Brandon Belt is known for his freak injuries, and his inability to be a clutch hitter. However, is the San Francisco Giants first basemen really not a clutch hitter? Is that truth or perception?
Brandon Belt has posted a .811 OPS and 124 OPS+ throughout his San Francisco Giants career. Both of these numbers suggest he is a well above-average hitter. However, a common criticism of his game is that he is not a clutch hitter. The Sabermetric community has long debated clutch hitting. They question whether it even exists.
However, instead of going down that rabbit hole, let’s evaluate how Belt does in a few commonly-perceived clutch situations. More specifically, whether his OPS fluctuates depending on the situation.
Certain stats such as home runs, hits, or RBI are counting stats. By their nature, these stats do not show the type of hitter Belt is in clutch situations. Counting stats only show the stats Belt has accumulated.
OPS does not necessarily show Belt’s success rate in clutch situations, but rather, it shows the type of hitter he is in these situations.
There are other stats to focus on as well, but OPS works for simplicity. OPS captures a player’s on-base ability and extra-base power, and these are important skills that stats such as batting average by itself may overlook.
Ultimately, the idea is to identify if Belt’s OPS is better or worse depending on the results of the game. Fortunately, Baseball-Reference has already put these stats together, and referred to them as clutch stats:
He has a substantial sample in every category, so no one category is swimming in small sample territory. The stats do show that Belt is remarkably consistent in these situations.
When compared to his career .811 OPS, Belt’s worst figure is the .777 OPS when games are late and close. Since Belt is a middle-of-the-order hitter, it would be swell if he could be a better hitter in this situation. However, the drop-off compared to his benchmark OPS is only 34 basis points.
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The drop-off is not like when a switch-hitter bats from his weaker side. There is a OPS drop-off in late and close games, but he is not totally inept in these situations either.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Belt has posted a .856 OPS when his team is ahead. This is his highest OPS of the clutch situations provided.
Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are also better hitters when the team is ahead. What does this mean? It means that teams generally get more hits and drive in more runs when they are ahead. The fact that Belt is a better hitter when his team is ahead should not come as a surprise. At least compared to Crawford and Posey, Belt’s stat line seems on par.
It should be noted that Belt has a better OPS than Posey (.750) and Crawford (.656) in late and close games.
One final stat to look at is Belt’s OPS with runners in scoring position. With runners in scoring position, Belt has posted a .838 OPS throughout his career. This is higher than his .811 benchmark OPS.
Despite these stats, Belt still has the reputation of not being a clutch hitter. Even though seems to be an above-average hitter regardless of the situation.
Perhaps, the San Francisco Giants lineup needs a little more thump. Is that Belt’s fault? Not at all. If Belt could hit a few more homers and drive in a couple more runs, that would help some of the issues with the lineup.
The lack of home runs and RBI have more to do with his injuries, and less with how he produces in clutch situations. His injury history is a fair argument at this point. Every season begins with, “If Belt could stay healthy, he’d do this and that.”
As he now enters his 30’s, the injury issue will likely not improve. Most of his injuries have been freak injuries, so there is some reason for hope. However, he cannot be counted on for 150 games annually with the San Francisco Giants either.
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Ultimately, in regards to the perception that he is not a clutch, that does not seem to be the case at all. He is pretty much the same type of hitter regardless of the situation. At least, that is what Belt’s OPS is showing. OPS is not advanced analytics. It captures observations that take place on the field.
The stats suggest Belt is weirdly consistent. Whether clutch hitter is a thing or not, he is pretty much the same type of hitter regardless of the situation. The stats support this too. Perhaps, someday fan perception will see this as well.