ROY or not, Bell's exploits can't be overlooked

First baseman sets team, NL records in debut season

ROY or not, Bell's exploits can't be overlooked

PITTSBURGH -- If not for another young first baseman bashing home runs on the other side of the country, the National League Rookie of the Year Award buzz might have followed Josh Bell all season.

Bell played a full season with the Pirates, from Opening Day until Game 162. He answered questions about his ability to stay healthy, his defensive development and his power potential. He finally emerged as the Pirates' long-awaited long-term solution at first base.

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The one thing Bell could not overcome in the NL Rookie of the Year Award race was Dodgers phenom Cody Bellinger, the heavy favorite to receive the annual honor presented to the NL's top rookie when the winners are announced at 6 p.m. ET Monday on MLB Network.

Bell's four-hit game

Bell, 25, slashed .255/.334/.466 with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs in 620 plate appearances. He recorded six defensive runs saved and a .992 fielding percentage at first base. Next March, he will end a curious carousel at first base by becoming the first Pirate to make consecutive Opening Day starts at the position since Adam LaRoche from 2007-09.

Bellinger slugged 39 homers, drove in 97 runs, slashed .267/.352/.581 and totaled 4.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 132 games for a 104-win Dodgers club. He delivered on his promise, and then some, for the eventual NL champions. But Bellinger's feats should not obscure what Bell did in his first full season.

If not for the nightly home run derby led by Bellinger and Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, the likely American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, Bell's accomplishments might have merited more attention.

Bell was a bright spot amid a disappointing season for the Bucs. He set the NL record for most home runs by a switch-hitting rookie and fell one short of the Major League mark held by Eddie Murray and Tony Clark. He led NL rookies in hits (140) and walks (66) and tied for first with 26 doubles.

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Though he would like to improve his throwing and batting average, Bell no longer has to wonder about his durability, defense or power. He finished the year tied for fourth among all NL players in games played, his 159 the second most among all Pittsburgh rookies, behind only Johnny Ray (162 in 1982).

Bell tied Jason Bay's 2004 club record for most homers by a rookie and became the eighth rookie in Pirates history to tally at least 90 RBIs.

The 25-year-old ranked second among NL rookies in RBIs, runs (75), triples (six), total bases (256) and extra-base hits (58) while tying for second in homers. Like Bellinger, Bell became his team's primary cleanup hitter despite his age and relative inexperience. Bell hit .301 and recorded 69 RBIs while hitting with runners in scoring position, an average and RBI total that led all NL rookies.

Bell feared a demotion after an up-and-down stretch offensively in April and May, but he hit .271/.348/.483 in his final 105 games. He was at his best in June (.858 OPS) and July (.873 OPS), batting behind a revitalized Andrew McCutchen, then took off in August (.954 OPS) when teams pitched more carefully to McCutchen.

"That was the most fun I've had hitting behind somebody," Bell said. "It was incredible. It was fun to watch. It was really special. Those were All-Star months, MVP months. … I definitely have my work cut out for me if I want to hit at that level one day."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.