Yanks Should Not Allow Low Hard Hit Rate to Deter Pursuit of Bellinger

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Cody Bellinger fits the Yankees like a glove (excuse the pun).

A left handed bat, who is a good defender in the outfield and at first base and would add some protection and balance to a lineup that has been lacking this ingredient in their lineup in recent seasons. Bellinger checks all those boxes. 

If the Yankees really expect to contend next season, they need to add a bat of this caliber, but there are reports of disagreements within the organization concerning this player due to a career low hard hit rate of 31% last season.

If the Yankees use that number as an excuse for not signing the 28-year old who fills a number of needs, they’d be making an error in judgment. After years of claiming that their right handed hitters can reach the seats at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees used that as an alibi to defend their claim that a left handed bat was not a pressing need. Now they desperately need to add an impact, left handed bat to their unbalanced lineup.

The Yankees had a chance at Bellinger last season, but they shied away because his offensive numbers had dropped off after he won the NL MVP in 2019. Did they take into account Bellinger’s shoulder injury that he suffered during the 2020 World Series and was taking some time to heal?

The Cubs signed Bellinger to a one year, $17.5 million dollar deal, with a mutual option for 2024. He opted out of the deal after he resurrected his career in Chicago. Last season, Bellinger slashed .305/.356/.525 with 26 home runs, 97 RBIs and an .881 OPS. You’re telling me he wouldn’t have taken that deal to hit at Yankee Stadium.

You want to say his numbers were inflated by playing at Wrigley. Well, his home and road numbers were similar.

Bellinger’s numbers home/road:

At home: slashed .302/.354/.548 with an OPS of .902

On road: slashed .311/.358/.502 with an OPS of .860

At home: 75 hits, 48 runs, 14 home runs/49 RBIs

On road: 78 hits, 47 runs, 12 home runs/48 RBIs

Even though Bellinger’s hard hit rate dropped to a career low, he still had a great season and nearly led the Cubs to what would’ve been a surprising WIld Card spot. If you examine some of the other numbers, you realize he made some adjustments to become a more balanced offensive player. Instead of swinging for the fences, Bellinger cut down his swing and hit .279 with two strikes while raising his overall batting average from .210 to .305. He also lowered his strikeout total from 150 in 2022 to 87 last season.

Bellinger hit .293 overall with runners in scoring position and that increased to .333 with two out and RISP. With a runner on third and less than two out, Bellinger hit .296 with 12 sacrifice flies. Those runs could be the difference between winning and losing and an inability to push a runner home from third with less than two out is something that has haunted the Yankees over the past few seasons.

Banning the shift also helped Bellinger, who was smart enough to take advantage of that change. The left handed batter hit .309 on ground balls and .414 on balls up the middle. He also hit .259 on balls to the opposite field which is not too bad and probably led to him getting better pitches to pull.

Bellinger’s mere presence in the lineup would be a big improvement and he would provide some protection for Aaron Judge.

Opposing teams started to pitch around Judge, particularly when he returned from the toe injury. Judge got very few pitches to hit as teams had no fear of facing the other hitters in the lineup. Gleyber Torres gave them some production but doesn’t provide the fear factor that can help a hitter like Judge and have an effect on the entire lineup. Bellinger would provide that protection.

With Bellinger batting behind him, Judge would see more pitches to hit. If there was an open base and an opposing club walked Judge and brought in a lefty to face Bellinger, you can point to his .337 average and .984 OPS against left handers last season (career .250 avg. with a .782 OPS vs. Lefties). Left handed relievers cannot be specialists anymore because of the three batter rule so there are a limited number of quality southpaw relievers.

Another plus is Bellinger’s ability to play first base. Anthony Rizzo is signed through next season with a team option for 2025. Rizzo will be 35 during the 2024 season and the Yankees are hoping for a bounce back season. Jasson Dominguez is scheduled to return by mid-season next year and is a part of the future plans in the outfield. Bellinger could replace Rizzo if the team option for 2025 is not picked up.

There are some who would prefer the Yankees trade for Juan Soto. The Padres have indicated that they are open to trading the 25 year old who will be a free agent after next season.

Soto is not as good a defender as Bellinger and take this into account from Kevin Kernan’s column, published November 18th on the outstanding site, ballnine.com. Kernan, who is well connected throughout baseball, wrote, “For all of Soto’s talents, and his high on-base percentage, there are some I have talked to in baseball who have told me, ‘Be careful what you wish for’ in Juan Soto.’ The word out there is he can be a handful in the clubhouse.”

The Yankees will likely not land both Soto and Bellinger. Soto is three years younger but Bellinger’s edge defensively and his versatility makes the former MVP a more valuable commodity.

Cody’s father, Clay (he won two in the Bronx), can tell him what it’s like to play on a Yankees World Championship team. Maybe Cody would like to experience that as well. Adding him to the lineup would be a big step forward towards returning to that glory.

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