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2020 Dodgers in review: Cody Bellinger

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Strong defense and a pennant-winning home run highlighted the center fielder’s year

2020 World Series Game 4: Los Angeles Dodgers v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Kelly Gavin/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It’s been a little while, but it’s time again for seasons in review. We’ll do one for everyone who spent time on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster this year, which should give us sweet, juicy content until about Christmas.

We’ll start with Cody Bellinger, whose drop-off campaign still provided many of memorable moments.

It’s incredibly difficult for someone to lose .246 points of OPS from the previous year and still be good, but Bellinger managed to do so in 2020. After winning National League MVP in 2019, Bellinger decided to tinker with his swing, which became the talk when he came out of the gate struggling this year.

Bellinger was 5-for-36 (.139) before hitting his first home run, and his seasonal batting average began with a one at the end of 23 of his first 26 games.

He did have his hot streaks to get reasonably back on track, including six home runs in an 11-game stretch at the end of August. He ended the season hitting .239/.333/.455 and a 114 wRC+, which meant he was an still an above-average hitter relative to the league. with 12 home runs, which extrapolated to 162 games would be a 32-homer season, hardly reason for alarm bells.

It was just a far cry from his MVP year, when he hit .305/.406/.629 with 47 homers.

Bellinger hit sixth in every Dodgers playoff game, a nod to his relative struggles and also the depth of a Dodgers lineup that led baseball in runs scored and home runs.

Cody Bellinger plate discipline

Year BB rate SO rate
Year BB rate SO rate
2017 11.7% 26.6%
2018 10.9% 23.9%
2019 14.4% 16.3%
2020 12.4% 17.3%
Source: Baseball-Reference

Despite his struggles, Bellinger didn’t strike out a ton — 17.3 percent, compared to 23.4 percent MLB-wide — more in line with his MVP season than his first two seasons, and his walk rate (12.4 percent) was the second-best of his career.

Bellinger tied for the major league lead in Outs Above Average (+7) at any position, per Baseball Savant, and ranked seventh among major league center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved (+5), per Fielding Bible. Bellinger, who won a Gold Glove as a right fielder in 2019, is a finalist for another in center field this year. This year’s Gold Glove winners will be announced Tuesday evening.

All that added up to 1.4 Wins Above Replacement, which translates roughly to the four-win player Bellinger was in his first two seasons, rather than his MVP explosion in 2019. That is to say, this Bellinger, even if relatively slumping at the plate, is still incredibly valuable.

His postseason stats were more of the same, hitting .212/.316/.455 in 18 games, but that’s not the lasting memory from this year because Bellinger hit a pennant-winning home run.

The NLCS against the Braves was an endurance test with seven games in seven days, a series the Dodgers had to battle back from down 3-1, and one they never led until Bellinger came to bat in the seventh inning of the seventh game against Chris Martin, who retired his first three batters faced in relief. Martin did not retire his fourth batter:

Bellinger’s home run is one of the most important home runs in the history of the Dodgers, but it will also be remembered for Bellinger’s right shoulder popping out of its socket while celebrating said home run. Such was 2020 for Bellinger, whose expressions made him the most meme-worthy player of the entire postseason, providing fodder not only for Amanda Smith’s “Deep Thoughts” series, but also for SB Nation’s own Hector Diaz, and many others.

2020 particulars

Age: 24

Stats: .239/.333/.455, 12 HR, 114 wRC+, 1.4 WAR

Salary (full-season): $11.5 million

Game of the year

It’s amazing that Bellinger’s Game 7 of the NLCS isn’t the choice here, but it’s only because Bellinger showed a more all-around flair 11 days earlier. In Game 2 of the NLDS against the Padres, the Dodgers led 4-3 with two outs in the seventh when Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a ball that had the distance of a two-run, go-ahead home run. But Bellinger had other ideas:

“Great players make great plays in big moments, and Cody did just that,” manager Dave Roberts said after the game.

His catch earns extra points for inducing the wonderful reaction from Brusdar Graterol on the mound. Bellinger also homered earlier in the game, impacting on both offense and defense in a game the Dodgers held on to win by one run.

Roster status

Bellinger is arbitration-eligible for the second of four times, with three years, 160 days of major league service time. With three years remaining until free agency, Bellinger is still a prime candidate for a long-term extension, provided both he and the team are willing.