The story of Brandon Belt every year is whether this will finally be THE SEASON. The magical, foretold season that everyone has been expecting from him since he made the team. I think the closest he came to having that season was 2016, which also happens to be the only full season he has played in the last five years.
For Belt fans, it is frustrating that so many of his seasons have been shortened, due to no fault of his own. It serves the Belt-Basher narrative, when all logic and reason tells us that actually, Brandon Belt is good at baseball and an asset to the team.
Ideally, we’d all like to see him play a full season and see if he can beat some of his personal records. He has twice hit 18 home runs, his career season high. And in 2017, he was poised to beat that record before a nasty concussion ended his season, and threatened to do more than that.
He made as full of a recovery as one can, under the circumstances, and Belt’s 2018 season seemed to hint that it was heading in the 2016 direction once again. He was mashing home runs, logging two four-game streaks where he hit one in each game. He was once again a vote-in candidate for the All Star Game. But he missed time due to an emergency appendectomy, and (unrelated) he was never quite the same for the rest of the year.
One notable thing that I think wasn’t talked about much last year was that he STOLE FOUR WHOLE BASES AND WASN’T CAUGHT ONCE! I don’t know if that is as exciting to you as it is to me, but considering some of his nincompoopery in base running of the past, that makes me pretty happy.
Something else that sticks out while looking at his 2018 numbers is that in roughly the same number of plate appearances (456) as 2017 (451), his strike outs stayed roughly the same, but his walks reduced by nearly 20. Belt has built a reputation for his discerning eye and discipline at the plate (hello, MLB record for the most pitches in an at-bat), so it seems odd that his walk rate would decline so drastically, down roughly 5% from 2016.
And when you do a little digging on the season overall, his first and second half are dramatically different. Even taking into account the difference in games played. We’ll look at 2017 and 2018, for example, since he had roughly the same amount of plate appearances and injury-shortened seasons:
(If you cannot see the embedded tables above, please try opening this in a different browser.)
He has had seasons where his second half numbers declined, but none this drastic.
As we later found out, this was likely due in large part to needing knee surgery, something he finally got in mid-September when his season ended just a couple weeks shy of the end of the team’s incredibly mediocre season.
His defense remains solid, ranking 10th among active first basemen in career fielding percentage, with his 2018 numbers on the low end of those he’s put up in the past (.991), but not alarmingly so.
So what can we expect in Brandon Belt’s age 31 season; a season that will, barring catastrophe, include his 1,000th career game in the majors? Ideally, he will break his home run record, but we hope for that every year. I think he will have a bounce back season this year, maybe not quite to his 2016 numbers, but assuming he is healthy to enter the season, I think we’ll see an uptick over the last two seasons.