The San Francisco Giants may start their season with a new batter at the top of the lineup. Let’s discuss how this experiment has fared so far.
San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy has recently discussed the possibility of tinkering with multiple lineups to begin the season and alluded to the possibility of penciling in Brandon Belt to hit second. According to Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area, “Span/Belt/Pence/Posey/Crawford one-through-five is one option.”
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As the regular season approached its conclusion, Bochy began rolling out Belt as the team’s No. 2 batter. Heading into his first start as Denard Span’s protection on September 24th, Belt had an on-base percentage of .389, which at the time ranked 11th among qualified hitters and was 30 points ahead of Buster Posey’s total of .359, the second-highest total for the Giants.
Belt caught fire batting second during his last seven starts of the regular season. In a limited sample size, Belt hit .370/.500/.667 with five extra-base hits, one home run, and a wRC+ of 214. The Baby Giraffe struck the ball hard in this seven-game stretch as well, generating an LD% of 31.8% and Hard% of 45.5%, both of which top his season total of 27.8% and 36.4%, respectively. San Francisco’s offense thrived in this seven-game stretch as well, scoring 47 runs and winning six of seven in this stretch.
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Bochy continued to roll with Belt as the team’s No. 2 hitter during the Wild Card game against the New York Mets and NLDS against the Chicago Cubs, but the strategy wasn’t as effective. In 22 plate appearances, Belt hit .118/.227/.118 with three walks and no extra-base hits.
Of course, in both the regular season and the postseason, correlation does not imply causation. Belt’s successes and shortcomings did not occur because he hit in the No. 2 spot, but it is still interesting to analyze his performance based on lineup position.
Should Bochy decide to hit Belt second, he’ll have to figure out where to put Joe Panik, who has had 72% of his 1245 career plate appearances come in the second spot. Panik has a slash line of .288/.346/.414 with a wRC+ of 113 when hitting second compared to a slash line of .258/.337/.371 with a wRC+ of 97 when batting in any other spot in the lineup.
Various projection systems have Belt posting the highest or second-highest on-base percentage for the San Francisco Giants, and after a career-year, Bochy should look to prioritize consistently getting Belt three or four plate appearances per game.