Game 86: The case for Josh Bell as an NL rookie of the year (… well, finalist)

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By Chris Adamski

FROM ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE SITE WHERE THEY ONCE BOOED SANTA – Let’s get one thing out of the way here quickly: Josh Bell, barring a monumnetal shift in events during the second half, has virtually zero chance of winning the National League rookie of the year award. There’s a guy on pace to hit about 60 home runs who seems to have that all but locked up already here at the All-star break.

 

On the opposite American coastal metropolis in the other MLB league, there also happens to be a rather large man who’s perhaps gonna hit 60 home runs this year.

 

And with both Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge each having a historic-type rookie season and playing in major markets and for teams currently in playoff positioning… forgive the rest of the country for overlooking Bell.

 

That doesn’t mean he’s not having a rookie season to remember.

 

“J Hay (Josh Harrison) were talking about it (Tuesday) night – he justBell has done a phenomenal job for us,” Gerrit Cole was saying after his start Wednesday. “He’s transitioned (to first base), been an everyday player, having the most extra base hits (as a rookie before the All-Star break) in this organization’s history. Unfortunately it’s not the biggest market that we play in, so other rookies throughout the league have more highly-touted and get more press, and they do deserve it as well – Cody Bellinger and those guys over in L.A. and New York are really doing a fantastic job. I guess it’s just a really good opportunity for me to pump Josh up because he’s doing a really good job for us this year.”

 

Bell has 15 home runs, 39 RBIs and 31 extra-base hits (all second on the Pirates to Andrew McCutchen), his .452 slugging percentage is third on the team and his .765 OPS fourth. He has more extra-base hits (31) and home runs than any rookie before the break in Pirates history. Bell is sixth among NL rookies (who have played more than half of their team’s games) in OPS,  third in home runs, seventh in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

 

He leads the Pirates in games played (not missing his first game of the season until Tuesday) and has solidified a first base position that has seemingly plagued the franchise for decades.

 

Incredibly, the Pirates have had a different primary first baseman for nine consecutive seasons (using Baseball-reference.com) and 13 different ones in 16 seasons: Bell, John Jaso, Pedro Alvarez, Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez, Casey McGehee, Lyle Overbay, Garrett Jones, Adam LaRoche (2007-09), Sean Casey, Daryle Ward (04-05), Randall Simon, Kevin Young.

 

This list doesn’t even count in-season changes from one primary first baseman to another, leaving out the likes of Justin Morneau, Derrek Lee, Jeff Clement, Craig Wilson and others! Literally, the Pirates have gone through upwards 20 REGULAR first basemen since the turn of the (2000) century (and many more who played there in spot duty: Sean Rodriguez, Travis Ishikawa… the list goes on and on)!

 

All indications are Bell is ending the revolving door for years to come. Not bad for a guy who’s a natural outfielder who has worked tirelessly to hone his new craft. The advanced metrics  are showing he’s in the “average first baseman” territory – not bad for a rookie who’s still new to the position.

 

He’s finishing games now (and not being lifeted for a defensive replacement) – that’s how much we feel he’s improved (defensively),” manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday. “On the ground, he’s getting to a lot of balls… balls to his right.

 

“He’s earned the respect of his teammates, he’s earned the respect of the pitchers. Everyone sees the work he’s done and the plays he makes.”

 

Bell has a likely-insurmountable climb to catch Bellinger in the minds of rookie of the year voters come October. But he can probably pull himself into contention to end up in the top three of the voting if he has a strong second half.

 

Side note: Check out this cool photo gallery of Bell from the talented Christopher Horner. It’s where the above photo came from.

 

 

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>>> Thursday: Pirates at Phillies, 6:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.
Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.26)

Phillies: Lineup TBA. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (5-5, 4.48)

Gamecast: Kuhl is coming off what was arguably his best start of the season, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning before allowing a solo home run Saturday against San Francisco. … The Pirates have won just one of Kuhl’s starts since the last time he faced the Phillies, May 21 at PNC Park. … A native of nearby Delaware, Kuhl had more than 100 friends and family members on hand when he was the winner in a game the Pirates won 15-2 last Sept. 15. … Hellickson has a 2.41 ERA in four career starts against the Pirates, winning three of them (including May 19 this season. … Quirky but true: This will be the 13th in a stretch of 20 consecutive games involving the Phillies in which the start time differs from the previous day’s game.

 

>>> Friday: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (3-3, 4.67)

Cubs: RHP Eddie Butler (4-3, 4.18)

 

>>> Saturday: Pirates at Cubs, 7:15 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Fox. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (8-6, 3.24)

Cubs: RHP Jake Arrieta (8-6, 4.33)

 

>>> Sunday: Pirates at Cubs, 1:10 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root/TBS. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (4-2, 2.97 Plus Tuesday)

Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (5-5, 3.94)

 

>>>Monday-Thursday: All-Star break

 

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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