While there was some concern about offense the past few years, thanks to increases in strikeouts and hence decreases in runs, this season has very well put those concerns to rest. While some have speculated it’s because of a juiced ball, one where the seams are tighter and lowered, hurting the break on the ball and allowing it to travel farther – regardless of the cause, it has allowed for a more entertaining look for the fans.
Some of the usual suspects have topped home run leader charts this year, like Giancarlo Stanton, but what is refreshing to see is an influx of young talent in the leaderboards. In the American League, Aaron Judge has already set the rookie record for homers with 50, and in the National League Cody Bellinger is making noise with his 39 bombs over in LA.
As impressive as both youngsters are, there are some questions surrounding their future and if they can maintain the production level displayed in 2017. Let’s take a look at how these two rookies have reached unprecedented levels of power success, and what’s to come for them as they get older and mature.
I’ve written at decent length earlier in the season about Aaron Judge, as he worked to make his strikeout rate somewhat manageable while making his walk rate elite. He still set rookie records for both, officially the holder of rookie records for the three true outcomes, something of a sabermetrician’s dream. Judge’s 30.8% strikeout rate is still concerning, although a little less so since his game does depend on swinging at full strength so often. His patience has also helped quell some concerns; an 18.5% walk rate and 24.9% chase rate are both some of the best marks in the league.
Judge’s batted ball profile is pretty standard, and certainly doesn’t seem to match his 50 homer total. His 43.0% fly ball rate is good, although it leaves something to be desired if we hope to see Judge improve on this season’s total. It’s required a 35.2% HR/FB rate for him to get as many out of the park as he has, something that’s tough to sustain even in Yankees Stadium.
Aaron Judge is no doubt one of the brightest young stars in the game at this point. His 170 wRC+ as a rookie speaks for itself, as does the 50 homer threshold he reached. But there are concerns about his strikeouts, even with the excellent patience, as well as some luck he might be getting by over a third of his fly balls finding their way over the fence. By no means do we need to start selling on him, but don’t think Aaron Judge has a peak any higher than this.
It’s starting to feel like every year the Dodgers just pull some magical prospect out of their farm system, and this year has been no different with Cody Bellinger. In his first taste of the show, Bellinger has smashed pitchers to a 142 wRC+ thanks to his huge power output – a .322 isolated slugging. While his wiry frame doesn’t fit the build of Judge, who certainly looks the part of the power hitter, Bellinger’s peripherals are just as good, perhaps even better.
He strikes out at a very reasonable 26.0% rate, and while his walks are above average at 11.7%, they are not as elite as Judge. What Bellinger has done fantastically is get the ball into the air, with a 47.0% fly ball rate. In turn, his 25.7% HR/FB rate is more than repeatable, not to mention he has the ability in some years, with enough luck, to go over that number and bust out for even more homers, similar to what Judge did this year.
Bellinger’s walk rates are surprising for someone with such power, but it looks like the league will start to catch up to this soon. His 27.5% chase rate is excellent, and would predict a walk rate better than his current one. Not to mention pitchers will eventually have to respect him more often, or he’ll continue to launch missiles all over Dodger Stadium. Bellinger not only is a force this year, but has room to grow and project beyond what we have seen.
Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger are the two most promising hitters in the game today. Both will remain topics of MVP discussions for the better part of the next decade plus. And although there seems to be a gap in performance this year, the reality is that it isn’t big at all, if it even exists. Judge used a whole lot of luck to get to his great season, while Bellinger still has more room to grow as a player. Both are players here to stay,so don’t be afraid to invest in either one.
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