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Dynamic Duos: The Brandons

Looking at the dual dominance on defense and offense of the Giants’ favorite duo, the Brandons.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

According to the website HowManyOfMe, there are 438,951 people in the United States with the first name Brandon. 99.3% of those individuals are male, and it’s the 142nd most popular name.

Put another way, if you were to meet a random man on the street in the U.S., there is an 0.3% chance his name is Brandon. If you were to meet a random man who happens to play for the San Francisco Giants, however, there would be a 7.7% chance his name was Brandon. You are 25 times more likely to find a Brandon on the San Francisco Giants than you are anywhere else in America. Unless it’s a convention for people named Brandon, probably.

And it’s been this way for a decade. Both Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt made their major league debuts during the 2011 Giants season. Belt debuted at the season’s opening before yo-yoing back and forth between the Fresno Grizzlies and San Francisco Giants, trying to find his swing, while Crawford was called up in May after a leg injury to Mike Fontenot placed him on the then 15-day injured list.

What does it mean for the Giants that they have two Brandons on the team, other than a strange stroke of fate? Consider this: the fourth-most common out in baseball is shortstop-to-first-baseman (6-3 putout for scorekeepers out there). It occurs 7.9% of the time. If we include the magical double plays where the 2B fields to Crawford, who then throws to Belt (4-6-3, 0.7% frequency), and where Belt throws to Crawford for an out (3-6, 0.3%), we get somewhere in the ballpark of a ~9% chance of any given play including the two Brandons throwing to each other.

This is a good thing for the Giants. Why? Well, Brandon Crawford is a four-time Gold Glove award winner, worth +109.3 DEF in his 11 seasons on the team. Just one shortstop has been worth more (Andrelton Simmons, at +165.4 DEF). Put another way, Crawford has been leaps and bounds ahead of nearly everyone defensively for a decade. If we restrict it to the last five seasons, Crawford reigns at #3, behind Simmons and Francisco Lindor.

Brandon Belt’s defense is slightly harder to measure, as the positional adjustment dings first baseman according to every metric you use. However, using Baseball Savant’s “Outs Above Average” metric, we see that over the past five years, Belt has been worth 16 OAA, placing him solidly at #6 among first baseman (trailing Anthony Rizzo, Joe Mauer, Freddie Freeman, Christian Walker, and the Giants’ old nemesis, Paul Goldschmidt). In that same timeframe, Belt has been #2 on the Giants for OAA, trailing only Crawford’s semi-insane 53 OAA. (For a good explanation of what OAA is actually measuring, check out this blog, but in very short, it’s how many outs a player wasn’t expected to make but did anyways, i.e. how much better they are than the average fielder at their position. OAA is a cumulative stat, so games missed to injury will affect a player’s OAA).

Despite Belt being hurt for much of the 2021 season, the duo’s +14 OAA (Crawford +12, Belt +2) together trailed only three other shortstop-1B duos in that timeframe: Nicky Lopez (+19) and Carlos Santana (+0) of the Kansas City Royals, Francisco Lindor (+15) and Pete Alonso (+1) of the New York Mets, and Nick Ahmed (+14) and Christian Walker (+2) of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite playing just 97 games, Belt was still tied for #6 among qualified first baseman in OAA for 2021. Either way you slice the data, Crawford and Belt are an elite shortstop-first base combo.

A gif example:

While it is Crawford’s elite defense that makes the stop, the ability to dig the ball out after it one hops and hang on shows Belt’s defensive prowess and how the duo works in tandem. Crawford may get the credit and the highlight reel finish, but Belt will ensure the play gets completed as necessary.

Another example of how the two work together:

You can see how the entire length of Brandon Belt’s 6’3 frame gets utilized whenever Crawford has a play to make.

Belt has also been forced to work on his defense towards Crawford:

Oh yeah, and they can hit a little bit too. Brandon Belt was #12 among first baseman in wRC+ from 2016-2021, but #1 among first basemen and #3 overall in all of baseball for wRC+ (min. PA = 550) since the start of 2020. Meanwhile, Crawford was #23 in wRC+ among shortstops from 2016-2021, but #3 among shortstops since the start of 2020, and #19 overall in baseball for wRC+ (min. PA = qualified).

With Belt accepting the qualifying offer Giants fans will continue to enjoy the dual dominance of the dynamic duo: The Brandons (for at least another year).