Los Angeles Dodgers rookie first baseman/outfielder extraordinaire Cody Bellinger is officially chasing history. Through 47 games, he’s smacked 18 home runs. Bellinger’s dinger in the 4th inning of the Dodgers’ tilt with the Cleveland Indians on Thursday tied him with Wally Berger for the second most home runs in 47 games to start a career. Per ESPN Stats & Info on Twitter, Bellinger now has three games to tie or surpass current New York Yankees slugger Gary Sanchez‘s record of 19 homers in 50 games, a feat Sanchez accomplished just last year.
Bellinger’s seemingly meteoric rise to stardom is immediately reminiscent of another Dodgers outfielder’s debut campaign. In fact, when Bellinger plays left field, he’s standing to the immediate right of center fielder Joc Pederson. Just two campaigns ago, Pederson was on the 2015 Opening Day roster, and hit nearly 20 home runs before being named to the National League All-Star squad and a participant in the Home Run Derby. However, the curse of the Home Run Derby found Joc shortly after, and he slugged just five homers after the break. So what sets Bellinger apart from Pederson, and is Bellinger more likely to maintain pace, or will the scouting reports catch up to him in the second half? Here are three reasons why Bellinger is destined for productive season after productive season.
3. Bellinger’s scouting report is murky, at best
Rarely is a hitter more difficult to predict than Bellinger, as most sluggers have huge holes in their heat maps and can be bested by pitchers with strong command. However, the Dodgers rookie swings and misses at hittable pitches down the middle frequently. Just when an opposing pitcher gets comfortable grooving pitches over the plate, Bellinger makes a microscopic adjustment, and ball go far.
Pederson’s holes were easy to identify, as the eager rookie frequently chased pitches off the plate, and breaking balls down and in. There was a marked difference in Joc’s approach at the dish near the end of 2015, but it was way too late to salvage the second half of his rookie campaign. As long as Bellinger maintains discipline and only strikes out on hittable pitches, his production will remain level while his average hovers around .250.
2. Not the only weapon in the arsenal
Let’s face it — the team the Dodgers put on the field in 2015 was talented, but they lacked the chemistry, poise, experience, and talent the 2017 Dodgers possess. The Dodgers are producing more runs at the dish than the 2015 squad. Justin Turner is healthy and raking, Logan Forsythe adds protection in the lineup, and Corey Seager remains productive (including his first career, game-winning grand slam) while his average has dipped a hair. Even Chase Utley is hitting well lately, which means opposing pitchers can’t simply pitch around Bellinger and get off easy.
By no means is has this Dodgers lineup been consistent this season, and they could certainly pull off some moves for more offense at the July trade deadline, but there’s a certain uneasiness pitchers feel facing the Dodgers this season that just didn’t manifest against names like Alberto Callaspo, Carl Crawford, Darwin Barney, etc.
1. Consistent playing time establishes firm routine
In 2015, Pederson dealt with a crowded outfield and the constant battle to maintain a starting role, considerably more so in the second half of the season as his production dipped. Bellinger’s versatility, on the other hand, allows him to stay in the lineup, no matter where he carries his glove at the beginning of every defensive inning.
Sporadic plate appearances were another factor in Pederson’s struggles late in the season, as then-manager Don Mattingly used him in questionable situations, and more and more in a pinch-hit capacity.
It appears Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has the secret formula for keeping consistency with his starters, while maintaining morale and balance.
Comparisons to other sluggers are inevitable as Bellinger continues to mash, but honestly, there’s no one like him. We’re all strapped to this rocket, and it appears it’s headed to Mars faster than Space-X. The Dodgers are thrilling to watch, and Bellinger figures to be a mainstay for years to come.
(Follow Todd on Twitter: @oddtoddious)