Oct. 04, 2018
Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger: Present and Future
Young, polarizing bats leading the way for their teams? Great. Oh…they’re rookies? Even better. In the age of youth emphasis, having athletes younger than 30 making up the core of a team is vital. Two players in their rookie seasons playing like seasoned veterans is incredible. On the East Coast, we have had the pleasure of watching Yankees phenom Aaron Judge lead the American League in every major hitting category (Triple Crown???). Across the map in Chavez Ravine, Cody Bellinger, originally just a stopgap until Adrian Gonzalez returned, has been slugging home runs at a other-worldly rate.
All of a sudden, the future faces of baseball have shifted. Last year’s shortstops Corey Seager and Carlos Correa now are outfield superstars Judge and Bellinger. As of right now, these two are the undisputed leaders in Rookie of the Year voting. While both Judge & Bellinger will likely win the same award, they have very different playing styles and assets.
Aaron Judge has single-handedly resurrected the New York Yankees franchise and put them back at the peak of the Mt. Everest of baseball power. He’s done it all this year, from hitting 495-foot moonshots…
to making unbelievable plays in right field.
Judge has shattered just about every doubt concerning himself as a player and the Yankees in 2017. He has blown baseball away with his incredible skillset and never-before-seen production. No rookie has ever won the Triple Crown, but he is in a good position to do so, leading the league in batting average (.335), home runs (23), and runs batted in (53). Rookie of the year almost is an afterthought given his numbers.
Entering 2017, there were a lot of question marks surrounding Judge. Could he adjust to off-speed pitches? Would he and his 6-foot-7 frame spend too much time on the DL? Will he even make the team? The big knock on Judge was that he was a very streaky hitter throughout his career in the minors; would he be able to get consistent? Judging by the numbers, he has, and then some.
Who Does He Compare With?
An easy comparison to make to Judge is Giancarlo Stanton. Like Judge, Stanton has a big frame, and a TON of power. The difference between Stanton and Judge is that teams are starting to shift Stanton more and more frequently, whereas Judge can’t be shifted because he uses the whole field. Judge has also altered his swing and lowered his chase rate, best outlined here by Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher.
Now, are his numbers aided by an impossibly high BABIP of .431? You bet. Will that number come down? You bet. Even if it does come down, his numbers will still be in the .280-.310 range, which is still very good. He clearly has an insane amount of power, so don’t expect homers or RBIs to vary too much in the future. Judge should have a long and bright future ahead with the Yankees.
Ironically enough, Cody Bellinger’s father, Clay Bellinger, was actually a reserve infielder for the Yankees on their 1999 and 2000 championship teams. What’s also funny, but rather frightening too? Cody has already surpassed his father’s career total of home runs in a month and a half – absurd stuff. He also shattered the mark which Wally Berger and Gary Sanchez set in 1930 and 2016, respectively, for most home runs a player hits in his first 51 career MLB games. Not one person has done that before in the history of the game.
What was originally an injury-filling call-up for the Dodgers turned out to be the unearthing of a superstar. He appears to only be getting better as the season goes on. In May, despite only hitting .245, he slugged 9 home runs and drove in 27 runs. Through 17 games in June, Bellinger somehow has improved, batting .303 and hammering out 10 home runs in about half the time.
Who Does He Compare With?
Some have already compared Bellinger’s incredible season to that of another Dodgers rookie back in 2013: Yasiel Puig. Puig had an incredible 2013 season, and Bellinger has the skill set to potentially replicate Puig’s success.
That high and tight fastball is a pitch that most hitters struggle to pull and elevate, let alone put in play. Bellinger’s lightning-quick bat speed and level swing through the strike zone enables him to slice right through the ball and hit it a long way. He can hit any pitch in the strike zone, as shown here when he goes down and gets a low changeup.
The only major knock on Bellinger going forward is his hitting. Some have compared him to Joc Pederson, another Dodger, or Joey Gallo. Both men hit a lot of home runs, but not much else. While the power numbers are there, he strikes out 31.3 percent of the time. That number would be the seventh highest mark in baseball if he qualified for the batting title. But, his big asset is power. If he can keep hitting home runs, he should find long-time success.
Who’s Better in Five Years?
Cutting right to the chase, it depends on Bellinger, and where he is with his development. Given that Judge is 25, already decently-seasoned, and has made the necessary adjustments to his swing to survive and thrive with the Bronx Bombers, it should be safe to assume that his numbers can be in the .290/30/100 category, which is outstanding.
Bellinger is a little more raw – his hitting skillset raises some red flags. However, he’s also only 21, and should theoretically develop a more well-rounded skill set as he progresses in his development. If he can hit anything around.260, that’s a huge win for the Dodgers. If not, then he might end up like Joc Pederson – almost an afterthought. Expect his power numbers to hover around 35 home runs and 100 RBIs with his powerful swing.
As of right now, advantage Judge, present and future. But, if Bellinger can hit higher than .260, then we’ve got a great debate in our hands about the faces of the game of baseball.