Thearon W. Henderson
How will Brandon Belt do this year?
Brandon Belt will never have a 30-homer season while he's employed by the Giants.
Of course, no Giants first baseman has hit 30 since 1987, when Will Clark had his only 30-homer season as a Giant. That was the first 30-homer season by a Giants 1B since Darrell Evans in 1983, which was the first since Willie McCovey in 1970. It doesn't happen often. So if I was trying to be daring and bold with that opening statement, I failed. The odds are very good that Belt will never hit 30 homers. Let's try again.
Brandon Belt will never have a 20-homer season while he's employed by the Giants.
Well, say, that's different. J.T. Snow had 28 one year. Aubrey Huff had 26. Pedro Feliz had 22 when he was a part-time first baseman in 2004. Also, Pedro Feliz used to play first base, which sounds hilarious until you remember that he took over left field when Barry Bonds was injured. But back to the 20 homers. Never? I'm not sure if I wholly believe it, but I'm fairly confident.
Let's not equate dingers with value, though. When I'm drunk, I pretend Brandon Belt is going to develop into John Olerud. When I'm sober, I take a spin around Lyle Overbay's Baseball Reference page and remember that he wasn't so bad. That wouldn't be a bad ceiling for Belt. Not at all. Wait, is it already noon? Well, one ticket to John Olerudtown, please! The mirrors there make me better looking, too.
Before we spend too much time trying to parse Belt's future value, let's not ignore that he was pretty danged okay last year. After all the drama, all the sturm und drang about Brandon Belt last year, he was worth about two (FanGraphs) or three (Baseball Reference) wins last year. The drama was mostly concentrated in July:
I mean … goodness, what a miserable month. I'm surprised he hit even .186. Those last two months made up for it, though, and Eno Sarris took a look at Belt's transformation:
Before July 23 After July 23 GB% 43.2% 36.1% FB% 40.5% 30.6% LD% 16.2% 33.3% HR/FB 6.7% 6.8% HR,FB Distance 279 274
... (Belt) certainly found a line drive swing in the second half — 33.3% is an elite number. He hit fewer fly balls, the ball didn’t go as far, and he didn’t hit as many home runs as he might have with a more fly-ball heavy approach, but he certainly found the frozen ropes.
Smacking the ball all over the place and gangling around the bases, he was. The numbers that encourage me the most, though, are these:
Thirty-eight percent. Goodness. But in August and September, he struck out at around the same rate Buster Posey does. For the year, he had the 45th-highest K rate, which isn't good, but it's not necessarily crippling, either. He was down with Mike Trout, Chase Headley, and Matt Kemp, and those guys are doing just fine. And that's when you include August, when he clearly had the grippe all month. I feel mighty comfortable ignoring August as an outlier.
Now, we don't know what he's going to do this year, but ...
|2013||SF||28||13||2||1||3||8||He just took one while you were writing this||4||.464||higher now||.929||1.393|
Those things don't mean anything. Do you know who hit the longest home run I saw in Scottsdale last year? Ryan Theriot -- just a booming shot over the left-field area against the A's. Do you know which Giants player holds the team record for spring OPS? Michael Ambort, who was a 24-year-old catcher in A-ball at the time, posted a 5.000 OPS in 2009. (It was one homer in one at-bat, but still.) Emmanuel Burriss has four times as many triples in his spring career as he does in his major-league career. Spring stats are useless. Useless, useless, useless.
/guiltily stares at Belt's spring stats some more
Dammit. But I'm bullish on Belt this year, even if I'm not sold on his burgeoning power. There's no Aubrey Huff to block him, and Brett Pill might not even be on the team. The job is Belt's, save for the days when Buster Posey needs to move out from behind the plate. Belt has a job. Belt has a real job, and no one's taking it away from him this time. Pick those shoulders up, kid. You're going to be fine.
He'll crack 20 this year, alright. Just not homers. And that's okay.