The Dodgers Have Options With Cody Bellinger, But Doing Nothing Is Not One of Them
The center fielder is 5-39 (.128) since August 22, 2-21 (.095) in his last 10 games and zero-for-September (.000) now. So he's actually getting worse.
When I think of the weakest hitting performances in Los Angeles Dodgers history, the names that come immediately to mind are Eugenio Velez, Juan Castro, Garret Anderson and Andruw Jones. Those may not actually be the weakest hitters in L.A. history, but after watching the locals lose their series in San Francisco over the weekend, I really don’t have the initiative to do more than a thimble full of research on the topic.
Velez, who’d hit .256/.300/.388 in four seasons with the Giants, was signed to a free agent contract by Ned Colletti on December 13, 2010 and proceeded to go 0-37, with a run batted in and a stolen base for L.A. in 2011. Oddly, Velez managed a lovely .339/.371/.463 slash line, with two home runs and eight RBIs for the AAA-Albuquerque (altitude 5312 feet) Isotopes that season, but couldn’t muster as much as a squib single for the big club.
Castro spent parts of eight non-consecutive seasons in Los Angeles, finishing with a .207/.260/.271 mark, three homers and 33 RBIs (which comes to fewer than 4/10 of a big fly and 4.1 RBIs per year). In his worst season with a decent sample size (220 at bats in 1998) for the Blue, Castro hit .195/.245/.255, with seven doubles, two homers and 14 ribbies. He was paid $240,000 for his services that year.
Anderson, a product of Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, CA, was an exemplary man and player during a fine 15-year career with the Angels, hitting .296/.327/.469, with 2368 hits, 489 doubles, 35 triples, 272 homers ad 1292 RBIs. He’d managed to hit .263/.303/.401, with 13 homers and 61 plated as a 37-year-old bench man for the 2009 Braves, but the next season was to be the end of the line for the Angels’ all-time leader in 15 categories (including extra base hits at 796). He struggled to a .181/.204/.271 line, with 2 HR and 12 RBIs in 155 at bats as a 2010 Dodger and was released on August 10, 2010.
While the circumstances were quite different, Jones is the closest comparison to Bellinger that I could come up with. While Jones never won a National League Most Valuable Player award ala Belly, he was a runner-up in 2005, was named to five All-Star team rosters and received Hall of Fame votes in four straight elections, from 2018 to 2021. Great player, awful Dodger.
After 12 seasons as Atlanta’s center fielder during which time he hit .263/.342/.497, with 368 homers and 1117 RBIs (including 51 and 128 in 2005), the Dodgers signed Jones to a two-year $36.2 million contract in December, 2007. He showed up to Spring Training two months later unmotivated and rather fat and went on to hit .158/.256/.249 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 209 hapless at bats.
L.A.’s current center fielder, Bellinger, is hitting .167/.243/.307, with 9 HR and 32 RBIs in 271 ABs this season. He’s 5-39 (.128) since August 22, 2-21 (.095) in his last 10 games and zero-for-September (.000) as we speak. So he’s actually getting worse with each passing day. Bellinger is as lost at the plate as a Dodger can possibly be. And his employers really don’t seem to be doing anything to help get him straightened out.
What can be done to fix Bellinger? Well, Dave Roberts said just days ago that Bellinger would sit against left-handed starters (he was hitting .118/.221/.184 against them through Saturday), but the plan was foiled by AJ Pollock’s straining his right hamstring Saturday. My first thought after Pollock went down was the same as the skipper’s: Bellinger is a great defensive player, so let’s just bite the bullet, accept the oh-fer each night and let the man play. My second thought, less than 24 hours later, was this: Uh, sorry, defense be damned; Bellinger has to come out of the lineup immediately. Period, end of discussion.
Next, if for whatever reason Andrew Friedman is dead set on having 16 pitchers on his roster, as was the case Sunday (when right-hander Mitch While was recalled to replace Pollock), the next obvious thing is to move Chris Taylor to center field for the foreseeable future. Taylor isn’t hitting at the moment either (3-36, .083 since August 25), but that’s what we sentient beings call a slump. He’s had them before, he’ll have again and he’s Chris “CT3” Taylor. He’ll be absolutely fine. Bellinger isn’t in a slump; he’s completely broken.
With Taylor in center field and Mookie Betts in right, Los Angeles has a few candidates to play left, none of them particularly good. But you can’t just sit there. On the current roster are Billy McKinney (not much of a hitter and hitting only .187 vs. RHP in 2021) and Zach McKinistry (.186 vs. RHB). Matt Beaty is at Oklahoma City and could’ve been in San Francisco in time for today’s game. But alas. Beaty is hitting only .211 vs. RHP this year and was only 2-29 (.069) in the second half overall before being optioned to Triple-A August 26. But at least he has a track record (.269/.340/.441 in 431 at bats lifetime vs. RHP) and is hitting .400 in the Pacific Coast League now.
Another guy with a track record is Steven Souza, Jr., who the Dodgers gave all of 25 at bats (.160) before designating and subsequently releasing him on July 11 only to re-sign and assign him to OKC five days later. Importantly, Souza, Jr. is a right-handed batter, and the club really needs a RHB to replace Pollock, even it’s not as an every day substitution. The veteran former-Ray is hitting .247/.387/.507, with nine homers in 150 minor league at bats with remarkably even left-right splits. And he’s a legitimate defensive outfielder. Friedman would have to DFA a guy to make room for Souza, Jr. on the 40-man roster, but there are plenty of good candidates for a pink slip: Luke Raley, Sheldon Neuse, Darien Nunez, etc. You may recall that Souza, Jr. helped L.A. win a game with a catch and a homer back in June. He ought be in St. Louis for the four-game series with the Cards which begins Monday at 1:00 p.m. But I wouldn’t count on it.
It should be noted that while Friedman signed pitcher after pitcher after pitcher throughout the summer, he did literally nothing to address his weak bench, and lack of right-hand hitting depth in particular, which has been an issue for at least two seasons running. He did, however, release center fielder DJ Peters, who’s hit nine homers (including two Sunday) in just 116 at bats as a Texas Ranger. Friedman did so in order to keep utterly useless players like Raley and Neuse in the fold. Peters is hitting .256/.303/.561 with seven homers in 82 at bats vs. RHB in the majors in 2021, which is a shitload better than Bellinger.
Last, but certainly not least, the Dodgers have an option with Bellinger that I’m almost certain they haven’t explored. And that is to have Bellinger forget about everything he’s tried to do at the plate since his 2019 MVP season. Because it’s a complete loser of a plan.
I wouldn’t normally suggest a total breakdown and rebuild during a season, but the guy is so lost, so completely lost in the batter’s box, the club really has nothing to lose. Enough with the tinkering around the edges with the current approach. It’s not working and it’s not going to work. At least, not in 2021.
Belly needs a brand new everything. The pigeon-toed positioning that many hitters employ today has got to go. He doesn’t look at all comfortable using it. The straight-legged stance with at best a tiny bend at the knees and the idiotic bat-over-his-shoulder-and-parallel-to-the-ground thing needs to be jettisoned too. Toss the thumb drive with video of the 1000 at bats from 2018 and ‘19 into the garbage disposal. Or if you’re feeling environmentally friendly, the blender. I suggest the liquefy setting.
Everything goes. I mean, damn, Belly would have a better chance of picking a stance out of a catalogue like a hairstyle than continuing with what he’s doing now.
Most importantly, the uppercuttingest swing any of us has ever seen simply cannot continue for another day. My God, Bellinger makes Rick Monday look like Rod Carew, for fuck’s sake! If the big league coaches haven’t suggested any of the above (or that he lay a bunt down third with the shift on early in the count, which he hasn’t tried even a single time) then Bellinger needs a new outside instructor. And not one named Clay Bellinger.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Pollock’s absence, not to mention AF’s pitching-only personnel strategy) makes for desperate Dodgers times. One or two of the things I’ve suggested should be put into motion.
And before I go slit my wrists, Gavin Lux in center field?! Yes, that actually happened. The one-time Minor League Player of the Year went 0-4 leading off in center for OKC Sunday. He’s hitting a whopping .241/.281/.278 (including a 1-14 currently and with only two extra base hits (both of them doubles)) in the PCL this year. Are you fucking kidding me?! That’s the best idea you can come up with, Andrew Friedman?! GTFO!!!
The Giants beat the Dodgers two out of three over the weekend in San Francisco and are the best team in baseball as of this very moment. They’re 87-50, one game ahead of L.A. in the standings and by virtue of their winning the season series, 10 games to nine, will host a potential game 163, if necessary.
On the bright side, Pollock may return in time for the final couple weeks of the regular season, which would be huge if he were able to do it. Equally as encouraging is that Clayton Kershaw is nearing a comeback with the team. He will make a rehab start at OKC Tuesday and try to go three innings. It’s possible he’ll be activated in time to start at Chavez Ravine Sunday vs. the Padres and be used as the “bulk guy,” with bulk meaning four innings. Five, if it all possible. Barring a setback, Kersh could be built up to go six by his third start of the month, in the neighborhood of September 16.
Also on the bright side, a one-game deficit in the NL West is meaningless. As painful as it was to watch for the citizenry, a two-out-of-three series loss to San Francisco in their yard is far from the end of the world, especially after the Pollock injury, and especially with so many of the team’s hitters slumping.
The Dodgers can still win the division. Easier if they do something with Bellinger other than sitting there with their dicks in their hands and trotting out McKinney and McKinstry instead of a better alternative. But it’s doable.
Baseball Photos of the Day:
And remember, glove conquers all.
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