The only alarming aspect of the batted ball profile of Josh bell that carried over from 2020 was a spike in ground balls. While he had only put 44% of his batted balls on the ground in his 2019 peak season, that shot up to 55.7% in 2020 and was down to 53.5% this year 2021 already with the Washinton Nationals.
So Bell returned some of the impact of his strong contact by hitting the ball on the grass, explaining why his power numbers (27 HRs) didn’t rebound until the 2019 form (37 HRs) where he went. All-Star Game with the Pittsburgh Pirates:
Still, Bell had a decent season. Their numbers were slightly better than the league-wide .257 / .338 / .454 mark for first basemen. His 2019 campaign offers a hint of increased offensive potential, and Bell had a quietly strong second half. From the All-Star Break onward, he hit .277 / .381 / .506 with more walks than strikeouts (albeit with a still concerning 55.9% grounding percentage).
However, that went largely unnoticed because Washington had since emerged from the fray. While the Nats hoped a Bell resurgence would be part of a team-wide rebound that would keep them competitive in the NL East, things didn’t turn out that way.
Washington was on the fringes of contention for the first few months of the season, but a swoon in mid-July kicked off the removal of the deadline and the reboot of the organization.
Bell wasn’t part of that midseason sell-off, but there seems to be a bit more interest in the league after his strong play down the stretch. He is now entering his final year of control of the club, and the Nationals do not appear to have a plausible path to contention next season.
It’s not clear that Washington wants to entertain a multi-year rebuild – with Juan Soto in control of the club for three more seasons, there’s not much time to waste time – but Bell has a free agency ticket next winter anyway. . Changing it after the lockout would not be a sign of a long-term rebuilding, but rather an acknowledgment of its unlikely state of containment in 2022.
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MLB: Why didn’t Josh Bell hit as many HRs in his Washington Nationals debut?