Cody Bellinger Did What Great Hitters Do

In the top of the fifth inning of Saturday’s Game 4, Cody Bellinger faced Charlie Morton and struck out. This was nothing too terribly weird — for a good long while, Morton was dominant, and the Dodgers could hardly muster a threat. Bellinger was just another hitter put away. Yet the strikeout meant Bellinger was 0-for-13 in the World Series, with eight whiffs. It’s true that, in circumstances like these, people can make far too much of small-sample underperformance. It’s also true that, in circumstances like these, players can get into their own heads. Bellinger has never played under any greater pressure. It almost wouldn’t be possible.

In the top of the seventh inning, Bellinger drilled a one-out double, and he scored the tying run on Logan Forsythe’s two-out single. Later, in the top of the ninth inning, Bellinger drilled a tie-breaking double, scoring Corey Seager with nobody out. The inning got only larger from there, and the Dodgers knotted the series. If Bellinger didn’t have the team’s two biggest hits, he had two of the top three or four.

But let’s quickly go back to the strikeout. The count was 1-and-2, and Morton came after Bellinger with an inside breaking ball. Bellinger attempted a mighty swing.

Bellinger wound up in a familiar pose. You know the one. You’ve been seeing it plenty.

In Friday’s Game 3, Bellinger finished 0-for-4, with four strikeouts. Again, there’s never any particular shame in struggling to make contact against the Astros’ terrific pitching staff, but the reality is that, in the World Series, everything is magnified, and nothing looks worse than coming up empty. Here’s the first of the four strikeouts.

There’s that pose again.

It seemed to be showing up over and over and over.

And over.

Look: Cody Bellinger has a swing. It’s a distinctive swing, and it’s a powerful swing, and it’s a swing that carried him into the major leagues, where he was highly successful as a 22-year-old rookie. And, say what you will about the strikeouts, but in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2, Bellinger very nearly drilled a walk-off home run to right-center, and that would’ve changed the whole narrative. Bellinger was only in the spotlight because the Dodgers as a team were struggling, and he hasn’t made much contact. But the whiffs were growing conspicuous. Bellinger’s swing seemed to be almost out of control. Bellinger himself wanted to rein it in. After he became a Game 4 hero, he talked about something he did earlier in the afternoon.

“I hit every ball in BP today to the left side of the infield,” Bellinger said. “I’ve never done that before in my life. Usually I try to lift. I needed to make an adjustment and saw some results today. I’m pulling off everything. Usually in BP I just try to lift, have fun in BP. But today I tried to make an adjustment. I needed to make an adjustment, and so I decided I’m hitting every ball to left field today. I had two balls to left field today in the game and I saw some results, so let’s see.”

If I wanted to be lazy, I’d draw a direct line. Bellinger’s two doubles were hit to left-center field. They found him hitting with an adjusted swing. It makes for a simple and compelling story. But it’s not quite that clean. Consider, for example, this swing from Friday night, against Brad Peacock.

That’s an opposite-field swing. Even Friday, Bellinger tried to make a tweak. That swing resulted in a foul ball, and the at-bat eventually turned into a strikeout. With the final swing, Bellinger went back to swinging out of his shoes.

Let’s return to Game 4. Bellinger struck out in the fifth. That video came earlier in this post. With the strikeout swing, Bellinger pulled off, like he’s been doing, but the whiff was preceded by this earlier hack.

That’s an opposite-field swing. It didn’t work. So Bellinger swung hard, and that didn’t work. He came back up once more in the seventh. With the count 1-and-1, Bellinger saw a breaking ball and he achieved that familiar pose yet again.

And that’s when it all turned around. Bellinger, for the World Series, was 0-for-13. He’d struck out eight times, and he’d struck out his previous time up. He decided to try the opposite-field swing again. The swing he’d worked on hours earlier, in batting practice. It wasn’t necessarily the obvious thing to do; Bellinger’s swing, in the game, had gone back and forth. But, finding himself in another two-strike count, Bellinger aimed the other way, and shortened himself up.

You remember how the other follow-throughs looked. If not, scroll up. This was a very different swing, and it did what Bellinger intended.

It might not look like much. Staring at the screenshot, that might as well be a younger Chase Utley. But Bellinger is so strong, and his wrists are so quick, that he doesn’t need to swing with all his force to drive a ball into the outfield. The ball left the bat at 99 miles per hour. Bellinger trusted his change, and, this time, the contact was fair and productive.

In the ninth inning, Bellinger didn’t wait. Nor did he go back to swinging from the heels. After taking a first-pitch ball from Ken Giles, Bellinger used the same swing a second time in a row.

That’s 103 miles per hour, leaving on a line. As you can tell from the follow-through, there’s no mistaking that Bellinger cut down on his swing yet again.

It’s similar to what George Springer did earlier in the series. Springer, also, was thought to be in a slump, a slump driven by over-swinging, so Springer calmed himself down, and wound up slugging a crucial home run. In the playoffs, slumps might seem deep, but they can also be fleeting. Springer’s already out of his. Bellinger hopes to be able to say the same of himself.

It’s somewhat important to note that Bellinger didn’t spend the entire regular season leaning on the same powerful swing. Every so often, he did try to go the other way, and he’s also tooled around with something of a two-strike emergency slap, which he’s used with mixed results. Game 4 didn’t find Bellinger attempting something completely brand new. And, again, in the game, Bellinger took some big swings, and he took some smaller ones. It wasn’t until the end that he found his results.

Yet with two consecutive swings, Bellinger thought better of over-swinging, and he attempted the swing he’d just worked on in practice. This isn’t something groundbreaking, something novel — hitters have been told forever to try to cut down when their swings get too long. But Bellinger figured out how he could be successful, and he was able to implement his intentions. Bellinger thought about left-center field, and he finished with a couple of big doubles to left-center field. Bellinger, simply, made an on-the-fly adjustment, which is the mark of a great hitter. It’s not that great hitters don’t ever go through slumps. It’s that great hitters are able to get out of their slumps before they get swallowed. Cody Bellinger has his two hits, and he’s got his confidence back. It’s hard to know if a three-game slump should even be called a slump at all.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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John Autin
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John Autin

I love these analyses … It strikes me that most of Bellinger’s “opposite-field swings” look more like emergency hacks: On two of three pictured above (including the double), his legs and hips still pull off towards right field, with only his torso and arms left engaged. That may explain why just 1 of his 39 HRs went to the opposite field.

But give him full credit for a conscious adjustment. And if you can hit balls that hard without any foundation, there’s no need of further change in approach.

mikejunt
Member
Member
mikejunt

Yeah, Cody doesn’t hit fly balls the opposite way much, though he does hit these line drives.

He started to do this in late June when his HR barrage slowed down because people had found a hole on the outside. However, he never really got it all the way to opposite field, and instead it was usually producing a shift-beating single just to the SS side of the 2B bag. He did this enough that the Cubs were playing their shift with it in mind and playing the person near 2b nearly up the middle to be able to field it. There was one notable 2 strike play where the Cubs shifted Javy Baez with the pitch towards the middle specifically to try to field that kind of ball, and Bellinger pulled it more than usual and hit it right where Baez had moved from, and the TBS announcers made some issue of Baez breaking from the intended defense, when he was almost certainly adjusting to this Bellinger tendency.

Im very interested to see what this looks like after an offseason because it is definitely something he added midseason and is not very well refined yet. This wasn’t the first time he got a big hit in a contact situation with this kind of swing.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

I am betting on 2017 as his career year. Essentially everything went right for him this year. With an approach like his, giant slumps are going to be a common occurrence. I could easily see him playing himself out of a lineup. If balls ever get tougher to hit out of the park, this will hit him hard. I don’t see elite skills when I watch him play. I think he and Joc Pederson are similar in that they are either worthless or good on a given night. Both have mechanics that result in consistently bad at-bats.