"Behold," someone who's before never glimpsed baseball might say upon viewing the swing of Dodgers cloutsman Cody Bellinger for the first time, "a violent farmhand with nothing left to lose is scything rye at harvest time."
Bellinger's swing -- which has authored 123 home runs in 506 regular season games -- is seemingly a looping act of baseball majesty that's equal parts grace and brutality. To make all those inner conflicts work so well requires a dedication to craft that belies the memes that swirl about him.
We're talking about this because Bellinger in Game 1 of the World Series against the Rays on Tuesday gonged his fourth homer of the 2020 postseason. Here's a technicolor look:
That's big damage off a 98.1 mph Tyler Glasnow fastball, and it's a reminder that -- when he connects -- there's not much in baseball as aesthetically uplifting as a Bellinger swing.
Now that you've been freshly uplifted, let's take advantage of the elevation and, using the above home run from various angles, have a closer look at what makes Bellinger's swing so special and so effective. Let the MLB.com screengrabs flow like the intrepid waters of the Yangtze ...
This is really just personal preference on the part of the hitter. The initial stance, or setup, can be almost anything so long as it's comfortable and allows the hitter to get into proper position when it's time to attack. Think of the Jeff Bagwell "sumo squat" or the Craig Counsell corkscrew or the Gary Sheffield bat wag or the Joe Morgan arm flap -- all very different but all effective because it's merely prelude to what matters.
In the case of Bellinger, he's very upright initially, almost to the point of not quite being in an athletic stance:
If you've wandered about the upper midwest in warmer temps, then you may have seen something like this during a rousing game of Chicago 16-inch softball -- a tall stance that because of its starting point simplifies stride timing and builds forward momentum. What comes next is the process of gaining ground on the pitcher with a forward stride.
Here we see Bellinger make his stride toward the pitch. Setting up in that upright position allows him to execute that simple forward stride as opposed to a leg kick that involves a lifting and usually coiling action (think of Bellinger's teammate Justin Turner). Bellinger just steps toward the pitcher, which at foot strike puts him in an athletic position -- i.e., knees wider than hips, feet wider than knees, likely with some pressure on the instep of his back foot. His front foot is open just a bit, which helps his hips to clear when the time comes for that.
There's long been a debate among hitting coaches and analysts about whether a linear or rotational approach to hitting is superior. Really, though, you can argue it's both. For Bellinger, this advance forward is the linear component of his swing:
We can use the sign behind him to see that he indeed gains ground toward the incoming pitch. At setup, his front shoulder is roughly aligned with the front edge of the zero in 20. As he prepares for contact, Bellinger's front shoulder is well forward of that initial starting point. The stride typically isn't just the act of picking up the foot and putting it down. Ideally, it involves moving powerfully in a forward direction as the pitch approaches the plate.
As Bellinger steps forward toward the ball, his hands go back. That tension creates a bit of a "rubber band" effect across his core muscles. That's something you see almost all high-level hitters do because that muscle recruitment helps them uncoil into the baseball with the back hip and achieve, yes, rotational power. Let's compare a couple of prior images to emphasize this vital point:
As you can see, the hands travel backward as Bellinger's lower half advances forward, which also serves to tuck the front shoulder. Again, that's essential for tapping into maximum power potential. Also, he tips the knob of the bat toward the catcher, which loads his back elbow to slot properly as he begins to move his arms through the zone.
Then comes another key checkpoint in the swing:
Notice that Bellinger has his front arm stacked above his back arm into contact and just after. That's important for getting on plane with the ball as it drops toward the plate (all pitches drop as they make their way toward the plate -- the so-called rising fastball is an optical illusion). Stacking the arms in such a manner is also how you best drive the ball in the air, which is something pretty much every hitter aims to do these days. Also note that his back foot almost comes off the ground. That's a consequence of the high level of forward-directed energy he's applying to the baseball at the same time.
Now back to the arm stack. Here's another look from opposite side:
Bellinger sets himself up for that ideal shoulder angle by hinging at the hips as he strides forward. Here's the straight-on view:
That forward bend is maintained through contact, even as the hips and shoulders turn, and that allows that stacking of the arms we saw above. Note that in the far-right image just above Bellinger still has his upper half tilted toward the plate, and as such he's stacking his arms into contact. A number of hitters start their stance with the hips bent, which can simplify matters, but Bellinger incorporates that hinge into his stride and foot strike.
Those stacked arms also delaying the full bending of the elbows as they wrap around the hitters body, and that helps the hitter avoid rolling over and hitting grounders to the pull side. Note how deep into his swing Bellinger is when his back elbow starts to bend:
At that point, the ball is well off the bat.
Bellinger's swing has a dramatic two-handed finish, almost as if he's responding to the cue, "put the barrel in your back pocket":
Not every hitter twists himself to such an extent, but that's not really important. The finish to the swing, not unlike the start of the swing, is a matter of preference and personal signature. What really matters is full shoulder rotation, and Bellinger achieves that. Compare his shoulder position at the outset of his swing to his shoulder position near the end of it:
In essence, Bellinger has replaced his front shoulder at the beginning of the swing with his back shoulder at the end of the swing. That's full rotation, and that's an ideal finish. That he dips his bat at the end isn't really important. If he'd finished with the bat pointing almost directly upward like, say, Chase Utley did during his playing days, then the effect would still be the same as long as the full shoulder turn was there.
It's Bellinger's full journey from upright position to full shoulder turn and bat fully behind his back that gives the appearance of a long swing -- the appearance of reaping crops! -- but in reality Bellinger is quick, strong, and direct to the ball. You don't hit 123 home runs in 506 games if you're anything but quick, strong, and direct to the ball.
Like a number of other denizens of the left-handed batter's box, Bellinger's swing is pleasing to contemplate because it so naturally carries him into his journey to first base. What makes it special is that ideally checks all the boxes of what a big league power swing must accomplish while bookending it with an unusual starting point and telegenic final flourish. It's a swing that's both the obvious pretty and the more descriptive "purty." Most of all, it's perfect exactly where it needs to be.