Brandon Belt needs to rebuild his value, soon, for his benefits and for the SF Giants’.
For now, SF Giants first baseman Brandon Belt isn’t really holding up anything at all.
During regular times, we’d be holding out hope for him to show some improvement after a couple of years of decline, but aside from somebody we probably don’t know personally paying him a very large amount of money to play baseball, it doesn’t affect us much.
The Giants aren’t expected to do much of anything in 2020. It’s a rebuilding year. The Dodgers are going to run away with the division (ick). Buster Posey‘s going to spend time at catcher. Joey Bart would have been putting on the final polishing touches in Triple-A Sacramento.
Of course, these aren’t regular times.
But let’s go back a bit.
When Belt signed his extension before the 2016 season, it looked pretty great for the Giants. They locked up their 28-year-old first baseman through 2021 for a mere $79 million.
Belt was coming off a 3.9 WAR (per Fangraphs) year in which he hit .280 with a .356 on-base percentage and .478 slugging average. Sure, a ballplayer of that age is probably around his peak, but the Giants were locking him in for the long haul for less than the going rate for a 2 WAR player. A sweet deal, indeed, and it looked like it for the first year of the pact.
Fast-forward a couple of years. Belt went from a 4 WAR player to a 2 WAR player to barely above replacement by 2019.
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He hit .234 / .339 / .403 last season with one of the lowest rates of power (.169 ISO) of his career. That put him right about average as a hitter, though you can look to the 13.5 percent walk rate to feel a little better about things.
But he’s not a particularly grand base runner when he does arrive at first.
Belt might be a little bit above average (he ranked eighth among first baseman in MLB Savant’s infield measurement, Infield Outs Above Average) but that’s not making everyone feel especially charitable, either.
Truly, you can see whatever you’d like to when looking at Belt’s stats. And most do. Belt told the SF Chronicle he didn’t really care (which probably only served to annoy the ones who wished they’d see some sign that he cares about anything all the more).
"“So wherever you got that image of me in your head, I don’t know. Just because I don’t meet somebody’s expectations doesn’t mean I’m a bad player. It just means I do it in a different way. If they don’t like me because of that, I don’t really care, to be honest with you. The only thing I care about is that the organization likes what I’m doing and my teammates like what I’m doing.”"
The projection systems seem to take 2019 as an outlier. Fangraphs’ Depth Chart puts him at .246 / .351 / .426 with 17 home runs, good for a 1.7 WAR. ZiPS is a little lower at .238 / .345 / .411, but that’s still good for 1.4 WAR.
Belt is owed $17.2 million (prorated to the length of the season, if there is a season) and $17.2 million next. That means there’s no real value proposition in trading for him if you’re another team. But maybe you do it anyway if you’re in the playoff hunt. Giants fans can hope.
And they probably do because it all comes back to that initial statement: this isn’t a regular year. If there is baseball — and right now that question seems like a Rorschach test that depends on just how bad you want it back — it’s probably going to look a lot different.
For one, it’s hard to picture there being minor league baseball if we can barely have major league baseball. (Which brings up the question of how you keep a load of players fresh and ready to go when injuries inevitably occur, but we’ll leave that one for another day.)
In any case the Giants almost certainly won’t be stashing Bart in Sacramento because there won’t be a team to stash him on.
Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi recently spoke with KNBR and noted that with Buster Posey’s resurgence, he expected Bart to get playing time at first base (via NBC Sports Bay Area). He was just trying to build the best 13-man position player roster that he could.
Could that come as soon as this year? And if it does, what’s to become of Belt?
Down the line, we know the Giants are going to need somewhere to stick Posey, too, to keep him healthiest.
For now, Belt’s not holding up anything up. But come sometime soon, he might be.