid a tell as anything. Bellinger has always drawn walks during the regular season (career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.73), but not under the pressure and against the elite pitching of the postseason (ratio of 4.75).

Manager Dave Roberts concedes Bellinger hasn't been at his best all year, but he likes what he's seen lately.

“Certainly, that first half of the season last year he was the best player in baseball, as the numbers attest, and then he sort of got into a funk,” Roberts said.

“I like where he's at right now, and I think there's going to be more in there. I think his at-bat quality, from at-bat to at-bat, is considerably better than it has been all year. I think the defensive engagement is as good as it's been all year. So, I expect Cody to continue to impact this next series.”'s Andrew Simon dug into the numbers, which reveal that Bellinger fared better against fastballs last year but is doing more damage this year against non-fastballs, like the low changeup he went down and got for a home run against Zach Davies, only his third homer since Aug. 30.

During the season Bellinger was weakest against hard and high pitches -- fastballs of at least 95 mph (.167 average, .262 slugging percentage) and fastballs to the upper third of the strike zone or above (.095/.095).

Milwaukee and San Diego pitched him similarly in style and sequencing. During the regular season, Bellinger saw 59 percent fastballs, but Milwaukee raised that to 71 percent and San Diego to 68 percent. Three of his six hits this postseason are off curves or changeups.

One scout said the most recent tweaks in Bellinger's stance appear to have helped mitigate the violent swing that is the slugger's blessing and curse. While the max-effort swing provides the power when he's on the barrel or close, it also results in head movement that literally makes it hard to keep his eye on the ball.

Another scout suggested that opponents categorize Bellinger as a player whose performance mirrors his confidence level.

Lack of confidence seems to be at the root of Bellinger's struggles this year and dates back to the offseason. Despite slugging 47 homers with 115 RBIs and a .305 average a year ago, he changed his stance and setup because he wasn’t comfortable with the diminished production in the second half last year. His OPS last year dropped each month, from 1.397 in April to .891 in September.

Still, fixing something that didn’t seem broken was seen as a real head-scratcher, both in and out of the organization, and his tweaks continued throughout this season. Here’s what Bellinger said in September about the latest iteration, which involved backing off the plate:

“I guess it’s helping. I feel the same, so that’s positive, and it’s showing on the field.”

Almost exclusively a cleanup hitter last year, Bellinger was moved from that spot in early September and has hit sixth in the first two rounds of the postseason behind young catcher Will Smith.

“I think it’s just trust in myself and trust in my teammates as well,” Bellinger said of his improvement in late September. “Staying within myself and understanding what I can do. Trust in my process that I’ve been doing, and it’s been working pretty good.”