Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News arrow-downArrow Down icon Arrow Up icon

2 studs. 5 tools. This is gonna be awesome

@_dadler
February 10, 2020

It's crazy enough to think that Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, two MVPs from the last two seasons, are about to team up on the Dodgers. But Bellinger and Betts are even more than MVPs. They are true five-tool superstars in their primes -- baseball's unicorns, players who can do

It's crazy enough to think that Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, two MVPs from the last two seasons, are about to team up on the Dodgers.

But Bellinger and Betts are even more than MVPs. They are true five-tool superstars in their primes -- baseball's unicorns, players who can do everything.

Power. Average. Speed. Glove. Arm. Betts and Bellinger have all five. Think about how rare it is to find even one player with that elite all-around skillset. The Dodgers have two. And not only two five-tool players, but two five-tool players who actually make the most of every tool on the field.

That is what makes Los Angeles' new duo unique. They have five-tool talent and they have five-tool stat sheets.

Maybe you think some other combo on some other team has the skill; it's another thing to turn that into production. Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in Anaheim? Ohtani doesn't play the field except when he pitches, and he could only DH all last year. George Springer and Carlos Correa in Houston? Correa's contact hitting isn't quite at the same level as his power -- certainly not at the Betts/Bellinger level -- and he hasn't made a huge impact via speed in a while. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto in Philadelphia? Bryce has been a lot more slug than batting average lately, and J.T. has great offense for the catcher position but isn't as powerful when you stand him up next to the Dodger duo.

Right now, the Bellinger-Betts pairing is on its own level. They exceed their rivals through the heights they can reach, and the level at which they're doing it.

Here's an appreciation of Betts and Bellinger, tool by tool.

Power

Bellinger: 47 HR, .629 SLG, 84 XBH
Betts: 29 HR, .524 SLG, 74 XBH

Bellinger's been slugging since the day he set foot in a Major League batter's box -- his 39 homers in 2017 were an NL rookie record at the time -- and he took it to a new level last season en route to becoming the league MVP, outhomering his top competitor Christian Yelich in a season-long mash-off. Betts followed up his 32-homer AL MVP 2018 with 29 more long balls in '19 (including his fifth career three-homer game, against the Yankees on July 26), and his 158 extra-base hits over the last two seasons are fourth-most in the Majors.

These two hitters make tons of dangerous contact. Check out Statcast's barrels leaderboard -- those are balls hit really hard and in the air, the perfect combination to be a home run or extra-base hit -- and you'll see both Bellinger and Betts near the top of the league. Bellinger barreled 59 balls in 2019, tied for eighth-most, and Betts had 52 barrels, among the top 25 in MLB.

Hit

Bellinger: .305 BA, 170 hits
Betts: .295 BA, 176 hits

The real leap Bellinger made last year was in his contact hitting; that's what took him from simple slugger to MVP, and that's what the "hit" tool is all about. Bellinger was hitting .400 as late as May 21, and even though he didn't hold on to become the next Ted Williams, he did have his first .300 season. Betts, meanwhile, has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best contact hitters in the game. He was the MLB batting champion when he won his MVP Award (.346), his .319 batting average since '18 is second among qualifiers only to Yelich, and he doesn't strike out nearly as much as some other top hitters.

Also, for both Bellinger and Betts last season, their expected batting average -- that's based on the quality of contact they were making -- was even higher than their actual average (and their actual batting averages were high). Bellinger's .323 expected batting average was tops among qualified hitters. Betts' .311 mark ranked fifth, tied with Mike Trout. Only DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rendon and Yelich, all MVP candidates, were between him and Bellinger. Oh, and give Cody an expected batting title.

Run

Bellinger: 15 SB, 28.8 ft/sec sprint speed
Betts: 16 SB, 27.9 ft/sec sprint speed

You can win an MVP trophy by just being a great hitter, but nowadays, that's getting harder and harder. Here's the next area where Bellinger and Betts are difference-makers. They're serious power-speed threats. Bellinger has stolen double-digit bases in all three of his MLB seasons, swiping 15 last year. Betts stole 16 in '19, and he has averaged 24 steals over his five full seasons, including a career-high 30 in his MVP season.

Speed is a lot more than stolen bases, though. Bellinger and Betts are fast enough to turn a groundout into an infield single or a base hit into a hustle double, take the extra base on an outfielder or turn on the jets to score on a close play. Bellinger's average baserunning sprint speed last season was 28.8 feet per second -- way above the 27 ft/sec league average -- and he reached the "elite" 30-plus ft/sec territory 22 separate times. Betts averaged 27.9 ft/sec, almost a foot per second faster than MLB average, and he, too, is a runner who can break the elite 30 ft/sec barrier.

Glove

Bellinger: 2019 Gold Glove, +7 Outs Above Average
Betts: 2019 Gold Glove (4th straight), +7 Outs Above Average

Betts' Gold Gloves speak for themselves. He's won four straight in right field in the AL, and everyone knows he's one of the game's premier right fielders. Bellinger joined him as a first-time Gold Glover last season, winning the NL right-field award. Both honors were well-earned.

By Statcast's metric for outfield defense, Outs Above Average, Betts and Bellinger were at the top tier of their position. OAA credits outfielders based on the difficulty of all the plays they make or miss -- make a play with a really low catch probability, you get a big plus; miss an easy catch, you get a big minus. Betts and Bellinger both came in at +7 Outs Above Average in 2019; the only other right fielder at their level was Jason Heyward, another defensive star.

Betts also ranks as a top-five outfielder overall since OAA was first tracked in 2016 (behind elite defenders Ender Inciarte, Lorenzo Cain and Billy Hamilton), with a +52 OAA total over that span. Bellinger has been worth +17 Outs Above Average since his debut -- an impressive total considering he's also played a lot of first base. He's been a solid positive every year and improved every year (+4 in 2017 to +6 in '18 to his +7 in '19).

Arm

Bellinger: 101.1 mph max tracked arm strength
Betts: 305-foot OF assist

Range might be the biggest part of outfield defense, but to be a true five-tool player, you need to do more than just track lots of balls down. You need the arm. Bellinger and Betts have the arm.

Do you remember the mind-boggling throw Mookie made from the warning track to third base at The Trop to steal a triple from Avisaíl García? That throw was over 300 feet on the fly.

How about the double-play Bellinger created against the Mets at Dodger Stadium back in May? Also insane. That one was a 268-foot laser. Poor Carlos Gómez.

The point is, Bellinger and Betts can air it out. Bellinger broke triple digits on one throw last season, making him one of just 13 outfielders to make a 100-plus mph throw and one of two to track one at 101 (along with the Reds' Aristides Aquino). Betts can reach back for some mid- to high-90s arm strength, too. His max is 97.8 mph under Statcast tracking.

That's the last tool. Betts and Bellinger complete the checklist. They have the tools at their disposal, and they use them all. The Dodgers are lucky.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.