The Giants’ offense has scuffled despite the recent streak by Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen’s solid season and it’s all because they’re missing Brandon Belt.
Before we go any further, you need to know two things: 1) wRC+ means Weighted Runs Created Plus and it exists to quantify a player’s total offensive value (hits, home runs, walks, etc.) by a single value and is adjusted for league average (100) and park effect; any value above 100 means “x% above league average” 2) wOBA means Weighted On Base Average and is basically a more accurate version of OPS, assigning “proper” weighted value to singles, doubles, HBP, walks, home runs, etc. An “average” wOBA is .320. .400 is excellent.
Anyway, he’s been gone a while and he’s not slated to return until next week at the earliest, so it’s easy to forget that Brandon Belt is still the best hitter on the Giants. In fact, Brandon Belt has been the best hitter on the Giants for the past 5 years.
That’s a significant amount of time to be the best on a given team and that’s on the same team as a potential Hall of Famer in Buster Posey. Nobody’s talking about Belt for the Hall of Fame here, but again, he’s been his team’s best hitter for 5 years running (that’s right: he has even been better than Brandon Crawford this season). Usually when that happens, that player is regarded as one of the faces of a franchise.
Okay, well, you can see why he hasn’t gained traction, nationally. Say what you want about a first baseman who doesn’t hit 30 home runs a season, but at least he’s productive.
Yes, that’s right. I’ve compared him to Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez, and Giancarlo Stanton — two players they could pursue this offseason, one they did pursue last offseason, and another they should’ve pursed last offseason. As you can see, he compares favorably to all of them by wOBA).
In addition to being the Giants’ best hitter over the past 5 years, he’s been the 18th-best hitter in all of Major League Baseball (9th in the National League if you want to get super granular; Posey ranks 21st and 11th).
It’s a really obvious list of “best hitters” since Barry Bonds left the team. Here are the top 5 hitters since 2008 (ranked by wRC+):
Aha! You turd-faced charlatan! Buster Posey is the best! you might say, but you’d be wrong. Again, I said, Belt has been the best hitter on the team for the past 5 years. Belt didn’t even debut until 2011. In the void between Bonds’ absence and Posey’s arrival, the Giants basically had one good hitter: Pablo Sandoval. After that, Buster Posey launched himself into the majors and dazzled us all.
And because of Posey’s MVP and Belt’s annual disabled list stints, most Giants fans offline willfully disregard Belt’s value. They want a first baseman who can hit home runs like Will Clark or even J.T. Snow. Yet there’s Brandon Belt, who in 200+ fewer games and 1,100 or so fewer plate appearances basically 95% as valuable as Buster Posey at the plate. And when it comes to home runs, Brandon Belt is going to hit more over the next 3 years than Buster Posey will. Despite playing in only 74% of the Giants’ games this season, he still leads the team in hardest hit balls and he’s 36th in baseball in the barreled ball category (the next Giants doesn’t appear until #100 — Evan Longoria).
The Giants don’t just need Brandon Belt to return, they need more players like Brandon Belt in the organization, whether through the draft or through trade or via free agency. If you do something silly like I did and simply added a second Brandon Belt to this year’s lineup (say, in left field) —
Yes, I cheated a little bit here by inputting Joe Panik’s and Madison Bumgarner’s career averages rather than their actual 2018 lines, but they were injured most of the year anyway. So, if you do this, you get a team that averages 4.71 runs per game. And if you let the computer optimize that lineup, you get 4.86 runs per game.
For context, the Braves and Dodgers are currently tied for 2nd in the National League in runs per game at 4.75 each and the Cubs are 1st at 5.00. The last time the Giants had anything over even 4.50 runs per game was in 2004, when they averaged 5.25 (in the World Series years, they averaged 4.30, 4.43, 4.10).
So, in conclusion and finally, the correct way to talk about Brandon Belt is to say, “Holy crap, the Giants desperately need him back and they suck every day without him.”