Brandon Belt

Brandon Belt, the second half breakout candidate who’s actually been pretty good this season

Brandon Belt SF Giants World Series Parade McKayla Maroney face

Another year, another set of questions about Brandon Belt. When is he finally going to break out? Is it time to finally give up and trade him? How many times is this dude going to take a called third strike?

Another year, another sneaky good season for Belt. He hit his 10th homer yesterday, which is … just OK. We all kind of expected Belt, if healthy, to be on track for 20+ home runs. I’m sure Belt feels the same way, especially with his partner-in-Brandon, Mr. Crawford, ahead of him with 14.

In reality, Belt has had a good season. Fangraphs has him as the seventh-best first baseman in the majors (they have Buster Posey at No. 2, behind Paul Goldschmidt) with a WAR of 2.5, which makes him their 47th-best position player overall. Baseball-Reference also has him at 2.5 WAR, which makes him the ninth-best first baseman and No. 51 among all position players.

The perception of Belt might be suffering this year due to who’s around him. The other homegrown infielders — Posey, Crawford, Joe Panik and Matt Duffy — are all having better seasons based on WAR. Hunter Pence has been an absolute terror when healthy, and Nori Aoki was on his way to a possible All-Star nod before getting hurt. In all, the Giants have a pretty solid starting lineup, and complaining about gimpy Angel Pagan gets tiring after a while. So, naturally, people look at Belt when the Giants lose while scoring less than four runs.

Still, we’re talking about a top-10 first baseman and top-50 position player. That is, unless you think WAR is for sissies and his strikeouts drive you insane. And you may have a point (re: strikeouts). Belt strikes out 26.6% of the time, a rate that puts him 15th among qualified hitters, and some of those Ks are very, very frustrating. Ahead of Belt on the strikeout% list are four guys (Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Davis, Joc Pederson and J.D. Martinez) who’ve already hit 20 home runs this season.

Belt is a hitter who works the count, which can prove annoying since he’s hitting .429/.444/.771 on the first pitch and .153/.268/.294 with two strikes. But the idea that he isn’t clutch — which I’ve heard several times — is preposterous, and not just because he hit one of the most important home runs of the 2014 postseason in Washington, D.C. He’s hitting .311/.376/.473 with runners in scoring position and .389/.450/.611 with two out and RISP.

But it’s not some weird fluke that Belt is the most popular “let’s trade him” guy among KNBR callers. Let’s go over a few of these reasons again, and add a couple more.

  • Overshadowed by a bunch of All-Star and near-All-Star teammates
  • Not enough dingers for his position (although he’s sixth in the majors in doubles with 25)
  • Strikes out a lot
  • Perceived as not being clutch (even though that’s false)
  • Can’t hit lefties this year (.164/.261/.230 in 2015 … his career vs. LHP: .251/.320/.414)
  • Streakiest player on the team, and perhaps the entire National League

That last one is more difficult to prove, unless you’ve watched Belt play. The good news for the Giants: it appears that Belt is entering one of his hot periods. He’s hitting .321/.418/.500 this month after posting a frigid slash line (.189/.253/.333) in June. He’s even stealing some bases (three in July, two in June). And with Andrew Susac hurt, it seems almost likely that his offensive numbers will keep going up.

  • Belt as a first baseman (306 PA): .283/.363/.509
  • Belt as a left fielder (35 PA): .212/.257/.212

See, Posey isn’t the only one.

I’m expecting that Belt’s numbers vs. lefties will climb a bit closer to his career totals as the season goes on, and as the temperatures get warmer and the ball carries farther, he’ll get close to 20 home runs when all is said and done. Even if he gets to that milestone, there will still be fans who fixate on the body language and called third strikes. However, just as he’s been through his entire career …

wRC+ (Runs per PA scaled where 100 is average; both league and park adjusted; based on wOBA)

  • 2012: 119 (fourth on the team)
  • 2013: 140 (led the team)
  • 2014: 116 (fourth on the team among Giants who played in 50+ games)
  • 2015: 135 (fourth on the team)

… he’ll be a net positive for the Giants and much better than many people think.

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