This Week on Rates & Barrels: Cody Bellinger to the Cubs, new bat-missing metrics and more



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Signal v. Noise.

It’s the tension we often feel when trying to make sense of a player’s performance.

In the Statcast era, few players have been as productive as Cody Bellinger was in 2023 (.307/.356/.525, 26 HR, 20 SB), while drawing as much skepticism about their ability to sustain it.

  • The batting average was 49 points higher than his career mark (.258).
  • The 6.1% barrel rate (27th percentile) was the lowest of his career.
  • Not surprisingly, his 31.4% hard-hit rate (10th percentile) was also a career-low.
  • Bellinger’s O-Swing% was 35.3%, right in line with his norms since 2021, rather than the sub-30% marks he posted from 2017-2020.

Suboptimal Statcast metrics and the prolonged stay in free agency caused his ADP to slip just outside the Top 50 overall for most of February. There were plenty of drafts — including mixed LABR — in which Bellinger dropped even further — he went 86th overall to your friendly neighborhood podcast host in that one.

In the four days since he re-signed with the Cubs, he’s moved up a handful of spots to pick No. 50 (ADP 51.23), but that might be a reasonably stable location for Bellinger through the end of draft season.

As noted on the show Monday, Bellinger was the 11th-best hitter in 2023 based on the FanGraphs auction calculator, but the skeptics still outnumber the believers.

In addition to handling left-handed pitching better than ever, Bellinger was very good in two-strike situations, as Sara Sanchez detailed in this thread.

While there is variance within a fresh batting average projection for Bellinger, his floor in that category is much higher if you believe this is a skill. A two-strike approach is undeniably real, but how reliable is one season’s worth of two-strike splits? Is it similar in value to lefty vs. lefty splits in a particular year? Even if we were to agree that there is a limitation of these splits, it seems foolish to render them meaningless.


This week on the pod, we discussed the importance of working backwards when determining your early-round draft strategy. By figuring out what you can find in abundance late, you can make smarter decisions early and fully take advantage of the shape and depth of the player pool. We also covered six more teams for our team preview series, and were very excited to learn about the upcoming arrival of new bat tracking metrics at Baseball Savant.

Listen to the show wherever you enjoy podcasts — including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, the ad-free option within The Athletic app.

Friendly Reminder: The Athletic’s 2024 fantasy baseball draft kit is here!

Monday

Bellinger’s return to the Cubs on a shorter-than-expected three-year deal with multiple opt-outs got us started. We also discussed several takeaways from the first round of spring starts, with velocity, iVB reports and GIFs flooding our timelines from the opening weekend of spring games, before discussing why it’s important to work backwards (or at least from the middle of the player pool) when mapping out your early-round plans.

  • If you choose to push toward power-heavy bats early and catch up on stolen bases a bit later on, remember that there are only four hitters projected by The BAT X to steal 20-plus bases and collect at least 500 plate appearances — Jarren Duran, TJ Friedl, Trevor Story, and Tommy Edman.
  • Our pick from the players who go even later (beyond pick No. 200) with a 20-steal projection and a very good chance to top 500 plate appearances is Starling Marte, who accomplished that feat in each of the previous four full seasons before injuries limited him to just 86 games (341 PA) for the Mets last season.

Tuesday

In need of a third club to pair with the bottom two teams from the AL Central, we opted to place the Yankees team preview with the Royals and White Sox.

  • Will Warren isn’t on the Yankees’ 40-man roster yet, but he may prove to be an important member of the rotation this season if injuries create an opportunity. Warren had the fourth-best Stuff+ number among Triple-A pitchers last season, behind Mason Miller, Joe Boyle, and Bobby Miller.
  • Of the hitters frequently drafted in the slots just behind consensus No. 1 overall pick Ronald Acuña Jr., who is the most likely to lead the league in 5×5 roto value this season? Bobby Witt Jr.’s case might be stronger than you think, as he was one steal short of a 30-50 season in 2023 despite a .319 OBP. With an improved K% (17.4% last season, down from 21.4% as a rookie), steady underlying power metrics, and a seemingly always-on green light, Witt might have one more level he can still reach.
  • Add Nick Nastrini to the list of reasons you might willingly tune in to watch the White Sox at some point in 2024. Nastrini has a good stuff, shaky command profile that can be a lot of fun if it clicks for him as a starter. Having reached Triple-A for the first time late in 2023, he’ll likely begin in Charlotte before finding his way into the rotation at some point this summer.

Thursday

We resumed our team preview series with the Blue Jays, Rays, and Orioles — arguably the funnest collection of three teams we have had packed into one episode to this point.

  • Yusei Kikuchi’s improved control pushed his K-BB% to 19.0% in 2023, ranking him 30th among the 124 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. He remains a bargain with a February ADP of 235 overall in NFBC leagues.
  • Don’t overlook Zack Littell’s opportunity to contribute in the Rays rotation while Shane Baz begins the year at extended spring training. Littell’s excellent control (2.5% BB% with the Rays) pushed him to a 3.93 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 87 innings with Tampa Bay last season. Working as a regular starter from late July on, Littell reeled off an 11-start stretch with a 47:5 K:BB (nine homers allowed), posting a 3.38 ERA when the rotation was in dire need of quality innings. That success came with a move on the rubber and two new pitches after he joined the Rays last season, according to Adam Berry of MLB.com.
  • Ryan Mountcastle was mentioned as a good source of cheap power as a regular part of the Orioles lineup. Remember, he’s one of five hitters projected by The BAT X for a .260+ AVG and 20+ HR available after pick No. 150 in NFBC ADP right now. Late pop usually comes with a hit in batting average — the slight risk with Mountcastle is the increasingly loaded roster around him creating more competition for playing time. Those other four hitters projected for .260+ and 20+ HR? Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Taylor Ward, Eloy Jiménez and Andrew Vaughn.

Friday

On our weekly finale, we discussed the things we hope to learn from the forthcoming availability of bat tracking data at Baseball Savant after David Adler and Mike Petriello wrote two interesting pieces about the biggest bat-missing pitches. Blake Snell, still a free agent on the first day of March, was the king of missing bats in 2023 (Adler). Petriello examined the biggest individual misses of 2023, a piece that featured plenty of surprising names. And, yes, we also think it’s weird that a reigning Cy Young Award winner is available as a free agent whilst spring games are being played.

  • May explained why Spencer Strider’s new curveball can be such an important pitch as he tries to keep his place among the league’s elite pitchers.
  • Our featured pitch deep dive was the cutter, and one of our live stream viewers asked which pitch we would pick against lefties: Mariano Rivera’s cutter or  Greg Maddux’s two-seamer? Cast your vote in the comments below!
  • Join the Live Hive on our YouTube channel every Friday, at 1p ET/10a PT! 🐝

Have a great weekend! We’re back with you Monday.





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