Prior to 2019, Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell had been an underwhelming big-leaguer. As a second-round Major League Baseball Draft pick in 2011, a lot more was expected from Bell once he reached the majors. He hit 26 homers in 2017, his first full season at the major league level, then just 12 homers last year.
It’s all come together for Bell this year. He is currently one of the most feared power hitters in the game and has been on an absolute tear as of late. The 26-year old is currently hitting .337 with 17 bombs and 48 RBIs, which is second in the bigs behind only Cody Bellinger who has driven in 49. He’s already hit more homers in 52 games than all of last season and is only nine homers shy of his career high of 26. In Bell’s last 15 games, he has been absolutely tearing the cover off the baseball. He’s hitting .424 in that span with eight long balls and 19 RBIs. It’s safe to say Bell is locked in at the plate.
Wrecking all pitches
Usually, with power hitters, they’re more prone to swinging at fastballs in their zone. For Bell this year, he’s been hitting for average against all pitches. Against the heater, Bell is hitting .349 with ten homers. But then against breaking balls, he’s still hitting .333 with three homers. Lastly, against off-speed pitches, Bell is batting .316 with three homers as well. He is terrorizing every single pitch he sees in his wheelhouse this year.
The Pirates first baseman is hitting balls at an extremely high velocity as well. He currently sits in the top three percent of the league with an 18.5 barrel percentage, which means he is hitting balls at 98 mph or higher almost a quarter of the time at a launch angle of 26 percent and higher.
His hard-hit rate is atop the major leagues as well, meaning he is hitting balls at 95 mph or higher (regardless of launch angle) 57.5 percent of the time. To put that into perspective, his hard hit rate last season was just 39 percent. Talk about a big jump. He’s got an average exit velocity of 96.4 mph this year, which is number two in the big leagues behind Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo. To top it off, his average home run distance this year is 425 feet, well above the MLB average of 400 feet. Bell is hitting balls a long way on a consistent basis, including a homer last week that landed in the river behind PNC Park:
Bell has really been terrorizing right-handed arms as well, hitting 12 of his 17 homers against righties. His swing has a natural uppercut to it, so he’s able to get a high launch angle, especially when he squares a ball up. Although he does switch hit, he’s been a lot better from the left side of the plate.
He didn’t really start heating up offensively until May rolled around. Bell hit just six homers in April, but since then, has been hitting bombs at an inhuman rate. He has three two-homer games in May alone, which is unheard of. To go deep twice in a game is a feat in itself, but to do it three times in one month is very special. This hot start is making it very tough for pitchers because they literally don’t know what pitch to throw in order to get him out. He’s been an absolute nightmare for National League pitchers this month.
Small changes to his swing have paid off
Bell had a lot more movement in his swing last season and he really struggled. He simplified his approach in the offseason to fix his timing and it’s really paid off. From the left side, he used to have an open stance with a slight leg-kick. This year, he closed his stance a bit and increased the lift of his front leg, bringing it up to his waist as a timing mechanism. From the right side, he’s changed his mechanics from a leg kick to just a slight toe-tap for timing purposes. In past years, it was evident that Bell was trying to replicate his exact same mechanics from both sides of the plate. These changes he made in the off-season to simplify his movement has really helped him flourish offensively.
Josh Bell is finally turning into the franchise power-hitting first baseman that the Pittsburgh Pirates imagined when they drafted him out of high school in 2011. It will be exciting to see just how many home runs he’ll hit this season. One thing is for sure; he’s definitely going to surpass his previous career-best of 26.