Cody Bellinger’s MVP credentials include superior defense at three positions

The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger posted MVP-worthy numbers at the plate and was also a standout in the field.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Cody Bellinger’s 2019 regular season concluded in the second inning Sunday with a walk. The Dodgers decided it wasn’t worth risking injury on the regular season’s final day with nothing on the line. Matt Beaty replaced him as a pinch-runner. Hugs from coaches and teammates awaited Bellinger in the dugout. There’s a good chance it was the end to an MVP campaign.

The 24-year-old Bellinger finished the season with a .305 batting average, .406 on-base percentage, and .629 slugging percentage in 156 games. He added 47 home runs, 115 RBIs, 121 runs and 15 stolen bases. He led the National League with 351 total bases. A year ago, he was a platoon player because left-handed pitchers silenced him. This year, he hit 18 home runs and posted a .979 on-base-plus slugging percentage in 227 plate appearances against them.

He also provided elite defense as a right fielder, center fielder and first baseman. His 21 defensive runs saved as an outfielder, according to FanGraphs, ranked third in the majors. His four defensive runs saved as a first baseman were tied for sixth despite logging just 231 innings there. He finished first in the majors in Baseball Reference WAR and second in the National League in FanGraphs WAR for a club that tallied a franchise-record 106 victories.


The Dodgers scored five runs in the first inning and breezed to their record win over the San Francisco Giants. Clayton Kershaw pitched one inning in relief.

Sept. 29, 2019

“I think the most important thing was that I got to stay on the field all year,” Bellinger said. “I think that’s most important to everyone. So I’m glad and blessed that I was able to play however many games I played this year.”

To Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a biased observer, Bellinger was more valuable than any other player in the National League.

“You’re talking about the best player on the best team in the National League,” Roberts said. “And that encompasses, in the batter’s box, the runs scored, the runs driven in, homers, the impact that he has. Defensively, he’s going to win the Gold Glove in right field this year. Could have won it at first base, in center field. The versatility that he provides is very valuable in the sense of that award.”

Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon are other contenders for the award.

Dodgers president Stan Kasten says he wants Andrew Friedman back for “a long time,” yet the baseball operations chief is not under contract beyond this season.

Sept. 28, 2019

Yelich, last season’s NL MVP, appeared en route to claiming the prize again until he fractured his kneecap Sept. 10. He prematurely ended the season with a .329 batting average, 44 home runs, and 97 RBIs. He led the majors with a 1.100 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and remained on top in the NL in FanGraphs WAR.

Rendon finished with a .329 batting average, 34 home runs and an NL-leading 126 RBIs. His 1.010 OPS was third behind Yelich and Bellinger. His 7.0 FanGraphs WAR was fourth.

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Unlike Yelich and Rendon, Bellinger played multiple positions and his brief Sunday appearance hinted at his versatility. He began the season as the Dodgers’ everyday right fielder. He ended up as their primary center fielder, moving A.J. Pollock to left field, as part of a chain reaction to accommodate Gavin Lux at second base against left-handed pitching, with some first base sprinkled in.

On Sunday, he started at first base before a quick exit — after a single and a walk in two innings — to close out a standout, maybe MVP, season. If he does win, Bellinger would be the first MVP for the Dodgers since Clayton Kershaw in 2014.

“That’d be pretty special,” Bellinger said. “I would never have dreamt that, you know? Just watching the game growing up and hearing MVPs, that’d be special.”

Short hops

Justin Turner missed his fifth game in a row Sunday due to back tightness. Roberts said the third baseman will play in a simulated game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. He insisted Turner will play in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Thursday. . . . Pollock returned Sunday after getting hit by a pitch in the left knee. The left fielder went one for two with a strikeout before departing.