San Francisco Giants: What of Brandon Belt’s hot start?

Brandon Belt is putting up big numbers so far in 2016, leading the San Francisco Giants in several major offensive categories.
Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Belt is putting up big numbers so far in 2016, leading the San Francisco Giants in several major offensive categories. Kenny Karst-USA TODAY Sports /

Last week we examined the emergence of Joe Panik, and whether he is emerging as the San Francisco Giants’ second-best position player, behind Buster Posey and ahead of Hunter Pence.

But what about Brandon Belt

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The Giants first baseman has been quite enigmatic since joining the big club in 2011. He teases big-time power, and a high walk-rate boosts his admirable OBP/SLG/OPS numbers. But he has also been wildly inconsistent, following stretches of strong production with disappearing acts.

As a rookie in 2011, he slammed nine home runs in just 187 at-bats, suggesting the Giants might have a legitimate power hitter for the future. That never materialized, though he has excelled at the plate in other, less obvious ways.

As mentioned above, Belt walks a lot, which helps explain his career .356 on-base percentage, despite just batting .274. He has nice gap power, evidenced by his knack for hitting doubles and triples (a combined 43 in 2013 and 38 in 2015). And he has shown decent speed for a first baseman, though his 0-for-3 on steal attempts this season counters that notion.

Overall, he has been a decent player, worthy of starting in the Major Leagues—especially when considering his masterful defense. But in 2016, he has thus far appears to have elevated his offensive profile.

Through 29 games, Belt has an eye-popping .993 OPS, which ranks 10th in the National League and first on the Giants. His .323 average and 20 RBI both rank 11th and his 22 walks are the third-most in the league.

Those are all-star numbers, and if he maintains this pace—or something close to it—he should be playing in the Midsummer Classic. But this early-season production should be viewed with cautious optimism.

Check out his numbers from May 2015: .339 average, 7 home runs, 17 RBI, 1.075 OPS, as well as 13 doubles. And these from August 2015: .312 average, 7 home runs, 18 RBI, .955 OPS. And in the other four months combined: .245 average, 4 home runs, 33 RBI, 691 OPS.

Belt was all-world for two months, but more of a Quadruple-A player for the rest of the season (save for July, when he was decent but not great). Looking back at other years, this has largely been his M.O.

So, April 2016 could prove to be one of those big months in which he accumulated a disproportionate amount of his stats…

…But there is reason for optimism. Belt has been even better through the first week of May than he was in April, getting on base 10 times in 17 plate appearances, while collecting his second triple, fourth home run and 3 RBI.

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These four May games are obviously a tiny sample size, but so far, they’re absent of any signs that Belt is slowing down. And if he keeps this up much longer, Panik and Pence won’t be the only ones in consideration as the Giants’ second-best position player.