Brandon Belt’s name was absent from Sunday’s lineup, the third game in the Giants’ last four that Belt has started on the bench. From Alex Pavlovic’s pregame notes:
The explanation for the lineup weirdness: “General tightness.”
That’s how Buster Posey put it when asked if he was feeling alright. Posey and manager Bruce Bochy both said that the catcher doesn’t have a serious injury and this isn’t related to his ankle surgery, but he is a catcher and he’s paying the price. Because of the leg tightness, Posey is getting a second straight day at first base and away from the squat.
“It’s normal with a lot of catchers,” Bochy said. “I brought Brandon in to talk. I didn’t want him to think he’s on the bench against lefties, but Buster could use another day from behind the plate.”
The Giants couldn’t afford to work on breaking their six-game losing streak without Posey, who in the last three games has eight hits and drove in each of the Giants’ four runs (I’m writing this while the game is going on, and Posey hit a HR to give the Giants a 1-0 lead, so … yeah, he’s still great). If the only question is which bat they’d rather have at first base, Posey’s or Belt’s, the answer is clear. Except there are positions on the field other than first base that Belt and/or Posey could play. The problem is that the Giants haven’t planned well enough in advance for the scenario that presently exists: in order to give themselves the best chance to score more runs than their opponents, it would be advantageous to have both Posey and Belt in the lineup at the same time — even when Posey’s legs prohibit him from catching.
From Andrew Baggarly’s postgame notes on Saturday evening:
It’s automatic for many fans to rip the manager after a one-run loss, and their analysis is usually emotional and incomplete. But Bochy had a rough one this time. The double-switch with Sanchez wasn’t completely necessary, the decision to sit Belt was questionable (the fact that Belt hasn’t taken fly balls in the outfield is inexcusable, really), and of course, there are folks who believe that Cain should’ve come out to begin the ninth.
Today Bochy explained that he would’ve preferred to double-switch Belt into the game on Saturday, only the aforementioned tightness in Posey’s legs kept him from doing so. Regardless, after a rough start to his season that coincided with a nasty stomach ailment, Belt has been one of the team’s top hitters all season — behind only Posey, Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro in OPS, OPS+, wRC+ and total bases. He’s also one of the team’s best fielders.
In 2011, Belt actually played more innings in the outfield (241.2 – 231 in left, 10.2 in right) than at first base (203). However, while his range and arm were plenty good enough to play left field — a position manned in recent years by such defensive luminaries as Pat Burrell, Xavier Nady and 42-year-old Barry Bonds — he also made three errors in the outfield, which was enough to spook the Giants.
They mentioned giving Belt some time in left during Spring Training, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen. Now the Giants are talking about trying Belt in left field, but they didn’t want to start the experiment in the gigantic, perilous outfield at Coors Field. In the meantime, the Giants’ hitter with the second-highest OPS in the month of June spent the end of this disastrous month sitting in the dugout, probably all by himself. Bochy has said that Belt is the team’s first baseman, and he’s right — playing Belt in left should be the exception, not the rule. However, now that everyone knows Belt can handle left-handed pitching, there’s really no reason to sit him at all unless he’s hurt or slumping.
A crazy idea …
With Angel Pagan out for the rest of the season, give or take a couple weeks, the Giants will probably do their best to work Belt into the outfield rotation, especially since Juan Perez has stopped hitting. One thing the Giants will wait until at least next season to try (if ever), is see if Posey has what it takes at a position other than catcher or first base: third base. Why?
– Belt is one of the best defensive first basemen in the league. Posey’s defense at first is passable, but it certainly isn’t above average.
– Pablo Sandoval has missed 117 games over the last three seasons.
– Sandoval is under contract for one more year after this season. He’ll probably drop a bunch of weight this offseason before his last chance at a huge contract, but the Giants are probably looking forward to letting Sandoval head to the American League in 2015.
– Posey won’t catch forever. Several more years, probably/hopefully, but not forever.
For now, the Giants will mix and match (or “ham-and-egg” it, if you prefer). But as they look toward the future and which players they want to use to build around Posey, Belt could and should be the everyday first baseman. If they keep witholding plate appearances from the “Baby Giraffe,” or deal him to another team, they will be sorry.