The SF Giants veteran core has been on a tear recently, and Brandon Belt has been leading that change. But is it sustainable?
Veteran first baseman Brandon Belt has strung together an impressive season for the SF Giants, and the underlying numbers seem to suggest that it is not a fluke. What could that mean for the franchise moving forward?
The veteran core of Belt, Evan Longoria, and Brandon Crawford have had middling performances at the plate in recent seasons, but each one is experiencing a career resurgence that has helped turn around the 2020 season.
It is fair to say that Belt has been the most polarizing player on the SF Giants roster of the last decade. Don’t take my word for it. Type in the phrase #BeltWars into any social media search bar, and you will see how widespread the debates are.
Belt’s offensive value is heavily tied to his ability to get on base. Some of the criticisms of him revolve around being too patient or injury-prone, watching too many strikes go by, or not hitting for enough power.
I have long believed that using counting stats such as home runs or RBI as an indictment of Belt’s ability is a short-sighted, mischaracterization of his skill set.
The criticisms of Belt’s performance had become more thunderous as he generated an unusually low .748 OPS in 1,072 plate appearances from 2018-2019. This was compounded by the fact that the rest of the lineup struggled along with Belt.
Despite the SF Giants offensive woes during those seasons, Belt had become the scapegoat for the team’s struggles. Let’s make this point clear; Belt had struggled, but those struggles weren’t an exception on the team.
The 32-year-old has posted a 121 OPS+ throughout his ten-year career, so he has strung together a nice career up until this point.
Even though he had looked to be on the downside of his career, Belt’s 2020 performance has been an encouraging sign that he may have plenty left in the tank.
The underlying numbers on SF Giants Brandon Belt
The left-handed bat has slashed a .333/.420/.621 line (183 OPS+) while posting a stout 13 percent walk rate and being worth 0.9 WAR in 100 plate appearances. His 26 percent strikeout rate is a little high, but with a 183 OPS+, any elevated strikeout rate is tolerable really.
It is not just his numbers, but how he has looked at the plate and how the ball has jumped off of his bat:
As good as these numbers look on the surface, the underlying numbers point to more sustainable production than what we have seen from Belt in the past.
For example, the 32-year-old has generated a 62.3 percent hard-hit rate. Not only is this the highest mark of his career by far, but it is the second-highest hard-hit rate in baseball behind only Fernando Tatis Jr. (63.8 percent) with a minimum of 100 plate appearances.
Not surprisingly, the high hard-hit rate has resulted in an average exit velocity of 92 MPH from the 6-foot-3 first baseman. On top of this, his barrel rate sits at 19.7 percent and he is slashing a line drive in 33.3 percent of his batted ball events. These are not just career highs for the veteran first baseman, but these numbers suggest we are seeing a new hitter at the plate.
To paraphrase, Belt is hitting the ball harder, more consistently, and at a launch angle with a high probability of producing extra-base hits.
The University of Texas product has been known as a streaky hitter. He has proven that yet again this season as he began the year with a paltry .673 OPS through his first 52 plate appearances. The real question is, how long can he keep this up?
It should be mentioned that Belt will not hit at this rate for the remainder of the season. As good as he has looked at the plate, he will come down at some point. I would love to be wrong about this, but baseball is a tricky sport. It’s so often a game of streaks. Belt is one of the streakiest.
That said, the underlying numbers suggest that Belt is producing like a very good hitter. Even if his numbers regress a bit, he is showing his legitimate offensive value.
The SF Giants fanbase has been waiting for this type of production from Belt. In his age-32 season, the fanbase’s patience may begin to pay dividends. Belt is starting to look like the offensive force many had expected when he was a prospect.
They say it is always better late than never, and I think that saying applies to the long-time SF Giants first baseman. If it holds as it should, Belt’s resurgent bat would be a welcomed sight.