San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt Should Hit Lead Off. Why Not?
By Jules Posner
The San Francisco Giants have had what many would consider a slow off-season. There has been so much focus on Farhan Zaidi’s moves or lack thereof, that many Giants fans are like, “Come on! What are you doing?!”
With so much focus on the moves Farhan Zaidi is and isn’t making, people are losing sight of the players the San Francisco Giants actually do have. Melissa Lockard of the Athletic wrote an excellent piece this weekend about Austin Slater’s versatility and his potential impact ($) on the 2019 San Francisco Giants.
Many fans have been critical of the Giants off season acquisitions based on the roster, overlooking the fact that their biggest acquisition this offseason was the man running show, Farhan Zaidi.
With Farhan Zaidi at the helm, the Giants are going to be run much differently than Giants fans are used to. They will experiment more with how they utilize pitchers, there will be multiple players playing multiple positions on a regular basis, and with all of that said, there hasn’t been much focus placed on the Giants line up. Zaidi is a baseball person known for an analytical and outside-the-box approach, so who’s to say the Giants wont be experimenting with their batting order as well. We are used to seeing players that fit certain archetypes be automatically slotted “where they ought to be” in the batting order, which, brings me to the point of this article: Brandon Belt should hit lead off.
Now, I know this sounds like a hot take meant to rile people up in order to get clicks (half true), but I swear that I have good reason for suggesting this.
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Brandon Belt has been probably one of the most frustrating San Francisco Giants since he made it to the big league team back in 2011. Belt has had somewhat of a bi-polar career as well. He’s been a postseason hero, and he’s also been a young prospect who never reached his full potential. He’s been a veteran presence poised to break out and carry his team and he’s had seasons cut short due to injury. For example, last season Brandon Belt was a simultaneous bright and dark spot for the 2018 Giants. Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs wrote an incredible piece following Brandon Belt’s hot start last season, illustrating how Belt has been among one of the league’s best and most underrated players. Then Belt’s appendix exploded and a subsequent knee injury put another end to another promising season.
Entering the 2019 season, Brandon Belt should once again be starting off with a good bill of health, but with so many holes on the Giants roster and their well documented offensive futility, the Giants are projected to struggle again. The Giants are expected to mix things up a lot this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brandon Belt lead off a fair amount of games this season.
Throughout his career Belt has earned a reputation as a disciplined, high on base hitter with a good idea of the strike zone. Belt has hit lead off a few times before and has gone 0-5 in his career. This is a very small sample size, so I went ahead and sorted through all of Belt’s at bats where he led off an inning and the numbers tell a very interesting story.
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In his career Brandon Belt slashes .286/.360/.467 in 685 career at bats where he has led off an inning. This is roughly 100 more at bats than the typical every day player would get in one season. Belt has also hit 25 home runs to lead off an inning in his career as well. Put all of that together and you have a pretty formidable lead off hitter. For comparison, another unconventional lead off hitter slashed .266/.347/.436 in 541 at bats with 22 home runs in 2018. That lead off hitter is George Springer of the Houston Astros.
Throughout his career Belt has been a middle of the order hitter putting up his best offensive numbers hitting third where he has slashes .275/.359/.474 and sixth where he has slashes .292/.375/.469. But a move to the lead off spot, might help spark the Giants offense.
Brandon Belt in the lead off spot would offer you two things: 1) He would see a lot of pitches and his high OBP would help the Giants start games with runners on base and 2) He is still a legitimate power threat. Having Brandon Belt hit lead off may be unconventional, but he can put immediate pressure on a starting pitcher with his ability to grind out at bats and hit for power.
There are a lot of counter arguments to this idea. One being that Brandon Belt’s bat is more valuble in the middle of the order. Which at times, he probably is. I’m not saying Belt should hit lead off every game, but having him platoon as a lead off hitter could help spark the offense.
The Giants are entering another season without a clear cut lead off option, so I don’t see the difference between having Brandon Belt lead off and potentially batted in, or having Brandon Belt go to the plate with 1 or 2 outs and nobody on while hitting second or third. The Giants need to find ways to create more runs and this could be a potential way to generate scoring.
So, if you’re sitting there saying, “Hey. If Brandon Belt is hitting lead off, who is going to knock HIM in?” And the answer to that question is clear: Breyvic Valera.