Cody Bellinger is one of the premier five-tool players in baseball when he’s right. He’s fast, has a cannon, can hit for average and power, and is a good defender. These tools are the reason he’s a former Rookie of the Year, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger, and MVP, all of which he accomplished by age 24.
This year, though? He’s among the worst players in MLB. He might be the absolute worst. Bellinger is experiencing a Chris Davis-style fall from grace, i.e. a former star hitter who suddenly, inexplicably, just…lost it. That’s what a .159/.237/.291 slash line and 43 OPS+ across 337 PA tells you.
As if his poor performance wasn’t enough, now the Dodgers OF/1B has a rib fracture. He’s going to try to play through it, as per manager Dave Roberts. With how this season has gone for him, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.
If They Shut Him Down
Cody Bellinger has put up -1.7 bWAR this season (-0.9 on FanGraphs). Brutal. His play has been a detriment to the Dodgers, who are facing a one-game playoff with either the Cardinals, Reds, Padres, or Phillies. They’re sitting two games back from the Giants with about a dozen games to play. They have to have their eyes set on winning the division and avoiding the randomness of a one-game playoff; this team is too expensive and loaded to take that risk.
What are they losing if they shut down Bellinger for the season? They’re losing an albatross in their lineup. Let’s call it what it is. Cody Bellinger does not have it right now, and this injury will probably not make things any better. They could make them worse, if that’s possible.
Options for Dave
The Dodgers have talent. An absurd amount of talent. They are the most talented team in terms of star power and depth at the Major League level. They have a talented farm system too, one of the best in baseball. It’s ridiculous what this front office has been able to accomplish. If they chose to shut down Bellinger, either for the season or until his rib heals, they would absolutely be able to adequately fill his spot.
Mookie Betts is a given. A.J. Pollock will be back from the IL in a few days. He’s also a given. After that, you got Chris Taylor and Matt Beatty to fill in the last outfield spot. Zach McKinstry, Luke Raley, and others offer depth behind the starters. It’s strange to say, but these players represent a potential upgrade over Cody Bellinger, in what has been a unique hell of a season for him.
All is Not Lost…Yet
Sometimes, when a player is clearly in his own head at the plate, time off can help. Bellinger has dealt with a few injuries this season, but his issues are between the ears. If he continues to play and continues to struggle, it’s a real possibility that these problems will get worse.
Cody Bellinger is not a broken player. But it’s possible. Chris Davis never got out his funk, even though he was still in his prime for a power-hitter when he lost his mojo. It would really suck to see that happen to Bellinger. The Dodgers need to be extra careful with their star outfielder as October nears and the magnitude of every at bat is ratcheted up.