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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Cody Bellinger Returns To Cubs

Cody Bellinger - fantasy baseball draft sleepers MLB injury news

As spring training games got underway this past week, four highly coveted players (Blake Snell, Matt Chapman, Jordan Montgomery, and Cody Bellinger) were still without contracts. Cody Bellinger became the first of the group to find a home in 2024 as he returned to Chicago on an $80 million dollar deal that Jeff Passan of ESPN announced on February 25. 

Bellinger saw a big bounce-back year in 2023 as he posted a .307 AVG, .356 OBP, and .525 SLG compared to a .210 AVG, .265 OBP, and .389 SLG the year prior.

The 2019 National League MVP kick-started a young Chicago Cubs team and was the catalyst that almost returned them to postseason contention. With the Cubs' sights on a division title looking much clearer today with Bellinger back, it does raise a few questions about the rest of the roster and who will have to take a back seat.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Cody Bellinger 2024 Fantasy Baseball Outlook

Bellinger was a valuable fantasy asset in 2023, as he greatly exceeded his draft position. He was a welcome addition to any team whose manager took on the risk of the then-declining center fielder.

The left-handed hitter hit 26 round-trippers with 97 RBI, scored 95 runs, and swiped 20 bags in 2023. Bellinger posted almost identical stat lines on his home and away splits, suggesting that the venue will not drastically affect his fantasy output. 

While it may look on the surface that Bellinger could return to MVP production, his underlying metrics suggest that he could be going in a different direction.

The 28-year-old finished well below average in three categories: average exit velocity, barrel rate, and hard-hit rate. Bellinger was on the opposite side of the spectrum in these statistics during his best seasons in 2017 and 2019, suggesting that he is no longer the 40-home run hitter he used to be.  

However, he did rank in the 86th percentile in sweet spot%, which suggests he does have a selective eye at the plate -- more on that later. 

The numbers suggest that Bellinger could have gotten a tad lucky with his power output, as his metrics are below average. Instead, I interpret it as Bellinger being just a different player than he was in the early part of his career.

He posted an excellent 15.6% K% (87th percentile) and 20.1% whiff% (77th percentile). These numbers show significant improvement compared to his slump from 2020-2022, proving that Bellinger can change his style of play to remain a valuable offensive contributor. 

Bellinger focused on lowering his whiff and strikeout numbers, making him a more balanced hitter. As a result, he was not swinging as hard and as often, which led to his lower power output and hard-hit rate. Bellinger got out of his slump by becoming a selective hitter and refusing to sell out for power.

The other aspect of this discussion is who will have to take a lesser role on the team with the return of Bellinger. 

Looking at the current outfield depth chart, gold glover Ian Happ will handle the left field responsibilities, Bellinger will return to his primary center field position, and he will be flanked on the right by Seiya Suzuki.

For deeper leagues, this does halt Chicago top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong's breakout season. Crow-Armstrong will now either be reserved as a bench bat or return to Triple-A as the primary center fielder. Bellinger's new contract does have several opt-outs, which could very well be considered whenever PCA is ready. This contract further cements the notion that PCA is the Cubs' future, and Bellinger only returns temporarily. 

Bellinger also started 44 games at first base last year. Expect the same to occur this season, limiting playing time even further for Michael Busch and Matt Mervis. When Bellinger plays first base, expect Mike Tauchman to man center field or potentially Crow-Armstrong, if he is on the major league roster, or even fellow youngster Alexander Canario, who shined in his limited 17 plate appearances in 2023. 

Mervis, who saw an opportunity in the majors last season, subsequently was a bit of a disappointment. Now, a second extended look may be even harder to find with Bellinger penciled in the lineup daily.

Michael Busch, who was acquired in the offseason, should be viewed as a corner infielder in 2024 and should see time at first and even third base, rotating with Christopher Morel, Nick Madrigal, and Patrick Wisdom at the hot corner.

As the Cubs hope to compete in the NL Central, do not be surprised if first-year manager Craig Counsell decides to create lineups that are very matchup-heavy, as he has several options to deploy throughout both the infield and in center field.  

Bellinger should be a valuable contributor in batting average and on-base percentage with great speed, making him a second or third outfielder on most rosters. Expect his power numbers to stay the same or even drop slightly, as his power metrics were underwhelming.

Bellinger currently has an ADP of 55.76 on NFBC and is the 15th outfielder being drafted. ATC projects Bellinger to hit 23 home runs with 83 RBI, 83 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases. He projects to post a .259 AVG, which is significantly lower than his 2023 total, and further suggests that he was quite lucky in regard to his offensive output. 

Nonetheless, Bellinger should still be targeted as a second or high-end third outfielder on most fantasy teams and is worth the investment with his strong on-base skills and valuable speed. 



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