This stat proves why Yankees should be afraid of Cody Bellinger signing

He hit free agency at the *perfect* time...for himself.
Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers
Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers / John Fisher/GettyImages

If the Yankees do not acquire Juan Soto this winter, their lineup improvement plan won't be anywhere near complete without the addition of lefty masher Cody Bellinger. Unfortunately, despite his return to form in 2023 in Chicago, plenty of Bellinger Red Flags were also whipping in the Wrigley Field breeze.

Bellinger's powerhouse performance in a ballpark fit for him masked some strange below-the-surface tendencies. His exit velocities didn't line up with his prodigious power (and were very un-Yankee-like). While his performance was impressive and earned him Comeback Player of the Year honors, his expected marks (wOBA, SLG) were middling, driven by subpar barrel (27th percentile) and hard-hit (10th) marks.

So, what's the real Bellinger? What did he genuinely improve upon from his bleakest statistical seasons? Did he physically heal and return to form while making sustainable improvements? Or did he play free agency like a fiddle, arriving for his payday after a smoke-and-mirrors season?

At Bellinger's nadir, he was completely lost as an offensive player following the celebratory dislocation of his shoulder after a crucial home run in the 2020 playoffs. It's nearly impossible to apply his 2021-22 struggles to the value of his 2024 contract; whatever team inks Bellinger "believes" that his 2023 ceiling represents the reality of his future performance. At the very least, they believe his days of lagging far below the mean are behind him.

2021 represents the low water mark for Bellinger's battles with high velocity. That season, through early September, Buster Olney made note that he was an .089 hitter with a puddle of strikeouts against pitchers 95 MPH+. This slice of history serves as a harrowing reminder of how far down Bellinger can sink. But has he shaken off this bugaboo? Not quite.

Yankees Target Cody Bellinger struggles against high velocity, much like many recent NYY

The Yankees have recently been handled with ease by several different Houston Astros pitching staffs because of their handedness, sure, but also because of their lineup's inability to handle high velocity from a spate of right-handed relievers.

Bellinger, imported to bring balance to the force, wouldn't be much more effective here at doing anything other than changing the visuals. Against top-tier velocity, he swings like an incumbent Yankee. In 2023, he feasted on changeups, but posted a -1 run value against fastballs. His wOBA against pitches between 90-95 MPH was .390. When velocity rose to between 95-100, Bellinger's production dipped to .345, and his batting average fell from .345 against lower velocity to .271 against the upper tier. Pitches that traveled 100+ MPH? A predictably woeful .152 wOBA/.111 average on 12 batted balls.

Somehow, when you adjust the graphs by handedness and pit Bellinger against exclusively righties, the numbers get worse. He slugged .525 on the 71 batted balls he produced against right-handers throwing 90-95 in 2023. When the velocity ticked up to 95-100, that number decreased to .374 in 109 instances. His batting average sunk from .325 to .244. Bellinger was a surprisingly potent slugger against hard-throwing left-handers (.705 on 49 batted balls, his best mark), but against the types of relievers who've baffled the Yankees for over a half-decade, he was nowhere to be found.

Bellinger's 2023 breakout featured shaky metrics, and he masqueraded as a righty batter in a lefty's body. He'd improve the Yankees' moribund lineup, sure, but in terms of solving problems, he's more imperfect than impactful.