SF Giants: Brandon Belt’s Interesting Start to the Season
By Jeff Young
By a lot of measures, SF Giants first baseman Brandon Belt is off to a strong start to the season. But what can fans read into it?
It may be difficult to see at times as Belt has been somewhat inconsistent on a game-to-game basis. With that being said, the longtime Giants first baseman is excelling in a lot of areas at the plate.
SF Giants: What Brandon Belt is doing well
For starters, Belt has slashed .232/.358/.505 (143 OPS+) with 17 runs, 21 RBI, and eight home runs in 120 plate appearances. We are nearly one-quarter of the way through the season and he leads the team in RBI, he is tied for the team lead in home runs, and he is second on the team in runs scored.
In addition to this, a dig beneath the hood reveals some encouraging traits as well. In terms of Statcast numbers, Belt has registered a 91.3 MPH average exit velocity, a 20-degree average launch angle, and a 21 percent barrel rate. All of these marks are improvements from his 2020 campaign in which he garnered some MVP attention. On top of this, his .273 ISO, which is a measure of power, is comparable to the .282 mark he set in 2020. These are all very healthy numbers.
The left-handed bat has demonstrated his usual penchant for plate discipline as he has walked in 15.8 percent of his plate appearances. Not surprisingly, he is leading the team by seeing more than 4.4 pitches per plate appearance. Belt has always worked counts and grinded out at-bats. Baseball could really speed up its pace by just starting every Belt plate appearance with a 3-2 count.
Furthermore, his 143 OPS+ is tied for 12th in the National League among qualified hitters. Compared to other first baseman around the league, only Jesús Aguilar (163 OPS+) and Max Muncy (156 OPS+) have a higher OPS+ than Belt. The fact is, he is performing at an All-Star level, but that does not mean there aren’t causes for concern as well.
SF Giants: Where Brandon Belt is struggling
On the other hand, Belt’s strikeout rate sits at an unsightly 31.7 percent in 2021. Belt’s swing has always had some swing-and-miss in it, and he has made up for that with good on-base ability and gap-to-gap power. Plus, today’s game is leaning more toward the three true outcomes: striking out, walking, or hitting a home run. Still, it’s uncharacteristic of the Giants longtime first baseman.
From 2019-2020, Belt’s strikeout rate sat at a solid 20.5 percent, which is perfectly acceptable for a player with his offensive upside. In 2021, that number has ballooned. Typically, strikeout and walk rates normalize after 50-60 plate appearances, but Belt is sitting at 120 plate appearances. He can improve upon his rate, but it is going to be difficult this late into the season.
So, why is Brandon Belt striking out so much? The answer is due in part to how he is performing against fastballs. On the year, the 33-year-old has posted a rough .190 batting average with 22 of his 38 strikeouts against fastballs.
Last year, he did damage against fastballs to the tune of a .330 batting average with only 16 strikeouts. So, Belt is having trouble catching up to heat this season. If he does not fix that soon, he should only expect to see more fastballs as the season goes on.
He just turned 33, so is it age catching up to him and his bat slowing down? That could be, but all the Statcast numbers suggest that he is hitting ball harder than ever before. It bears mentioning that Belt did not get a lot of at-bats in spring training due to injuries and illnesses. His swing has a lot of moving parts, meaning that timing could still be an issue. Regardless, whether you’re an optimist or a cynic there’s something for you to hold onto from Belt’s start to the 2021 sesaon.
Whatever the issue is, the SF Giants will need Brandon Belt to return to its 2020 form. In some ways, it has never left. But, in terms of making contact, he is still struggling. Once that strikeout rate comes down, his line should see improvement from an already solid base.