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Another fine season ruined by injury: The Brandon Belt Story

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Appendix fell out, knee exploded, what else?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

STAT LINE: 456 PAs, .253/.342/.414, 14 HR, 46 RBIs

I’m not really sure why I felt like I would want to tackle analyzing Brandon Belt’s season but at the time that I agreed to do this, it seemed like a decent idea. I failed to recognize that by taking on this assignment, I would essentially be putting myself in a position that would probably solicit unhappy comments from both staunch supporters of Belt, as well as people who enjoy trading him to any team or garbage can that will take him. In true Brandon Belt fashion and in plain english, that pretty much means it’s a lose-lose situation.

Oy, where do we start?

Let’s just look at straight statistics for this season to start.

In most cases, Belt was below his career average numbers. He had less at-bats, less hits, lower batting average, lower slugging, lower home runs - you get the picture. His walks were even significantly lower, something that Belt had always been able to maintain despite struggles at the plate.

Some slightly good news is that while people still complain heavily about his strike out percentage, it is marginally lower this year than his career average (23.5% compared to 23.8%) - it’s the little things right?

If you feel like being glass half full and to get a little more nuanced on the things Belt adjusted in 2018, here are some other positive things to look at:

  • He improved his hard hit ball percentage and it’s the highest it’s ever been in his career at 41. 5% (his career average is 35.9%).
  • His fly ball rate went up and his ground ball rate went down. Belt has mentioned that he was looking to beat the shift by hitting it over the shift, so I imagine this is correlated with these results.
  • His defense at first base cannot be overlooked. SABR released their SABR Defensive Index in August which helps determine Gold Gloves and takes an aggregate of defensive stats to rank players by their positions and within the league. Belt was ranked overall in the league and first in his position over Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman. We’ll talk more about this in the “Role On the 2019 Team” section.

But now that we’re done with laying it all out, here’s the truly crappy thing about all of this. For the first half of the season, Belt was absolutely crushing the ball- all 13 of his home runs came in the first-half, and in April he was batting .316 and in May he was batting .314 - he was even being considered as a finalist for the All-Star Game Final Vote (forever grateful for that as it brought us the Ballot Brothers).

And then WHOMP (that’s the sound of the floor falling out from under us)... it was back to the “streakiness” that Belt is known for.

In all fairness, in the beginning of June, Belt’s appendix spontaneously fell out of his body and he was removed from the game after one at-bat and placed on the disabled list. He had Baby Augie in mid-July, and then another stint on the DL because of a hyper-extended knee shortly after the birth of his son. And just to add to the whole “injury-prone” narrative that exists, Belt suffered and played through knee pain for the rest of the season, only have knee-surgery with about a week left in the season. In other words, his health was probably affected by Mercury being in retrograde or something.

ROLE ON THE 2018 TEAM:

Well, I think his role on the team this season was to be one of the home run hitters. He hit clean-up and was sadly still one of the best hitters on a Giants team that was riding a major struggle bus in terms of their offense. While Evan Longoria was tied for first in home runs on the team with 16, the Brandons were in fourth with 14 home runs. Belt also had the fourth most RBIs on the team with 46 (yes, that is sad - confirmed), third in OBP (.342) after Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen - you get the point. The numbers were underwhelming - there’s absolutely no denying that - but somehow he still managed to keep himself in the top half of the offense. That’s both alarming and depressing at the same time.

ROLE ON THE 2019 TEAM:

I promised we’d get to this - otherwise known as The Great “Move Buster Posey To First Base” Extravaganza.

There are a lot of scenarios I can see unfolding within the next few months:

  • Scenario A: New GM trades Brandon Belt to the Yankees or somewhere else I’ve heard from KNBR callers, Buster Posey moves to first. The villagers rejoice.
  • Scenario B: New GM very into advanced metrics, doubles down on Belt at first base, Buster remains at catcher.
  • Scenario C: Brandon Belt doesn’t get traded but moves to left field to scamper around, Buster Posey moves to first. The villagers rejoice.
  • Scenario D: Something else, I dunno.

If indeed both Posey and Belt remain on the Giants next year, I’ll advocate for Belt staying at first and Posey behind the dish. By moving to Buster to first, you’re diminishing defense at two critical positions (Posey is decent at first but he’s a Gold Glover at the plate. You could argue that Belt should already have a gold glove). The “power” that everyone is hoping will come back with Buster’s move to first is probably somewhat of a pipe dream. I’m guessing if anything his new bionic hip should be able to help mobility but it’s still a question mark to me as to whether the lack of power is natural decline was because of his injuries. And finally, I just like watching Buster Posey call games. It’s fun. I enjoy it.

If Belt remains on the team, I keep my fingers crossed for a healthy season. Just one full healthy season. I’ll take it.

GRADE: B/B-

Not the best, not the worst. Better than last year but lower than career average. At least kinda fun because of his 21-pitch at-bat and when he was hitting homers on consecutive games for awhile.