What up fam, this is my first official post here, some of you might be familiar with my previous commenter handle of Todd25… so let the games begin. Today’s deep dive is Josh Bell. Because, well… how do I say this? Josh Bell is straight up freakin’ murdering baseballs like he’s Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy Krueger, Jareth the Goblin King, and every other 80s horror villain who suddenly has a distaste for baseballs (that sounded better in my head). There’s definitely something different with the 2019 model, lets take a peek under the hood. Bell has had 3 2 HR games this month. To date he is currently hitting .339/.408/.718 with 16 HR 47 RBIs and its not even the end of May. It has been amazing to watch him tee off like Happy Gilmore.
He had a “breakout” in 2017, his first full season, where he hit 26 HRs, and that year statcast shows that 10 of which were “just enough”; so even that power breakout appeared to be more than it was. Then he promptly snapped back to reality with 12 HR in 2018. Coming into the league he was regarded as having the frame for a switch-hitting power hitter (6’4” 235 lb) but most scouts only graded his game power at 50 – the MLB average. In the minors his best power showing amounted to 14 HR and .173 ISO in 484 PAs in 2016 at AAA that earned him a cup of coffee. That’s it. He’s always had a plus hit tool and plus plate discipline… the power was possible, but not a lot of hope that it would come. Basically he was the second coming of James Loney. One Pittsburgh beat writer was even suggesting prior to the season that he should be platooned. So what gives?
Stat Line #1
2017 – 10.6% BB, 18.9% K, .211 ISO, .278 BABIP, .466 SLG, .441 xSLG (26 HR, 26 2B)
2018 – 13.2% BB, 17.8% K, .150 ISO, .305 BABIP, .411 SLG, .420 xSLG (12 HR, 31 2B)
2019 – 10.4% BB, 21.9% K, .379 ISO, .370 BABIP, .718 SLG, .700 xSLG (16 HR, 15 2B)
So why am I showing you this? Yes his ISO is .379, and yes his SLG is .718 (which is supported by an xSLG of .700, he’s not lucky) but notice the pattern here; if we look just at this stat line it would suggest that when he is more aggressive he is more successful, 2Bs turn into HRs. K rate goes up, walk rate goes down, but he commits to more swings rather than slap-hitting and balls become souvenirs. Other stats will support this.
Stat Line #2
2017 – 1.64 GB/FB, 17.7% LD, 51.1% GB, 31.2% FB / 41.5% Pull, 20.6% Soft, 34.1% Hard
2018 – 1.49 GB/FB, 19.0% LD, 48.5% GB, 32.5% FB / 33.8% Pull, 19.2% Soft, 39.0% Hard
2019 – 1.14 GB/FB, 22.2% LD, 41.5% GB, 36.3% FB / 41.5% Pull, 8.1% Soft, 60.0% Hard
There are some really interesting things here, some very positive. First thing worth noting is that he has been improving his GB/FB rate and LD rate each year. That 8% soft contact rate is cray cray, Trout and Yelich are currently at 13% and 15%, and his hard contact rate has jumped 20% as he currently sits behind only Joey Gallo (60.7%). There looks to be a pattern in his Pull rate that correlates to Stat Line #1: when he pulls more than 40%, he gets better results. The higher pull rate then is likely a combination of aggressiveness and possibly hand control and mechanical improvement (more on that later). He appears to be attaching pitches sooner and squaring them up, i.e. more bombs!
Stat Line #3
2017 – 6.7% Barrel (29), 87.7 EV, 8.6 LA / 66.8% ZSw, 25.2% 1stSw, 43.6% Sw
2018 – 7.0% Barrel (28), 90.0 EV, 9.2 LA / 68.4% ZSw, 27.8% 1stSw, 42.9% Sw
2019 – 20.0% Barrel (27), 96.2 EV, 10.2 LA / 76.8% ZSw, 37.3% 1stSw, 47.6% Sw
First, I want to point out he has barreled up as many balls this year before the end of May (currently 3rd behind Gallo) as he did all of last year and even 2017 when he had 26 HRs, at a 20% rate, thats redonkulous! His Exit Velocity (currently 2nd in MLB behind Gallo, do you see a pattern here?) and Launch Angle have been improving each year, but his LA interestingly enough has not joined the revolution. The plate discipline numbers absolutely point to the fact he is being more aggressive, swinging at more pitches in the zone, and especially swinging at more 1st pitches by nearly 10%. Maybe he’s jumping on fastballs.
Stat Line #4
2017 – 18 fbHR, 6 brHR, 1 osHR
2018 – 10 fbHR, 2 brHR, 0 osHR
2019 – 10 fbHR, 3 brHR, 3 osHR
He is indeed jumping on fastballs, once again, already as many this year as all of last year. 12 of 16 have been as a LHB vs RHP (more on this too). At the same time, he is legit driving these balls out, all but 3 of his HR this year have been 400+ ft. His average HR distance so far is 425 ft (for comparison Gallo’s is 414 ft) with his longest this season at 474 ft, good for 2nd longest this season ahead of Mike Trout in 3rd at 473 ft.
Conclusion: Bell is crushing the ball (valley girl voice: obviii) and though there’s likely some regression coming, it won’t be much. His batting profile does not appear to be flukey or luck. It appears as though he has legitimately transformed himself into a slugger on par with the likes of Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo… I’m not joshing you, and neither is he (well, he kinda is). I am expecting him to finish the season with 35+ HR and 105+ RBI assuming his Lswing mechanics do not revert to 2018 with a chance for more. Then… I look at Steamer, and even they expect him to finish with 34 HR and 111 RBI while hitting .277/.361/.485 the rest of the way. That’ll play. And they’re conservative! aghhh, that makes me conservative?!
I don’t have images handy to show, but one thing that’s been clear in the past is he swings more natural from the right side of the plate, and his lefty swing has always been very “wonky” (a very technical term), his footwork and hands and body movement has always been loud and inconsistent… but watching him this year, he looks way more under control from the left side almost effortless, and his hands look much more controlled. Turns out, this offseason he moved to SoCal and started spending time with hitting consultant Joe DeMarco. Bell revamped his lefty swing – he tightened it up, calmed his hands, and added more of a kick to sync up his timing. So rather than trying to swing the same way as his right side (that looked like garbage), they created a brand new swing for his left side, to amazing results so far. And now he is a more dangerous hitter, especially as lefty, hitting .413/.500/.783 with men in scoring position. It tolls for thee (if you’re a baseball or NL Central pitcher).