‘I didn’t think he’d be this good!’ Resurrection of ’19 MVP who left for 700 million, what the Dodgers didn’t see coming

Chicago Cubs Cody Bellinger, 28, has been named one of the most surprising players of the season.

“Players surprise us all the time with incredible performances,” MLB.com, the official site of Major League Baseball, said on Monday. But expectations are subjective, so we compared pre-season projections to current performance in ZiPS, Baseball Prospectus’메이저사이트 projection system,” and listed eight players who are performing much better than expected.

First up is Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP. After winning the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2017, Bellinger emerged as a breakout star for the Dodgers, culminating in the 2019 MVP award. But just when it looked like he was on the cusp of a breakout season, Bellinger began a downward spiral, batting just .211 (106-for-504) with 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, and a .654 OPS in 144 games last season.

After last season, the Dodgers released Bellinger as a non-tender with a projected annualized salary of $18 million. After leaving the Dodgers, Bellinger signed with the Cubs for $17.5 million. Bellinger’s contract was only $500,000 over his projected salary.

[Photo] Cody Bellinger of the Chicago Cubs. ⓒGettyimages (All rights reserved)

Since joining the Cubs, Bellinger has had a spectacular resurgence. In 97 games this season, he’s batting .367 (116-for-167) with 20 home runs, 68 RBIs, and a .906 OPS, which is right in line with his prime. A season ago, Fangraphs’ ZiPS projected Bellinger to have a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of just 2.5, but Bellinger has already posted a 3.8 WAR this year.

As MLB.com notes, “Sure, Bellinger posted a 7.8 WAR and 161 wRC+ in his MVP-winning season. But considering the 28-year-old’s struggles over the past few years, it’s hard to dismiss the pre-season projections. Still, Bellinger’s resurgence is now underway. And it shows no signs of stopping. Most of the time, when a hitter’s batting performance improves, it’s because they’re making better contact. But Bellinger is different. His hard-hit rate (percentage of batted balls hit 95 mph or higher) is down, but so is his swing rate. Last year, Bellinger was in the top 33 percent of swings and misses, but now he’s down to 82 percent. And after struggling with breaking pitches and off-speed pitches the past few years, he’s hitting non-fastball pitches better than ever this year (.321 batting average, .584 on-base percentage).”

[Photo] Yusei Kikuchi of the Toronto Blue Jays. ⓒGettyimages (All rights reserved)

Toronto’s Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi also made the list. Kikuchi was projected to have a WAR of 0.5 before the season, but has actually posted a WAR of 2.0.

According to MLB.com, “Kikuchi, who played in Nippon Professional Baseball, has posted a 5.09 ERA in four seasons in the majors. Last year, his first season in Toronto, he struggled with a 5.19 ERA. Still, the ZiPS projections looked optimistic. If one pitch has helped Kikuchi rebound, it’s his slider. His slider has a .219 batting average and a .399 on-base percentage. Toronto’s offense hasn’t been performing to expectations, but Kikuchi has been a solid anchor for a starting rotation that has struggled with Alec Manoa.”

MLB.com also recognized Bryson Stott (Philadelphia), Bobby Witt Jr. (Kansas City), Christian Yelich (Milwaukee), Lane Thomas (Washington), Blake Snell (San Diego) and Kyle Bradish (Baltimore) as players who have exceeded expectations this year.

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