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Brandon Belt’s 2019 offensive slump

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And yet he was still one of the better hitters on the team. The bar wasn’t exactly high.

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Stat Line

616 PA, .234/.339/.403, 17 HR, 57 RBI, .742 OPS, 0.6 bWAR

Before this season started, we wrote community projections for all of the player who we knew would be on the team. I wrote about Brandon Belt, in which I predicted that he would have a bounce-back season.

I, uh, missed the mark just a bit. Here’s how it ended up stacking up:

Plate Appearances

Projected: 493

Actual: 613

Batting Average

Projected: .258

Actual: .235

On Base Percentage

Projected: .357

Actual: .339

Slugging Percentage

Projected: .471

Actual: .405

Home Runs

Projected: 19

Actual: 17

Stolen Bases

Projected: 3

Actual: 4

bWAR

Projected: 2.9

Actual: 0.6

And here is where I missed the mark. Not to say my expectations were unreasonable. In truth, they closely aligned with Baseball Reference’s projections as well. But I think a lot of predictions were made under the assumption that Belt’s knee problems would be fixed by his off-season surgery. They were not. Although he played a full, non-injury shortened season, the lingering knee pain is absolutely evident in his numbers for this season.

Nowhere was that more painfully demonstrated than in the Friday night game of the last Dodgers series where he looked like his knees were actually exploding on impact as he struggled to get to third from first on a double, and again struggled to beat a tag at the plate on a sac fly.

Role on 2019 team

Brady wrote about how Madison Bumgarner was the measuring stick of the 2019 Giants, and I think you could say the same about Belt, in terms of the offense. He was a work-horse, tying Kevin Pillar for the most games played, and second to Pillar in terms of plate appearances, with 616, and a bit farther behind but still second in at bats, with 526 to Pillar’s 595. This is likely due to the fact that Belt led the team in walks with 83, a full 30 more than the next highest, Brandon Crawford.

If you look at his performance compared to other players on the team, it doesn’t look bad. He was second to Pillar in runs, hits and doubles, and he tied for the most triples. He led the team in on base percentage, and also strike outs. So basically, Brandon Belt things.

The problem comes when you compare his 2019 numbers against his career numbers. This paints a very different picture and shows that even as one of the better hitters on the team (a low bar, as it turns out), he had mostly a career-low season across the board.

Despite being the best on the team (among qualifying players), Belt’s on base percentage was actually the worst it has been since his rookie year (2014’s shortened season being excluded). And that was the GOOD number! His batting average and OPS were also the lowest since his rookie year (with no exceptions) and his slugging percentage was the worst it has ever been.

I think that has a lot to do with the fact that he’s still struggling with the knee issue. Also the fact that he is, unfortunately, getting older. And nothing annoys me more than people using the possibly natural decline of an older player to diminish their career as a whole. You see Brandon Belt-haters use his 2019 numbers to show that, actually, theirs was the right side of the Belt Wars all along, and that just cannot stand.

Role in 2020

While this season was definitely not the bounce-back year I predicted, I also don’t think it was necessarily indicative of the type of numbers he will put up next season. Or, you know, a sign that they’re going to cut him and replace with Buster Posey at first, or something, so just hold your horses, Belt-bashers.

Belt will be the 2020 starting first baseman. He has one year left on his contract and isn’t an ideal trade candidate anymore. I’m not sure there’s really any more to it than that.

Grade: Two Farhans?

Look, I’m going to level with you, I’m not entirely sure how this whole rating system works. But I think we’re supposed to base it on whether the player fits with the Farhan Zaidi model. Which, according to what Bryan wrote last week, means hitting for power and hitting well at Oracle Park for batters.

And if you look at Belt’s splits, that makes him almost the anti-Farhan. He hits significantly better and for more power on the road. It’s possible that those numbers might change if any of the dimensions of the field are altered before next season, but I can’t grade him on the future, so I’ll go with two?

Overall, it wasn’t Belt’s best season. In many ways it was his worst. But I don’t think it’s time to panic or write him off. If he can get something effective done for the lingering knee pain, there’s easily room to improve next year without expecting the moon.