One of the toughest things at this point in the MLB season is trying to figure out when something is just a random hot streak vs. the start of a breakout. And, in the case of someone like Cody Bellinger, it's especially tough, given how up and down (and, of late, mostly down) his career has been.
Bellinger was once, you may recall, arguably the best player in Fantasy. Back in 2019, he hit .305/.406/.629, a prolific home run hitter who stole bases and didn't sacrifice contact to generate his power. He was basically everything you could want in a Fantasy player, and he was just 23 and tied to an organization that seems to get the most out of every player. Only, they couldn't figure it out with Bellinger, who slumped the following year and never pulled out of that tailspin, hitting .203/.272/.376 over the next three seasons with just 41 homers combined.
But, it kind of looks like he's pulling out of it in the early going with the Cubs. In fact, he did something Monday night he'd never done even when he won his MVP – he had a five-hit game. Her went 5 for 5 with a double Monday, and is now hitting .310/.369/.517 through the first 15 games. It isn't quite on par with his best numbers ever, but one-tenth of the way through the season, he's hitting .300 with a 14% strikeout rate and a 30-homer, 30-steal pace.
So, Cody Bellinger is back, right? Well, it's not so simple. The sample sizes we're dealing with here are tiny, and his OPS was just .587 just five games ago. He's on a nice little hot streak, but he certainly doesn't look like the 2019 version of himself when you crack under the hood, either; his average exit velocity is down to 86.9 mph, actually the worst mark of his career, and the same goes for his hard-hit rate of 34%.
Which is to say, Bellinger's apparent return to form may not be as much of a return to form as it seems. That's not to say he's without appeal – though, seeing as he's rostered in 85% of CBS Fantasy leagues, I can't exactly suggest you run out and add him – but it is to say that Bellinger isn't "back." At least, not yet.
If you've got Bellinger, consider a sell-high opportunity if one arises, because I'm still not convinced he's going to be worth starting moving forward – certainly not in three-outfielder leagues. But, I'd hang on to him for now if I don't get the right offer. He's showing enough signs to at least have some hope.
Here are some waiver-wire targets from Monday's action:
CHC Chi. Cubs • #16 • Age: 32
Wisdom is another player I'm having a hard time figuring out how to value. He's been absolutely red hot, hitting two homers Monday to bring his season total to a league-best eight, and his underlying metrics largely back up his performance to date. His 65% hard-hit rate ranks among the highest in the league, as does his 95.9 mph average exit velocity, and he's hitting the ball in the air a ton without hitting a bunch of infield fly balls, a significant change after 12.8% of his batted balls last season were pop ups. On the other hand … Wisdom has always hit the ball hard! That's not necessarily new. Sure, he's hitting the ball harder right now than usual, but I'm sure it wouldn't be that hard to find a similar stretch from him before – after all, he had two 14-game stretches with eight homers in 2021, matching his current mark. Which is all to say, Wisdom can get hot, but his 31.6% strikeout rate suggests the flaws that have held him back in the past are still there. I certainly don't mind adding and riding him while he's hot, but I'm not buying into a breakout just yet.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #19 • Age: 25
I started to get excited about Wesneski late in the spring when we started to see signs of a leap in velocity, but that isn't really what we've seen from him in the early going. His fastball velocity is up less than 1 mph, and at least before Monday, his fastball had been getting absolutely crushed. However, that wasn't an issue against the A's, as Wesneski tossed seven one-run innings with seven strikeouts for his first quality start of the season. It's just one start, against maybe the best matchup in baseball, so I won't overreact to it, especially since Wesneski's velocity jump still isn't there, but it's a sign of hope that he can get back to the success he enjoyed late last season, at least.
PIT Pittsburgh • #13 • Age: 26
I've always been a believer in Hayes' skill set, and while the overall numbers don't necessarily show it, he might be making the exact kind of changes needed to figure it out this season. He's starting to heat up, with six hits in his past four games, and the overall skills-based metrics are starting to look awfully impressive; he ranks in the 75th percentile or better in average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and expected batting average right now, while also sporting by far the best expected slugging percentage and expected wOBA of his career as a result. Hayes has always hit the ball hard, but too often, right into the ground; this season, his average launch angle is up from 5.2 degrees to 14.3, while his groundball rate is down from 49.6% to 45.6%. He's still not maximizing his raw power just yet – he doesn't pull the ball nearly often enough for that – but he's showing signs of figuring it out, and at least in the long run, I'd rather gamble on his upside than Wisdom's.
MIA Miami • #60 • Age: 23
Weathers was once a prospect of at least some renown, having cracked the top-100 in Baseball America's rankings before the 2021 season, though his performance since then has taken much of the shine off him. But he might be starting to figure it out, as he had his third good start in a row Monday against a very good Braves lineup. He still isn't getting many strikeouts – just 10 in 16 innings to date – but his fastball velocity is up and he's generating weak contact with his changeup and new sweeper. The key moving forward will be if he can turn that sweeper into more of a swing-and-miss pitch – it's replaced his slider so far, but has just a 14.3% whiff rate. If he figures that out, there could be a pretty useful pitcher on a very good team here moving forward.