Well, I’ll let you choose whether or not my title is an homage to Ernest Hemingway or Metallica, but the truth of the matter is, both will continue to be remembered for their hair. I think! Plus, if you are going to be talking about a player with the last name ‘Bell’, best use a recognizable reference. Trade secrets here folks. So while this season has been random, short, and crazy, much like my love-making, you could say that Josh Bell’s season has been much like the a Hemingway novel, long, tedious, and unavoidable. Take that high school English period! So what happens next for Bell? Is there enough time to recover, is he a lost cause, perhaps a bounce-back candidate for next year?
Projected to have a 270/30/100/90/3 type of year in a full 162-game season, Josh Bell was not a hard bridge to cross during drafts. Especially considering that he had hit 78 career home runs since his rookie season four seasons ago. So how many were expecting a 258/3/16/16/0 stat line 40 games into the season? The math is depressingly simple to map out here, just multiply everything by four and compare those numbers to his projections and even last year’s peak season, it ain’t pretty. My rudimentary mathmatazz skills aside, one of the foundational truths of baseball right now is that above-average power, a good batting eye, and decent contact skills are not that hard to find anymore. But do we really want to give up on a 28-year-old that is capable of going 270/360/550?
As you can plainly see, Bell is struggling, both lowering his walks while ballooning his K% to nearly 10% higher than that of his entire career. Obviously power is lacking, we knew that, however BABIP, or more specifically in this case, bad luck doesn’t appear to be a huge factor.
Fueling the “BABIP is not the answer”, his GB% is higher, and while you can see that there has been some negative affects from hitting the ball into the ground slightly more and getting less lucky with them is a small factor, his FB% has essentially cratered. So where are all those previous fly balls going? Spoiler alert! We’ll come back to this towards the end.
This table is a bit less informative, while he’s hitting the ball with a bit more medium power, the hard hit numbers have also suffered, reinforcing the power outage we can plainly see.
So we’re getting closer to finding the root of the issue. We have confirmed that he’s striking out more, and the contact he is making, well, it’s not very good contact. Looking through his plate discipline numbers, focus on his Z-Swing% and SwStr%. Despite seeing pitches in the strike zone at almost the same clip as last year (37.7 to 36.4), Bell is swinging and missing more, and also swinging and missing more in the strike zone.
To illustrate this even more, take a look at all of his contact percentages.
Josh Bell is struggling to make contact, that much is now clear. The real question is, how long will this last? With 20 games to go in the season, is it worth it to wait around to see what happens? I do still believe in Josh Bell, if that’s what you’re asking right now. I don’t think you give up on assets, even currently plentiful, that have the ability to provide power with ratios that don’t hurt, but 2020 is just not Bell’s season, that much is certain.
I will say that I’m encouraged that his swings outside the strike zone haven’t turned egregious, nor has his Swing% gone out of wack, a telltale sign that a batters eye has gone completely sour (you don’t know the sweet until you know the sour!). And also keep in mind that while he’s hitting the ball with less power, most of that classification moved to “medium” power, perhaps a clue that when combined with the fact that he’s making less contact, Bell is simply just missing his own sweet spot on the ball.
Some of these views would be better supported with a larger set of data, but we simply won’t get that this season. But keep this in mind. In the first 23 games of this shortened year, he only managed to hit .204 with two home runs and just 5 walks. In his past 17 games, he’s hit .255 with 3 home runs and already has 10 walks. Guess what else? His strikeouts went from 29 in the 1st half down to 17 now. Small sample sizes all around, but I count this data as encouraging. If you were asking me a couple weeks ago if you should move on, I’d probably recommend doing so in all redraft leagues. Now that we’re seeing signs of Bell emerging from this slump, even not knowing the degree at which he can sustain this modest bounce back, at this point if you still have him, or have a chance to add him now, I might just jump at that chance.
As a great author once said, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” While that might be my fantasy baseball career in a nutshell, when it comes to Josh Bell, even a terrible start might not be enough to stop a great end to the season, or a strong bounce back in 2021.
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him @jaywrong.