Brandon Belt will be the starting first baseman for the Giants on Opening Day for the third season in a row. What do you mean he was jerked around? That sounds pretty consistent to me. The last first baseman to do that, of course, was J.T. Snow. Before that, Will Clark. Before Clark was Willie McCovey. All of those guys were organizational favorites. Therefore, Brandon Belt is already a franchise icon, quod erat demonstrandum.
But before the season, I was pretty sure that Belt was going to get jerked around. The subject of his community projection had to do with him getting jerked around. Then he won the Opening Day job, with Aubrey Huff moving to the outfield. Say, maybe they weren't going to j …
Nope. Jerked around. Belt started for a week, and it was a rough week. But Huff started in the outfield just once after the first series, and he needed to get his time somewhere. And there were left-handed starters to face, which meant Brett Pill needed to get his time, too. Also, Hector Sanchez somehow became the personal catcher of two different pitchers, so Buster Posey had to get a bunch of innings at first. In retrospect, it's kind of amazing that Belt got as many at-bats as he did.
But how did he do relative to expectations? From the community projection in February:
And his actual numbers:
After the Great Belt Wars of '11 and '12, which claimed some of the best young minds of our generation, it turns out Belt actually hit okay. Not great. Not enough to make him a star. But he helped the team more than he hurt it. His .360 on-base percentage in a pitchers' park wasn't especially sexy or jaw-dropping, but it was pretty close to the optimistic scenarios put forth before the season.
The difference between the most optimistic projections and reality? The power. Poof. Sure, he lost a couple homers to Triples Alley, but you really can't blame the park that much:
You're free to come up with a fantastical explanation as to why that is -- I'm thinking "fear of flying" or "acacia-leaf shortage on the road" -- but those stats are probably just sample-size shenanigans. As tempting as it would be to suggest that Belt got caught in the maw of one of the most extreme pitcher-friendly seasons of any park in recent history, he was just about the Giants' best hitter in AT&T. No, there's probably a better way to explain the dearth of long balls.
This might do:
2007: 140 AB, 9 HR
2008: 238 AB, 6 HR
2009: 235 AB, 8 HR
2010: 444 AB, 23 HR
2011: 365 AB, 17 HR
2012: 411 AB, 7 HR
Which one looks like the outlier? Edit: I originally wrote that he had nine homers in 2010. That's because I was looking at the wrong column and am stupid. It's 2011, surely, when he hit nine homers in 187 major-league at-bats -- almost more than he had hit in a full season at any level. Now consider that the first three seasons were with aluminum bats against college pitchers.
It might be that Belt just doesn't have a lot of power.
Another thing that sticks out from that list: You can understand why Belt is still a work in progress. He was rushed up from the minors, he's dealt with a couple of injuries, and he's sat on the bench quite a bit. He's had just over 2,100 combined plate appearances at any level since leaving high school. Maybe I'm making too much of this, but that doesn't seem like an awful lot. That's about what Ichiro's had since the start of 2010, for example. It would certainly help explain why Belt looked so lost in that July Philadelphia series.
And, boy, did he look lost in that Philadelphia series. Oh-for-11 with five strikeouts and all the bad body language you could stuff in a sack. It's hard to imagine him coming back that season to do anything, much less solidifying his starting role for a playoff-bound team.
That's part of the second point in the All You Need to Know About Brandon Belt list that you're about to read. To wit:
- Belt might not ever be more than a 15-homer guy
- Belt is a streaky, streaky hitter
- Belt is still pretty good, and it's nice that we can all stop worrying about him.
Kind of. We can kind of stop worrying about him. At least we can stop worrying about his starting role. He's the starter. The Giants aren't even going to sign Eduardo Perez to compete with him for at-bats against left-handers. Unless Hector Sanchez hits .350 in a string of fluky April at-bats, pushing Posey to first, Belt is going to start 80 percent of the games.
I mean, what are the chances of Sanchez doing that?
Dammit. That's totally going to happen. Begun again, the Great Belt Wars will have. In the meantime, you can watch this if you're in the market for warm fuzzies:
I'm thinking he'll get better, too, even if he doesn't necessarily have to.