by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Upon reaching the Majors everyone pointed towards Josh Bell’s plate discipline and ability to hit for a strong average as his strongest tool. With his rookie season now behind him that outlook is a bit different as he struggled to hit for a strong average. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t value, and it didn’t stop us from including him in our Top 15 rankings earlier this week (over some of the more popular options), which you can view by clicking here. In order to answer why, let’s first look at the numbers:
549 At Bats
.255 Batting Average (140 Hits)
26 Home Runs
2 Stolen Bases
.334 On Base Percentage
.466 Slugging Percentage
.278 Batting Average on Balls in Play
Instead of hitting for a strong average Bell began tapping into his power, something we had seen signs of in 2016 (17 HR in 549 AB between Triple-A and the Majors). Now the question is if he can not only maintain that power, but pair it with the strong average he has shown in the minors (.303). The answer is he can!
There was always the view that Bell could start tapping into his power, even as he was struggling to crack double-digit home runs in the lower levels of the minors. Instead he was focusing on his approach, something we will touch on in a minute.
While it would be easy to call the breakout unsustainable, a 19.1% HR/FB doesn’t raise any red flags. He was also consistent throughout the season, with 10 HR courtesy of a 15.6% HR/FB in the second half (22.2% in the first half). Is he going to be a 30 HR slugger? It’s not likely, but it also isn’t impossible.
The real key for Bell is going to be improving his average. He did hit .274 in the second half, courtesy of a .307 BABIP. The line drive rate was still suppressed (18.1%), but let’s keep in mind that there is more upside considering his 21.4% mark in the Majors in ’16 (22.6% at Triple-A). That alone tells us that a .265+ mark is possible, but his strongest skill remains his approach.
As it is he posted a strikeout rate of 18.9% last season to go along with a 10.6% walk rate. His 8.8% SwStr% and 26.7% O-Swing are impressive for any hitter, let alone a rookie, and he also proved he could make consistent contact against any type of pitch (Whiff%):
- Hard – 9.38%
- Breaking – 11.47%
- Offspeed – 12.90%
Couple that with the likelihood of an improved line drive rate and is .280+ really a stretch? Throw in a spot in the middle of the lineup, meaning the RBI should be there, and what’s not to like.
It all comes together for this projection:
.287 (158-550), 25 HR, 90 RBI, 80 R, 5 SB, .319 BABIP, .366 OBP, .496 SLG
Last season there were 22 first baseman who hit at least 25 HR, but only seven of them paired it with an average of at least .280. Throw in 90+ RBI and that alone tells you the upside value Bell has. He’s not one of the elite, but after the top names come off the board he has as much upside as anyone and that shouldn’t be ignored.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections: