The unsung skill helping Bellinger chase .400

May 20th, 2019

A lot of the time, gets to jog the bases for free. He has 17 homers now. But you need more than home runs to be a .400 hitter a month and a half into the season. Bellinger has more. One key part of the package: electric speed.

Bellinger being fast isn't exactly a secret. He steals. He's made his first base-to-outfield transition more than capably. But his slugging still makes it too easy to overlook just how fast he is.

Bellinger isn't just fast for a slugger. He's one of the fastest players in the Majors. His sprint speed this season -- that's his average top speed on max-effort runs -- is 29.2 feet per second. The MLB average is 27 ft/sec. Bellinger ranks among baseball's Top 20 fastest runners by sprint speed, out of nearly 400 qualifiers, and he's the Dodgers' fastest player.

It's fun to watch Bellinger fly around the bases, but where he really stands out is the first 90 feet. And his home-to-first speed has had a real impact on that .405 batting average he's carrying into Los Angeles' series opener against the Rays on Tuesday.

If you can get down the first-base line in under four seconds, that's serious speed -- the type of speed that can turn groundouts into infield hits, and make bunting for a hit a weapon at your disposal. Bellinger has that extra dimension. He has the most sub-4 home-to-first times of any player this season.

Most sub-4-second home-to-1st times, 2019
1) Cody Bellinger (LAD): 12
2) Kevin Kiermaier (TB): 8
3-T) Billy Hamilton (KC): 7
3-T) Dee Gordon (SEA): 7
3-T) Delino DeShields (TEX): 7

Five of Bellinger's sub-4 home-to-first times have resulted in infield hits. On two others, he also singled, the ball just happened to get through to the outfield.

On four of the five infield hits, Bellinger's sprint speed was at least 30 ft/sec. That's an important threshold: 30 ft/sec and up is elite sprint speed. On the fifth, he was at 29.9 ft/sec, just a hair under the elite range.

Bellinger's fastest infield hits, 2019
3.81 sec -- May 6 (bunt) | 30.6 ft/sec sprint speed
3.83 sec -- May 10 | 30.2 ft/sec sprint speed
3.84 sec -- April 7 | 30.7 ft/sec sprint speed
3.96 sec -- April 3 | 30.0 ft/sec sprint speed
3.98 sec -- April 19 | 29.9 ft/sec sprint speed

Bellinger actually has the Dodgers' nine fastest base hits this season. He has their seven fastest home-to-first times overall, and 15 of their fastest 16, with only a 3.94-second sac bunt by Chris Taylor sneaking in at No. 8. (For good measure, he also has their fastest double, 7.69 seconds on May 7.)

On "max-effort" runs -- a player's most competitive plays, where he really has a reason to bust it down the line -- Bellinger's average home-to-first time this season is 3.89 seconds. That's fourth-fastest of any player with at least five qualifying max-effort runs.

Fastest avg. "max-effort" home-to-1st time, 2019
Min. 5 max-effort runs

  1. Delino DeShields (TEX): 3.72 sec
  2. Harrison Bader (STL): 3.79 sec
  3. Garrett Hampson (COL): 3.84 sec

4) Cody Bellinger (LAD): 3.89 sec
5-T) Billy Hamilton (KC): 3.93 sec
5-T) Jarrod Dyson (ARI): 3.93 sec
Max-effort: Player's top 10% of runs

Bellinger has bunted for hits. He's beaten out routine grounders into the shift. He's outrun the pitcher covering on a flip from the first baseman. He's spoiled infielders' highlight reels by coming up with hits on balls up the middle that could have turned into web-gem outs against a slower runner.

These are hits made possible by his speed, and all those extra hits add up. Bellinger has nine hits within the infield this season, out of his Major League-leading 66 total; only Jeff McNeil (13) and Jean Segura (10) have more.

Nine hits are the difference between Bellinger having the .405 batting average that he does and having a .350 batting average. The five sub-four-second infield hits alone are the difference between .405 and .374 -- still brilliant, but less like Ted Williams.

So the next time you see Bellinger put the ball on the ground, don't take your eyes off the screen just because he didn't go deep. There's a decent shot he'll create a hit out of what looked like nothing.