GLENDALE, Ariz. — Cody Bellinger bought pitched to in a different way and struggled initially. The month of Might was coming to an finish, the batting common was down within the low .200s and anxiousness started to set in. The swing adjustments turned fixed and the solutions remained elusive. Alongside the best way — all through a season that was superior to most however disappointing for himself — Bellinger realized he spent most of his life hitting with out goal. The “how” got here so simply that the “why” by no means mattered.
This offseason was about altering that.
It was about getting again to the mechanics that made him the Nationwide League Rookie of the Yr in 2017, but in addition about understanding the weather that made all of it work so effectively.
It was about gaining sufficient self-awareness, and embedding the basics so deep into his personal reminiscence, that the inevitable struggles had been now not extended.
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“It is an outdated Navy SEAL coaching approach,” Brant Brown, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ assistant hitting coach, mentioned earlier than a current exercise. “In occasions of stress, you do not rise to the event — you revert again to your coaching.”
Bellinger completed the 2018 season with four.2 Baseball-Reference wins above alternative, a mark that was topped by solely 30 place gamers. He reached base 34 % of the time, displayed Gold Glove-caliber protection in middle area and was among the many recreation’s only baserunners. However his OPS dropped by 119 factors, from .933 in 2017 to .814 in 2018. His slash line in opposition to lefties fell from .271/.335/.568 to .226/.305/.376, turning the left-handed-hitting Bellinger right into a platoon participant for the ultimate two months of the season.
“Going ahead,” Dodgers supervisor Dave Roberts mentioned, “Cody’s gotta be our man.”
Bellinger will return to an on a regular basis function in 2019, spending most of his time in proper area whereas additionally filling in at his extra pure place of first base.
“That is large,” he mentioned, “however I additionally must go on the market and show it.”
Brown initially pushed Bellinger away when he approached him about enhancing in 2019. The 2018 season had not but concluded, and Brown wished Bellinger to deal with ending. Bellinger touched base once more on the onset of the offseason, then took a month off and started working in December, alternating his work with Brown in Arizona and new hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc in Los Angeles.
They uncovered video of Bellinger’s plate appearances from the 2016 Arizona Fall League and all through the 2017 season, then split-screened it with these from 2018 and analyzed the variations. They discovered that Bellinger was now not making use of sufficient strain to the bottom. He was standing too tall and straight-legged, making it troublesome for him to halt momentum as soon as his swing started. He additionally wasn’t environment friendly sufficient entering into his swing path. “Too elbowy,” as Brown put it.
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Van Scoyoc and Brown wished to remove wasted motion and make all the pieces about Bellinger’s strategy really feel extra pure. They carried out extra of a hand motion to assist his swing circulation extra simply by way of the hitting zone, mimicking the movement Bellinger would make whereas throwing a baseball. They introduced his mechanics nearer to what they regarded like in 2017, when Bellinger displayed good plate protection, but in addition accounted for the muscle he added thereafter.
Now, Bellinger mentioned, “I am in a very good place to the place I could be snug with my very own swing.”
Van Scoyoc and Brown will preserve a detailed eye on Bellinger all through the spring to verify his strategy would not stray. All through their coaching, the 2 wished Bellinger to realize full possession of his mechanics. They fastidiously defined why the positioning and hand motion would assist, progressed by way of drills to make him really feel it, then went again to video to indicate him the way it regarded, time and again.
When Bellinger gained consolation, Brown and Van Scoyoc turned on the high-velocity pitching machine to induce stress.
If the mechanics wavered, they went again to fundamentals.
“You prepare the motion patterns,” Brown mentioned. “Then while you get into the field, you simply put it on autopilot.”
The lows of 2018 had been pronounced — a .655 OPS in Might, a .683 OPS in July, a .385 OPS in October — and Bellinger hopes to mitigate them.
Early on, he was getting tied up by up-and-in fastballs and stored chasing the sweeping breaking balls away from lefties. His batting common bought as little as .225 on June three, and Bellinger by no means totally recovered. He mentioned he “bought outdoors my consolation zone,” and Roberts seen it in Bellinger’s at-bat high quality.
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“Mechanically, he was by no means in sync,” Roberts mentioned. “You begin wanting on the scoreboard and the typical and the place you are at, and also you begin urgent just a little bit, and the sport hastens.”
By the tip of August, Bellinger’s OPS in opposition to lefties was hovering round .700 and the Dodgers had been nonetheless preventing for a division title. They acquired the right-handed-hitting David Freese to play first base in opposition to lefties, relegating Bellinger to the bench for mainly half of what remained within the common season. Bellinger later sat in opposition to Chris Sale and David Value within the first two video games of the World Collection, then once more in Sport 5. All of them resulted in Dodgers losses.
“It clearly sucked as a result of I wish to play day by day,” Bellinger mentioned. “However you sort of perceive the place they’re coming from. I do not consider that it is like that sooner or later. I feel it was simply, ‘We have got to win now, any method we are able to.’ That is how I took it.”
The Dodgers appear to agree. Roberts believes it’s “crucial” for Bellinger’s growth that he play day by day, however will rapidly let you know it is also necessary for his crew. Bellinger is an elite offensive participant who can have an effect on video games together with his pace and his protection on nights when the hits do not fall. He is solely 23, however is already among the many recreation’s most gifted all-around gamers.
He confirmed it final yr, even amid a season that by no means felt proper.
“It is very, very promising that the tip numbers, as individuals say, had been common or above common, and I did not actually really feel that effectively,” Bellinger mentioned. “It may be actually cool this yr once I’m feeling good to see what I can do.”