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Brandon Belt will be fine

Belt just had one of his worst stretches, but he’s the same hitter.

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Brandon Belt is having himself a fine series in Arizona. Over the last three days, Belt is 5-for-14 with two home runs, a 415-foot double, and eight RBI. Belt, a notoriously streaky hitter, looks like he’s getting hot, and that would be a welcome sign because he’s been ice cold for a while.

Belt is having a down year. If the season were to end today, he’d end with a career low in batting average, slugging, wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR. It’s hard to say how much of that is the knee and how much is the inexorable flow of time wreaking havoc on his body. Belt’s at the ripe old age of 31, so his skills will decline from here. We might not see him make an All-Star team again, but this recent stretch is probably just his knee.

The surface level numbers may have gone down, but the underlying numbers are still the same. If Belt were truly bad, we’d see him chasing out of the zone, swinging and missing, putting more balls on the ground, and not hitting the ball as hard or as often. We might see him striking out more and walking less. We haven’t seen that though. If anything, we’ve seen the opposite.

Belt is walking more and striking out less despite getting rung up on 15 pitches out of the zone. Out of the 515 batters that have been unjustly called out on strikes this season, only Joey Votto has surpassed Belt at 19 times. His groundball, fly ball, and line drive rates are consistent with his career averages. He’s hitting the ball as hard and as often. As for chasing out of the zone, he’s not letting the umpires grind him down. He’s not going out of the zone, and he’s swinging and missing less.

Here’s what’s actually different:

He has a career-low BABIP at .268

His HR/FB is just 9.5 percent.

He’s underperforming his expected wOBA by .033 points.

Belt typically runs his BABIP at .323. The league average HR/FB percentage is 15.3. Only four batters have been as unlucky as Belt when it comes to wOBA. Looks like it’s all batted-ball luck to me.

Belt generally underperforms his xwOBA. That just comes with playing at Oracle Park. In the last two seasons, he’s been extraordinarily unlucky. Belt has barreled the ball 28 times in 2019. He’s just three away from matching his total from 2015 when he had a 132 wRC+. Those barrels just aren’t going over the fence and even worse, aren’t falling in for hits.

Of the batters with at least 25 barrels this season, Belt has underperformed his xwOBA on those batted balls by a wide margin. His xwOBA on barrels is 1.262, but his actual wOBA is just .917. Belt’s xwOBA on barrels isn’t much worse than Nolan Arenado’s, but Arenado is having much better luck.

What a difference playing in Coors Field instead of Oracle makes.

Belt is 15-for-28 on barrels which comes out to a .536 batting average. The league is batting .812 on barrels. If we gave Belt league-average luck and replaced just six of those outs with doubles, suddenly he’s slugging .427 instead of .394. If we give him three homers and three doubles, he’s slugging .438. That would still be a down year for Belt, but those six batted balls show just how widely results can be skewed.

Belt was out of whack for a stretch and his best days are probably behind him, but he’s not suddenly a sub-replacement player. He just hurt his knee. When he’s healthy, Belt is mostly the same hitter he’s always been. This is two years in a row where he’s had knee troubles, so I’m not saying it’s nothing to be concerned about. But, this weekend we’ve seen what happens when Belt gets to a more hitter friendly environment. Brandon Belt can still be pretty good.