Last winter, Josh bell got into motion. The Pittsburgh Pirates, the only team he had played for in his eight-year career, were in the middle of a complete rebuild. Bell was in his last two seasons of umpire control, and his rising salaries accounted for a larger percentage of the Bucs’ annual low payrolls.
Bell’s value last winter was compounded by a poor performance in 2020. While he seemed to explode as a mid-range slugger with a .277 / .367 / .569 showing the year before, the switch hitter stumbled during the short season:
Bell appeared in 57 of the Bucs’ 60 games, but hit just .226 / .305 / .364 in 223 plate appearances. Perhaps even more concerning, his strikeout rate soared from 19.2% to 26.5%, the highest of his career.
Needing a first baseman, the Nationals fired off a rebound from Bell. Washington acquired the Texas native for a pair of potential pitchers, Eddy Yean and Wil Crowe. While Bell didn’t make a full recovery to his 2019 numbers, that move paid off largely for him. Nats general manager Mike Rizzo and his staff.
The 29-year-old appeared in 144 games and scored 568 plate trips last season. His 27 home runs were the second-longest of his career, behind only his 37 long hits in 2019. Overall, Bell hit .261 / .347 / .476, an offensive showing that was 18 percentage points above average. the league as measured by wRC +.
In addition to the improved results, Bell apparently rediscovered his best process at the plate. He cut his strikeouts to his typical range, striking out only 17.8% of his plate appearances (about five points less than average). His contact rate on swings rebounded to 77.4% after it dropped to 69% during his year off in 2020.
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Those better bat-to-ball skills came without sacrificing contact authority. Bell’s average exit speed (92.5 MPH) and hard contact rate (52%) in 2021 were the best of his career.
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MLB: Will Josh Bell get back to the Nationals’ form that led him to being an All Star in 2019?