The Belt Wars are still raging. It's like the end of Return of the Jedi, where everyone's singing and yub-nubbing around a fire, and you think you're safe. And then blammo, you're reminded that nothing is finished, nothing will ever be finished.
This will be Year Six of the Belt Wars. My fairest Isabelle, I write to you with a heavy heart and weary bones, but I do fear that a resolution is not imminent. What would it take for the Belt Wars to end? Thirty homers? Yeah, except if he does that, and then starts the 2017 season with a .140 April, the embers will flare. Pockets of resistance will reveal themselves.
This is not our concern! Unlike actual, horrible wars, it's always possible for us to log the heck off. The Belt Wars are a dumb, abstract concept that exist on the fringes of the baseball-loving Internet. In the real, logic-loving world, we can look at passages like this from the Baseball Prospectus 2016 annual:
Brandon Belt was one of the 10 best hitters (min. 500 PA) in the National League last season. That's not a misprint, so we'll say it again: By TAv, Brandon Belt was one of the 10 best hitters in the National League last season.
Now we're fighting on two fronts about Belt's abilities. The first is the same debate that it's always been, that he's overrated, that he strikes out too much, that he doesn't have All-Star kind of power. We have five years of statistical evidence refuting most of that, but whatever. We're all used to those arguments.
The second front has to do with Belt being fragile. Again, here are the injuries that Belt has suffered since coming into the league in 2011:
- The flu
- Getting hit in the head with a baseball
- Getting hit in the face with a baseball
- Groin strain
- Getting hit in the head by a knee
I suppose you could argue that Belt chases after pitched baseballs and knees like a golden retriever, but, well, you're going to have to walk alone on that one. One groin strain, one stray knee, and assorted baseball-related mishaps over a five-year stretch doesn't mean that a player is injury prone.
No, I'm interested in a different kind of debate. A respectable argument. On one side, you have the traditionalists, the people who don't expect or court change. These are the folks who think that what you see is what you're going to get with Belt, at least for the next couple years. His 162-game average on Baseball-Reference give him a .271/.347/.456 line with 18 homers and 147 strikeouts. That is as Belt-y as a stat line can get. The average is above what the league hits as a whole, but not ostentatiously so. The on-base percentage suggests a guy who will take his walks, but not an obscene amount. The slugging percentage suggests a guy who might top out at 20 homers, if that.
In other words, Brandon Belt sure hits like a Brandon Belt.
On the opposing side, you have the folks who think that there's still some ceiling left, that Belt is only passing through the second tier of first baseman. He'll be a star, just as soon as he shakes his freaky penchant for month-long slumps, when he looks like he's swinging a hologram. Last year, he had two months when he hit like Jose Vizcaino with a hangover, posting a .613 OPS in April and a .586 mark in June. He also had two months when he was Willie McCovey in his prime, and two months when he was pretty darned okay. That's the Brandon Belt experience, alright. The optimists believe that the gutter slumps will disappear, if only because it doesn't make sense that one player can be so good and so awful in the same season.
After a half-decade, I'm on the fence. We have a heaping help of evidence that Belt is just gonna keep on keepin' on, which isn't a bad thing. Turns out he's excellent as is. An 18-homer player with solid speed and defense, who can get on base and hit for a little average, is a tremendous asset. It's like he's a metaphor for your life, man. You have so much that's right with your life, and you don't even realize it. You take it all for granted, even though you basically have the Brandon Belt of lives.
On the other hand, we've seen what it looks like when he's hot. The bat stays in the zone for an hour, and he checks his swing at the pitches he chases when he's cold. Another month of that kind of consistent Belt would turn him into a star, more or less.
Last year, there was some trepidation after his season of freak injuries, but we were mostly positive:
Brandon Belt, projected 2015
And, say, that looks pretty smart in retrospect:
Brandon Belt, actual 2015
The difference in home runs are entirely due to the awful called-third strike that Belt forever endures. Just let the dude call his own strike zone on the honor system. He's good for it.
This year, I'm going for it. I'm going for the dangerous "Belt will improve" path, which is fraught with danger. There are wolves on this path, and they nip. But I don't care. There has to be one season where Belt goes bananas, and it figures it's the year where the Giants are seriously considering him for an extension.
Brandon Belt, projected 2016
Okay, that's basically the same player, just a little more of it. And we will be in love with it.
The rebels in the hills? We'll cut off their supply lines and wait 'em out. History favors us, folks. History favors us.