Cody Bellinger’s absolutely incredible 2019 start has been covered from many different angles, and I don’t intend to repeat any of it here. I just want to add one thread to the tapestry.
It’s been years since I’ve cared about batting average, except when someone is batting .400. That number will always have magic for me. I’m more impressed, just as one example, by Bellinger’s .500 on-base percentage, which takes us beyond magic into Narnia territory.
Nevertheless, it’s Bellinger’s .420 batting average through the Dodgers’ first 30 games that I’m addressing today.
Normally, when someone is batting .400 or better, you assume he’s been lucky. That’s something you would suspect intuitively even before the analytical revolution began earlier this century. When Rod Carew, George Brett or Tony Gwynn chased .400 in my younger days, it reflected their greatness, of course, but also the understanding that they were catching a certain amount of breaks at the right time.
Right now, Cody Bellinger is earning every bit of his .420 batting average. According to Statcast, his expected batting average (xBA), which measures the likelihood that a batted ball will become a hit, is .428. His .420 is arguably underselling his performance this season.
To put Bellinger’s .428 xBA into some context … His Eminence, Mike Trout, not surprisingly, has the next-closest xBA behind Bellinger. Trout is at .359 — a full 69 points back. Christian Yelich, the NL’s current No. 2, is at .333 — nearly 100 points behind.
The highest full-season xBA since Statcast began keeping track is .343 by DJ LeMahieu in 2016 (LeMahieu batted .348 that season). Regression is a cruel beast that finds everyone, but it will have to roar big and loud before it tears Bellinger down.
Cody Bellinger was a career .263 hitter entering this season, so whatever well-documented improvements he has made — most remarkably in his ability to cut his strikeout rate in half — it seems remarkable that he might hit .300 this season, let alone .350. The idea of .400 should still make you laugh. But if you’re wondering whether he has somehow cheated fate to do as well has he has so far in 2019, the truth is he hasn’t.
Pitchers can’t simply sit back and wait for Bellinger to revert to normal (whatever that is). They are going to have to work to find some new weak spots for him, while hoping that he can’t counter-adjust.
And Cody Bellinger is still only 23 years old.
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