The lunatic fringe got its wish, Brandon Belt is the Giants’ Opening Day first baseman.
The news that made some people a little less excited was that Belt would be splitting time at first base with Brett Pill in a left/right platoon.
This is causing some to freak out, but there are a few reasons that I think that this may not be too bad of an idea — at least to start off the season.
First, lefties represent roughly 25 percent of MLB Pitchers. So if this is a strict L/R platoon Belt would still get the majority of plate appearances at first base. With this arrangement Belt would get approximately 500 plate appearances with the other 200 split between Pill and Posey. If this is what we have to put up with to get Belt in the MLB lineup on a regular basis, I can live with it.
Second, Belt has had a bit of a strikeout problem in the upper minors and especially in the majors. This could be one way to get him experienced with Major League pitching without giving him too much to try to adjust to at one time. If you look at his splits in both the Majors and the minors, he has struck out at a much higher rate when facing left-handed pitchers. Last year he struck out in 29.4 percent of his plate appearances against lefties in the Majors and in 31.1 percent of his minor league plate appearances against lefties. Against righties his strike out numbers are much better: 26.6 percent and 17.2 percent, respectively.
Third, both Belt and Pill have shown some platoon splits in their careers, so this could help to maximize what the Giants get out of the first base position this season. While there are some hints that Belt might excel more against righties, this by no means suggests that it will always be the case (in fact ZiPS projects that Belt will outhit Pill vs. lefties, even with Pill’s right-handed advantage, with a .780 OPS for Belt vs. a .726 OPS for Pill). I still believe that Belt will be just fine as an everyday hitter who can handle facing lefties on a regular basis. That being said, if the reason for platooning him is something like what I laid out above I don’t think that it is a problem at all, and might allow him to gain confidence while focusing on one part of his adjustment to Major League pitching at a time.
The decision to platoon the players may at first glance be unpopular but it could serve a number of purposes, such as allow Belt to gain confidence and make adjustments to the majors leagues without being too overwhelmed. Ultimately this probably gives the Giants the best team and that’s really the bottom line.