Brandon Belt will go into the 2019 season as the starting first baseman, and he honestly has to answer some questions during it. He’s going into his age-31 season with two more after left on his contract for $17.2MM each.
He was extremely useful and seemed like the key cog in the lineup at times before the All Star break, and even placed second to Jesus Aguilar in the All Star Game’s Final Vote.
Then, as the story with Belt has sadly seemed to go, he got injured.
Just before the All Star Break, Belt hyperextended his knee sliding into second base at Safeco Field. He was out for about three weeks, then was shutdown in September after playing just 31 games in the second half of the season. He is expected to be recovered and ready to play in Spring Training games.
To add another later of misfortune to the situation, he missed two weeks in June when he had to have an appendectomy. If you haven’t seen his splits yet, let me do you a favor:
Pre-All Star Break: 81 G, 296 AB, .287/.383/.480, 13 HR, 42 RBI)
Post-All Star Break: 31 G, 103 AB, 155/.216/.223, 1 HR, 4 RBI)
You see it, I see it, Belt sees it. In the first half of the season he was just about as good as Matt Chapman in terms of OPS. Meanwhile in the second half of the season he barely hit better than Madison Bumgarner.
That level of inconsistency is unacceptable from your starting first baseman, but Belt was likely playing hurt during that ugly stretch after he initially injured his knee. Hopefully, a healthy Belt can get back to those numbers from before, because if the Giants have any hope of being competitive, they will certainly need his bat to provide some thump.
Evan Longoria’s debut season in a Giants uniform did not go as planned. He posted career-low numbers basically across the board over 125 games last year.
While his depleting power (16 HR, .169 ISO) isn’t ideal, it’s still roughly average for the league and stillarguably the best on the Giants. This coincides with his move to AT&T Park as well, although The Trop isn’t much of a hitter’s haven anyways.
He’s also posted similar ISO’s with 20-22 homers in 2014, 2015, and 2017. So while the power numbers are down when compared to his career, he’s largely been consistent recently.
What’s more concerning to me is his cratering ability to get on base. While never necessarily elite at drawing walks, his BB% plummeted to just 4.3%, again the worst of his career.
While I can’t wholly attribute the decline in on-base skills to this, he has been pitched around more often than he was with the Rays. At the same time, he is continuing his recent trend of swinging much more than he did earlier in his career yet is still making contact at a decent clip on pitches, even when they’re outside the zone.
Defensively, he’s also trended down in recent years, which can be alarming when you remember the Giants won’t have any place to move him to with Belt and Buster Posey around for the next few years as current and future options at first base. Oh well, that will be more of a problem for the 2021 Giants.
If he can walk just a little more in 2019, I believe he’ll have a bit of a bounceback season in 2019 at the plate. Thought it might just be a dead cat bounce at this point.
While it might be jumping the gun to list Sandoval with Belt and Longoria, consider this: he’s playing for league minimum, he played all over the diamond last year (including an inning at pitcher!), and he finally turned in his first positive season in terms of WAR since he first left the Giants in 2014.
Yes, he was still worth just 0.1 WAR over 92 games, but perhaps the returns are finally coming after a year and a half on the San Francisco bench.
Indeed, while his defense is officially below average, Sandoval’s bat has shown some value. Last year he hit .248/.310/.417, and the Giants certainly desire that level of power off the bench.
He’s still basically unusable against lefties, but can then spell Longoria at times against righties. At minimum, he’ll at least be insurance in the event that either of the starters’ injury problems return, and every time he hits a bomb we can thank the Red Sox for paying his salary.