If it weren't for Brandon Belt, we wouldn't be here. We would be in front of a television, watching the Nationals and Giants in the 1,392,029th inning. Every single player would have lost control of their bowels by November 21, and the entire field would be a bloody mess. Except for Yusmeiro Petit. He'd still be workin' hard, happy to be there. The rest of us would be dead from malnourishment and baseball. So thank Brandon Belt for your very life.
And thank Brandon Belt for existing because he's just about the only chance the Giants have to hit more dingers than we're expecting them to. You know how many Hunter Pence and Buster Posey are going to hit, give or take a few, and the rest of the lineup is filled with slappy slapmasters. The only player who could reasonably be expected to exceed his career-best homer total is Belt. He is, as the pundits say, a key player.
We've been through this before, of course. We've been waiting for that Belt breakout for a couple of years. Last year, we were bullish, mostly because Belt had a compelling new grizzle-beard.
He hit 17 home runs last year, Belt did. Double that total. Look at that damned beard.
Good things were predicted.
Brandon Belt, predicted 2014
Through his first 32 games, Belt looked like he was going to blow past that modest power prediction, hitting .264/.317/.504 with nine home runs. The power came at the expense of his average and keen batting eye, but that was all going to fix itself, though, and patient Belt and powerful Belt were going to meet in the middle of the aisle and skip off together. Then a stupid Dodger broke both of them.
No matter. Bones heal, and Belt came back for an uninspiring 11 games, but at least he was back. Then, under the power of the unstoppable Marlins Death Fog, Marco Scutaro hit Belt in the head with a baseball. Bones heal, but brains don't have to, and for a while Belt's power and production wasn't the main concern. His brain and ability to live a normal life was.
Then he helped the Giants win the World Series.
Last year was so weird on so many levels.
Anyway, here's what Belt ended up with:
Brandon Belt, actual 2014
It was a lost season ... except for that part where he helped the Giants win the World Series. His eye looked fantastic in the postseason, too, as he took 11 walks in 73 plate appearances, including five walks in 20 NLCS plate appearances. He had just two extra-base hits, so maybe there really is an either/or aspect to his game. Maybe he can have fancy OBPs or fancy home run totals, but he can't have both.
He'll be 27 in a month, that magical age when hitters are supposed to turn into golden gods. At least, that's the urban legend. It might not be true, but we can still choose to believe it when it suits us. And what we have are three different possibilities.
Scenario #1: Belt is the player he was last year or worse
That is, he'll swing a lot and miss a lot, and the homers don't have to come at the same rate. He'll be a low OBP slugger who won't slug quite enough, the player who was so reviled by the angrier factions in the Belt Wars. The only way he'll look like a worthwhile player is with park-adjusted stats, and the talk radio/Internet commenters don't exactly keep those written on index cards around the house.
I don't see why we should predict that, though. Last year wasn't exactly a huge sample, and everything about it was odd in comparison to other Belt seasons. The power was odd, the low average was odd, and the walk rate was odd. I'm just going to throw the whole thing out. That's good science, right? It's at least being a splendidly ignorant fan, which is sort of my niche.
Scenario #2: Belt is the player he was in 2013
He was so very good in 2013, a long-term solution and a player who wasn't too far from being a franchise cornerstone. A .380 OBP with above-average power and slick defense from a first baseman who wasn't a sloth on the bases That's the kind of player who gets a standing ovation when he's 60 years old and visiting the ballpark in a few decades. People would remember him, and rightly so.
Brandon Belt helped his team win a lot more than the average player in 2013.
Scenario #3: Belt is even better
Don't forget about jctgamer's GIF, everyone.
Mmmmmmmph. Can Belt hit 73 dingers one of these years? Probably. He probably can. After his fifth homer of 2014, I wrote:
Belt is a career 1.052 hitter in the minor leagues. He's a .343/.457/.596 hitter over 825 plate appearances. He has more latent talent in his goofy neck than the rest of us have in our combined bodies. He was a top-25 prospect in baseball, and considering how much drama there was with his playing time and knuckles and slump-shoulders, it shouldn't be that unlikely that he's morphed into something more, something brilliant.
"Drunk on early-season stats, our hero opens his blog machine and blogs furiously about ..." I can see Belt 2.0 so clearly. The knuckles would align, the shoulders would firm up, and he would hit for power and average and get on base. Do you remember the 39 doubles he had in 2013? He gets to keep those, but he'll add 10 more dingers.
I'll waffle and stick with scenario #2, which is still an excellent player.
Belt Wars: fought in the distant hills, perhaps, but not close to town.