When Cody Bellinger signed with the Chicago Cubs last offseason, he was coming off yet another rough year in Los Angeles. After his first three seasons of being a two-time All-Star and National League MVP in 2019, his play dramatically dipped thanks to some injury issues. This included dislocating his shoulder in the 2020 playoffs. From 2020 through 2022 Bellinger hit just .203/.272/.376 with 41 homers and a .648 OPS in 295 games.
After his resurgent 2023 on the North Side, he was named National League Comeback Player of the Year. Bellinger finished the season with the eighth-highest wRC+ among qualified National League hitters (134) and slashed .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers, 97 RBI, and .881 OPS in 130 games.
Just compare his dismal Batting Run-Value on baseballsavant in the 18th percentile in 2022 to being in the 88th percentile in 2023.
2023 would be the first time since 2019 that Bellinger would hit 20+ homers, record 90+ RBI, hit over .300, slug over .500, and post a .800+ OPS. He also posted a career-low strikeout rate of 15.6 percent, after it was a career-high 27.3 percent in 2022.
Bellinger also posted a career-high .319 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). What is interesting to note about this is his Barrel% of 6.1 percent per Statcast in 2023 was actually on the low end of his career, and his average exit velocity was also in the lower percentile. However, his career-best Whiff% (77th percentile) and contact rate (81.2 percent) allowed him to put the ball in play more and find grass. We saw in many situations where he would "poke" the ball around the field. He did that in many RBI situations where he did not sell out and looked to slap or poke the ball to drive in the run. With all of that said, he still knew when to pull out the driver and hit some mammoth "Belli Bombs". His offensive game was nicely balanced.
Overall Bellinger was a 4.1 fWAR player in 2023. In addition to his clutch bat was a solid baserunner and reliable defender in center and first base. Bellinger boasted a DRS (defensive runs saved) of 5 at first, which has been a blackhole since Anthony Rizzo was traded in 2021. This was Bellinger's highest DRS at first in his career.
The work the Cubs did with Bellinger paid off, and it is one of the better reclamation project stories they can boast. Being able to tap into something the Dodgers could not seem to is something they can hang their hats on. Goes to show what a change of scenery can do for a player. One could wonder if this is a fluke, but the resume of Bellinger boasting multiple All-Star nods, an MVP season, and a World Series ring is telling of what he is capable of. Not to mention he is still only 28 years old with ideally plenty of baseball ahead of him.
Congrats to Bellinger on the award, now, hopefully the Cubs can bring him back.