One of the Yankees‘ biggest reoccurring issues stems from their inability to generate any offense from the left field position.
For the Bronx Bombers, a lot of their offensive deficiencies boil down to that blackhole in the outfield, as they’re constantly acquiring outfield depth to supplement a weak spot in their roster. In back-to-back deadlines, they attempted to make a big trade for an outfielder, with both not panning out come October for various reasons.
This time, the Yankees should go out and trade for Cody Bellinger, who has re-worked his swing in Chicago to have a more contact-oriented approach that emphasizes elite batted ball sprays.
Doing so with the help of former Yankee Matt Holliday, who famously fixed helped morph Matt Carpenter into his 2022 form. While Bellinger has an extensive track record of inconsistency, I believe he’s the player the Yankees should target heavily come the July trade deadline.
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Making a Change the Yankees Are All Too Familiar With
Something that Cody Bellinger greatly struggled with from 2021-2022 was his strikeout rate and his BABIP, posting a 27.7% K% and .232 BABIP in those seasons, which were by far the two worst marks for the former MVP in his MLB career. Bellinger had explored a myriad of batting stance changes, and none of them particularly worked well for him or felt comfortable for him. It’s rumored that the shoulder injury he suffered while celebrating a huge go-ahead HR in the 2020 NLCS caused these issues, but we’ll never know the true reason for these struggles.
The Dodgers, an organization that’s turned the careers of many hitters around, decided he wasn’t worth the hefty arbitration tag, and they allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent following a 2022 campaign where he had a putrid 83 wRC+ and .265 OBP. Still an excellent athlete in CF with great baserunning value, the floor for Bellinger was still relatively high as he posted a 1.2 fWAR in 2022 despite the horrific offensive numbers, but the writing was on the wall for Bellinger. When the Dodgers of all teams decide they no longer want your services, suddenly you have to wonder if you’re ever going to figure things out.
As mentioned earlier, Bellinger was spotted working with former MLB All-Star Matt Holliday, who carved out a strong career with a career 135 wRC+.
Why was this significant?
Well, the Yankees should be familiar with Matt Holliday, as not only did he play for them (and hit a walk-off HR), but he also worked with the beloved Matt Carpenter. When Carpenter signed with the Yankees, he had done so after opting out of a MiLB deal with the Texas Rangers where he got in-game work with a new swing approach that centered around pulling the ball in the air consistently.
Matt Carpenter was incredible for the Yankees, hitting 15 HRs in just 47 games, posting a 217 wRC+. He posted 2.3 fWAR in just 154 Plate Appearances, which is good for a 9.0 fWAR per 600 Plate Appearances. Carpenter was the Yankees’ best hitter at times even in a season where Aaron Judge broke the AL HR Record. All of this stemmed from the Yankees benefitting from Matt Carpenter re-discovering his ability to pull the ball in the air.
One of the greatest gifts ever bestowed to our great sport, a pulled flyball is one of the best batted ball outcomes you could possibly have.
Running the numbers on pulled flyballs, we see that since the advent of pitch tracking (2008), the league has a whopping 1.639 SLG% on pulled flyballs. For context, Yankees’ star outfielder Aaron Judge has led the league in SLG% in both 2022 and 2023, and if you added both of those totals together, you would end up with 1.365; nearly 300 points lower than the aforementioned league total.
How does this all apply to Matt Carpenter and Cody Bellinger? Well, when we evaluate the rate at which Matt Carpenter pulled his flyballs, it was an astonishing 57.9%, which was twice the MLB average in 2022 (26.4%). Pulled flyballs are super important, and when we look at Yankee Stadium and left-handed batters, that short porch definitely boosts its value. This isn’t just an old adage either, as the data would suggest that Yankee Stadium is one of the best places to pull flyballs if you’re a left-handed hitter as well.
The Yankees have a ballpark to benefit from if you pull your flyballs, but has Bellinger really changed his pulled flyball rate much from 2021-2022? Well, the data would suggest not. From 2021-2022, Bellinger pulled 30.4% of flyballs, whereas in 2023, he pulled 33.3% of flyballs, which is an improvement, but is a 2.9% increase going to lead to a near-200 point increase in OPS? The key here isn’t just the pulled flyballs for Bellinger, who’s been able to pull flyballs at an above-average clip for a while, but rather the ability to pull his barrels more frequently.
From 2021-2022, Bellinger had a 1.219 wOBA on his barrels, which among 278 hitters with at least 25 barrels in those two seasons ranked 201st.
The league-average wOBA in that timespan was 1.316, meaning that Bellinger was performing worse on average when he generated a barrel than most hitters. This stems from a 45.7% Pull% on his barrels, which is right around the 44.8% league-average clip. For someone with diminishing raw power, Bellinger couldn’t afford to generate league-average pull rates on his barrels, as he can’t consistently hit baseballs hard enough to have them leave the ballpark.
Fast-forward to 2023, and Bellinger has a 1.674 wOBA with a 62.5% Pull% on those barrels, and that ranks considerably better than the 2023 MLB average of 1.251. This is all in spite of the fact that Bellinger has set career lows in exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate so far to start the season. While Carpenter didn’t see a hit to his barrel rate the way Bellinger has, he saw his hard-hit rate from 2021 to 2022 remain largely unchanged while posting a lower average exit velocity and only topping out at 107.7 MPH for his Max Exit Velocity (even lower than Bellinger’s in 2022!).
The Yankees could utilize a bat that can give them consistent pull-side power from the left-handed side, but they could also use better contact skills from the outfield. With Bellinger’s new swing, he checks that box as well.
Adding Strong Contact and Speed Tools
I’m not a massive advocate for adding a player for merely contact abilities, as the data and postseason trends suggest the highest upside for hitters comes from the ability to generate consistent power and high exit velocities. With that being said, if given the choice to have a player who can provide power with contact skills or without contact skills, it’s a no-brainer. The Yankees’ outfielders are 11th in Swinging Strike Rate, and with more consistent contact from the position, they could score even more runs than they did in that incredible month of May.
Bellinger has a 9.6% Swinging Strike Rate and 19% K% on the season, and while we don’t know if that’ll hold up, the production and new swing change suggest that it likely will. I also spotted a small change in the knob of the bat he’s using, as it’s a more flared knob compared to the traditional one he has, and this wouldn’t be a new phenomenon. Harrison Bader notably changed bats for the 2022 Postseason, where he would match his regular-season total for HRs (5) in just nine games. Since that bat switch, he’s clobbered 11 HRs in 130 Plate Appearances and has provided an electric bat for the Yankees (when healthy).
Even when Bellinger began expanding the strike zone more and struggling in May before crashing into a wall and hitting the IL, he did so with a lower Swinging Strike Rate and Strikeout Rate than his 2021-2022 seasons, and his wRC+ is still an incredible 122.
Another element that Bellinger brings to the table is incredible speed, which despite missing most of May with the knee injury I mentioned above, has led him to have the 15th-best BsR in the league (2.7) and have nine steals in 11 attempts. For context, if he had played as many games as Anthony Volpe, who’s tied for the BsR lead at 4.3, he would have a 4.2.
Bellinger ranks in the 80th Percentile in Sprint Speed, and his athleticism would play well for a Yankee team that has some speed but still ranks 23rd in BsR (-3.1). They could greatly use a boost to their baserunning group, and Bellinger getting everyday at-bats in the outfield and at the top of the lineup would be the way to do it. The more and more you peel back the layers as to what the Yankees need in their lineup, you notice how many boxes Bellinger would help this team check off.
For General Manager Brian Cashman, Cody Bellinger provides you an opportunity to get an offensive facelift at a position the Yankees have struggled at for a while and do so with a household name.
From the highlight catches to the late-game home runs, Bellinger has a flare for the dramatic that would play extremely well in the bright lights of New York. While his time in LA ended unceremoniously, it still came with incredibly clutch moments, even in his worst years.
From a go-ahead single against the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 of the most historically significant game of that storied rivalry to his dramatic 2020 Game 7 go-ahead HR, Bellinger has the moments and allure that goes alongside his talent and tangible progress between 2022 and 2023. With that being said, the last part of this equation is the defensive fit, and with Bellinger’s 82nd Percentile Arm Strength and career +34 DRS and +31 OAA in the outfield, he’s a former Gold Glove Winner in the outfield as well.
He’s been a plus-defender in all three defensive spots, and considering the injury situation with Harrison Bader and his track record with staying on the field, the Yankees would love an insurance policy in CF. Bellinger also has nearly 2,000 innings of experience at 1B, posting +2 DRS and -3 OAA there, making him a roughly league-average defender at the position. The Yankees value defensive versatility heavily, and Bellinger is a huge boost in that regard.
With Bellinger’s all-around talent, there’s going to be plenty of bidding for his services come the trade deadline, and here’s how I believe the Yankees could get a deal done.
Pulling Off a Blockbuster Deal Between Familiar Trade Partners
The Yankees pulled off an unexpected deal with the Cubs last July when they acquired Scott Effross for Hayden Wesneski, a deal that’s yielded the Cubs a potential starting option in the future or, at the very least, a capable bullpen piece.
As for the Yankees, Effross was awesome before undergoing Tommy John Surgery and being knocked out for the 2022 playoffs and 2023 season. In 2021, they pulled off another unexpected deal as Anthony Rizzo found himself in the bright lights of New York, and Kevin Alcantara and Alexander Vizcaino found themselves in Cubbie blue. Both teams seem pretty happy with these deals overall, so why not make one more?
In Chicago, the Cubs are building a young core centered around great draft picks like Nico Hoerner, who’s 35th in fWAR since 2022, excellent trades like the Javier Baez deal where they netted their top prospect in Pete Crow-Armstrong, and strong free agent signings such as Marcus Stroman (3.19 ERA) Seiya Suzuki (123 wRC+), and Dansby Swanson (116 wRC+). They’ve also extended Hoerner and outfield bat Ian Happ and could look to bolster their farm with MLB-ready prospects that can fill in for them right now.
Their outfield is pretty crowded, with Suzuki, Happ, and Crow-Armstrong likely being their outfield entering 2024. Christopher Morel is a sparkplug bat that can play all over the field but doesn’t play any single position particularly well, so he’ll get plenty of DH reps for now. Hoerner and Swanson are the middle infield duo of the future, with Matt Mervis looking to hold down 1B. Their farm has a top-catching prospect in Miguel Amaya, but their pitching is where a lot of their problems lie.
The Cubs could move Marcus Stroman, who has a player option he’ll likely exercise as he has a 2.59 ERA in 12 starts to begin his 2023 campaign, and they’d like to get a strong return for him. Old friend Jameson Taillon has really struggled, and the Cubs are still unsure about whether Kyle Hendricks will factor into their future plans. Justin Steele looks to become a permanent fixture in the rotation, but after suffering a mild forearm strain, he could end up on the shelf for an extended period of time. Drew Smyly’s another strong piece of that rotation, but at the age of 34, it’s hard to call him a long-term piece, either.
Despite all of this, they’re top 10 in starting pitcher ERA, but if they want to maintain that, they’ll need to add more young talent to their rotation and bullpen, which has the 4th-worst ERA in the sport. One of the big pieces they could look to grab from the Yankees would be top-pitching prospect Will Warren, but if it came down to dealing Warren for Bellinger, I think Cashman would shop elsewhere. For a more reasonable grab, could the Yankees trade a former Dodger for a former Dodger?
Don’t worry, guys; I’m not saying the Yankees are going to trade for Joey Gallo, but do you remember what the Yankees netted in return for Gallo? That was Double-A ace Clayton Beeter, who’s struggled with command but has a 2.66 ERA in his nine starts with the Somerset Patriots and holds a 2.47 ERA and 3.12 FIP in his 16 Double-A starts with the Yankees’ organization. With the emergence of arms like Drew Thorpe, Chase Hampton, and Zach Messinger in High-A, alongside the progress Randy Vásquez, Richard Fitts, and Will Warren have made in the upper minors, Beeter could be expended.
Jhony Brito is still an arm the Yankees like as well, and Yoendrys Gomez has been on the 40-Man Roster for over a year and, when healthy, flashes elite-level stuff. Beeter has a great arm, but to get a great player, you need to be willing to deal with some pretty important pieces as well. As for who could pair with Beeter in this type of deal, infielder and teammate Tyler Hardman has struggled with making consistent contact but reaches high exit velocities frequently as well. He has a 119 wRC+ on the season with Somerset and it’s trending in the right direction as well.
He has seven HRs in his last 10 games played, posting a 147 wRC+ and slugging .646 as well. They currently have Patrick Wisdom at 3B, who’s extremely similar to Hardman, as both have a solid walk rate, high strikeout rate, and great HR power. Hardman’s also a strong defensive 3B, and he could be hurried into an MLB role if he continues this hot stretch. As for the last piece of this deal, I think the Cubs would love an arm like Brock Selvidge, whose low-slot release, alongside a strong slider and good command at just the age of 20 could entice Chicago into completing this sort of deal.
The Yankees would also likely need help with covering the financial bill for Bellinger, and these prospects could entice the Cubs. An under-the-radar trade chip could be Jared Serna, who’s been remarkable in Low-A with the Tampa Tarpons and gives a contact-first approach with strong game power. There are plenty of options for the Yankees to turn to internally to make a huge trade, and the Yankees could be one of the best bidders for Bellinger, given the Cubs’ needs. When it comes to making a deal, though, here’s what I would imagine could be a balanced deal.
- NYY Receives:
- OF/1B Cody Bellinger (Cubs Pay Remainder of Salary)
- CHC Receives:
- RHP Clayton Beeter
- 3B Tyler Hardman
- 2B/SS Jared Serna
The Cubs get a pitcher with upside in Beeter that can fill in their bullpen or rotation in the near future alongside two infield prospects that could potentially fill in the vacant spot eventually left behind by Patrick Wisdom when that time comes. Serna is the underrated third piece of this deal that I think would entice the Cubs heavily, as he has a 10% Barrel% with a minuscule 15.2% K% in his 43 MiLB games so far. His speed and defense are plus tools as well, and he’s extremely versatile playing 2B, SS, and 3B this year.
This obviously all hinges on Bellinger returning and not suffering any serious offensive regression, but based on the data we have on Bellinger and the Yankees’ current needs, he’s the guy they should acquire for a playoff race that should get intense in the AL.
Base Running Runs Above Average (BsR): This all-encompassing metric takes into account your stolen bases, caught stealing, extra bases taken, times thrown out, alongside other base running plays, and converts them into runs added. The league average for BsR is -2.1 in 2023, but that fluctuates a lot year-to-year.
Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP): This metric calculates your batting average (hits divided by at-bats) but only factors in at-bats where the ball was put in play. Oftentimes used as a measure of luck, BABIP is influenced by factors such as exit velocity, launch angle, and defensive positioning. In 2023, the league average for this metric is .297.
Swinging Strike Rate (SwStr%): This metric takes swings and misses and divides it by total pitches, and this metric correlates extremely well with strikeouts. In 2023, the league average for this metric is 12.1%.
Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA): This metric mirrors On-Base Percentage but takes into account how a runner reaches base instead of just its frequency. It values the event based on projected runs scored, so, for example, a home run is better than a triple, a triple better than a double, and a double better than a single. The league average for this metric in 2023 is .318.
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+): This metrics uses Runs Created (RC) and adjusts for factors such as the league environment and the player’s home ballpark. A player who’s got a wRC+ of 95 is 5% worse than league-average whereas if a player has a 105, he’s 5% better than league average, as 100 is always the league average, and the difference between a player’s wRC+ and 100 is the percentage better/worse they are than the average offensive player in that given year and run environment.