Widely noted, the San Francisco Giants were a disappointment this season. A year after winning the World Series with a sweep over Detroit, the Giants limped their to a 76-88 finish, the worst season following up a Series title since the 1998 Florida Marlins lost 98. Blame it on the injuries to Pagan, Scutaro, and Vogelsong (because why not?) or the regression of Posey, Sandoval, and Cain. However you look at it, 2013 was not a season worth remembering.
Lost among the wreckage, Brandon Belt had an outstanding 2013 campaign. Belt finished the season with a triple slash of .273 batting average/.351 on-base average/.481 slugging average, numbers very similar to Hunter Pence’s (.288/.339/.483) season that earned him $90 million. Those numbers from the plate are more valuable to a team if they belong to a right fielder as opposed to a first basemen, but I picked Pence to compare Belt to because they’re teammates, so they played in the same stadiums and faced the same pitchers all year.
Belt really starts to stand out when you look at his production in the second half of the season, about the time people stopped paying attention to the Giants. Since the Midsummer Classic, Belt posted a 161 wRC+ (weighted runs created, accounting for park factors), tied for 7th highest -- with Hunter Pence -- wRC+ in all of baseball, 5th in the National League. He was 10th in the majors with a .396 wOBA. Belt proved to be exceptional at creating runs for a run-stagnant club over the course of 60 games, even if none of it mattered with postseason play out of the picture for San Francisco.
From what I can tell from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference, Belt absolutely mashed in August and September to the tune of a 1.051 OPS in August and .910 in September. Brandon Belt has hit like Frank Thomas, circa 1995, over the past two months.
Belt’s maniacal run is not necessarily a fluke: He had a very high BABIP of .392 over the second half, so he should regress back towards his career .339 figure. Belt has always had a line drive hitter, as he had a line drive rate of 24.3% this season, 3.2% higher than the average major leaguer, which bodes well for the sustainability of a BABIP over 40 points higher than league average.
Instead of being lightning in a bottle, maybe this is Belt living up to his potential as an All-Star first baseman. His potential, after all, typically depicted him as a future 4- or 5-hole hitter in an NL lineup; the pull power once thought to void has shown itself as Belt had a 234 wRC+ when pulling the ball this season.