The Giants’ first baseman of the future took a long time to become the Giants’ first baseman of the present. As a rookie in 2011 Brandon Belt hit .225. As a second year player in 2012 he batted .275 with a strong .360 OBP, but with only seven homers in 411 at-bats his performance was far from ideal for a corner infielder. Last season Bruce Bochy finally played him almost every day, and the result was exactly the type of effort that the Giants had been hoping for. Consider the following.
Belt hit .289. That was three points better than Chris Davis.
Belt hit 17 homers. That was two more than Billy Butler.
Belt knocked in 67 runs. That was four more than Nick Swisher.
Belt scored 76 times. That was seven more than Adrian Gonzalez.
Belt stole five bases. That matches the combined total of Freddie Freeman, Allen Craig, Prince Fielder and AGone.
Yeah, that’s pretty darn solid ain’t it? Also…
Belt’s .289 average was a three year best.
His .360 OBP tied his mark from 2012.
His .481 SLG was a three year best.
His resulting .841 OPS was .023 points better than Prince Fielder.
It was a solid season for Belt in his first campaign of more than 450 at-bats. It wasn’t all sugar plumbs and gumdrops though.
Belt hit .222 in day games with four home runs in 52 contests. He really seems to struggle under the sun. Check out the numbers: in 131 career day games he’s hit .241 while in 227 night games he’s batted .290. For those of you who like to change your lineups daily you might file this bit of info away.
Belt was also substantially less effective versus left-handed pitching (he sat out at times when a tough left was on the mound, and the Giants also slot Buster Posey at first base every once in a while to keep his bat in the lineup while resting the catcher’s knees). Here are Belt’s slash lines for 2013.
vs. lefties: .261/.318/.437
vs. righties: .297/.372/.495
The gap also somewhat exists when you look at his career, though it’s much closer to even:
vs. lefties: .266/.331/.457
vs. righties: .275/.358/.443
The bottom line is that the Giants will likely rest Belt against some of the top lefties even with his career numbers being close, so he may not become a 600 plate appearance kind of guy and that does cap his upside in the counting categories a wee bit.
Belt has proven the last two years that he’s going to hit a ton of line drives and post a whopping BABIP. Both numbers are abnormally large, but we’re talking about 920 at-bats over two years so maybe he’s just one of those guys who will settle in at an all-star level in those two categories.
2012: 25.6 LD-rate, .351 BABIP
2013: 24.3 LD-rate, .351 BABIP
Again, those numbers are so big they make me a bit nervous, but players do establish their own baselines, and there’s two years of impressive data to look at.
It should also be noted that through three seasons Belt has a 10.0 HR/F ratio, including 10.6 percent in 2013, and that’s nothing but league average stuff. Part of that has to do with his swing, more on that in a moment, but you can also blame his home ball yard which is very difficult on lefty pull hitters despite the 309 mark right down the right field line. In 547 at-bats at home in his career he’s hit just 13 homers but has a .453 SLG. In 560 at-bats on the road, a nearly identical total to his work at home, he’s hit 20 big flies but has a .441 SLG. Why the uptick in homers but the downturn in SLG? In 13 fewer at-bats at home he’s hit 10 more doubles than on the road. Right center field in San Francisco is 421 feet from home plate. It takes a mammoth blast to get over that but there is lots of room for balls to fall for extra base hits.
Returning to line drives for a moment, a side note. I don’t love Belt’s swing. It’s a very abbreviated stroke, one made very popular by Chase Utley, and though it obviously works for Utley and has for Belt, I’m just not a fun of the truncated motion especially on the follow through where he cut’s off the stroke a bit (he often seems to be a bit disjointed as well with his upper and lower bod not totally in sync). You would think that his shortened stroke would lead to a solid contact rate and a lesser punchout mark. It really hasn’t. Belt struck out 125 times last season in 509 at-bats (a 22 percent K-rate). Not an awful mark by any means, but the resulting 0.42 BB/K rate is just league average. Ditto his contact rate of 79.8 percent which is right on the big league average.
Belt finally has the trust of his manager Bruce Bochy, and there’s little reason to think he couldn’t rip off a series of seasons such as last year. Still, a first baseman who’s batting .285 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs… we call that Billy Butler, and while that’s usable in fantasy, the lack of big time power or a batting average that could challenge the league leaders means that Belt is someone you should be satisfied with if he’s your first baseman but he’s not someone you should be targeting at the position to take early in a draft.
By Ray Flowers