Brandon Belt Gets His Opportunity

The San Francisco Giants have finally committed to Brandon Belt. Now the team has to figure out how to best use him.

After finishing 29th in runs last season, the Giants were in desperate need of some offense. While Belt’s transition to the majors last year wasn’t all that impressive, his .343/.457/.596 line in the minor leagues proved that he’s more than capable of being an above-average hitter for the Giants. Despite Belt’s eye-popping numbers, manager Bruce Bochy said that the 23-year-old will platoon with Brett Pill to open the season—and move Aubrey Huff to the outfield. Despite the fact that Belt hit .348/.412/.522 against lefties last season — albeit, in just 51 plate appearances — the Giants think he needs more work against same-handed pitchers. Belt, however, did show a platoon split in 2010. Pill, on the other hand, has generally been better versus lefties during his time in the minors. When you consider those stats — and the fact that Belt is on the better half of the platoon — the strategy could actually work in the Giants’ favor.

Unfortunately, this strategy also prevents Belt from facing lefties. If the Giants want him to improve against left-handed pitching, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to hide him from lefties. And for Belt to fulfill his status as a prospect, he can’t be a part-time player. With Buster Posey also slated to get some time at first base, that could cut into Belt’s usage. Belt could play left field at times, but Huff is currently slated to play there.

While it’s imperative that Posey gets as many at bats as possible, Belt has a higher ZiPS projection than both Huff and Pill.

Player AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Brandon Belt 0.268 0.365 0.452 0.356
Aubrey Huff 0.261 0.329 0.422 0.325
Brett Pill 0.267 0.298 0.412 0.306

According to ZiPS, Belt should probably replace Huff in left field when Posey starts at first. And based on the poor projection for Pill, Belt should probably be the full-time first baseman, too.

By platooning Belt and Pill, the Giants have decided to make Huff the full-time left fielder. The Giants attempted this last season and got disastrous results. In 86 innings as a right fielder, Huff posted a -9.1 UZR — good for a -125.0 UZR/150, which is almost too improbable to write. Now, no one should draw firm conclusions from a sample size of less than 100 innings in the field, but every bit of evidence suggests he’s been a comically bad outfielder.

The Giants did try Belt in the outfield last season, and while he wasn’t great, he was an improvement from Huff. (Belt had a pulse and generally ran in the same direction as the ball.) From a defensive standpoint, San Francisco is going to give up a lot of runs in left if Huff plays there the entire season — but of course that’s not likely since no manager could stand to watch Huff play the outfield for extended periods and convince himself that this it was a sound plan.

If the Giants want to utilize their best hitters while also employing the best possible defense, they might want to consider playing Huff at first and Belt in left a little more often. But it’s not that easy. Both players are more susceptible to injury in the outfield, and keeping Belt healthy is far more important than keeping Huff healthy. As awful as it sounds, if you’re going to risk the health of one of the two, it should probably be the end-of-his-career veteran in the last year of his contract.

The Giants made the right decision by promoting Belt to the majors, but how he’s used isn’t quite as straightforward. While a Belt-Pill platoon might work, it also prevents Belt from improving against left-handed pitchers. At the same time, playing Belt at first means that the Giants will have to suffer through the Aubrey Huff experience in left field. While the optimal alignment for the Giants might involve Belt playing the outfield, it’s unclear if the team is willing to put him out there, or what the constant position switching might do to his development.

Brandon Belt certainly deserves to be in the majors. How the Giants choose to use him will play a big role in whether they make the playoffs.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


48 Responses to “Brandon Belt Gets His Opportunity”

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  1. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I love Brandon Belt and I’m excited to see him make the Opening Day Roster, but since when does a great batting line in the PCL prove anything at all about major league performance?

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    • steex says:

      This was my thought as well – his pedigree combined with his minor league numbers suggest he’s capable of being an above-average hitter for the Giants, but they don’t prove anything other than he’s been great in the minors.

      He would be far from the first player not to make the leap well, and he’s saddled with the expectation of maintaining the same numbers while switching from the PCL to AT&T Park.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        The lion’s share of his minor league numbers were posted in the Cal League and PCL, both pretty extreme hitter friendly environments.

        Here’s what I look at with Belt: As overmatched as he was for much of last year, he still hit 9 HR’s which projects to the high 20’s in a full season’s worth of PA’s. 8 of those HR’s came in the last couple of months and his bat did look a lot better in September.

        His history does suggest that he is capable of hitting for a higher BA than .200 + change, so as he gets more comfortable and starts to close some of those holes in his swing, he’s likely to produce a solid OBP with 25-35 HR’s. The risk is that he doesn’t close the holes in his swing and MLB pitchers exploit them even more.

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      • Socrates says:

        Hold on! He has an career minor league OPS over 1.050. He has a minor league BB rate of 18% (or so). The longest time he spent anywhere was at 22 years old in A+ where he posted a 1.121 OPS. He is considered a + defensive 1B (although there are yet metrics to back that up). He was essentially the top hitter in every stop he made so despite playing in the PCL and Cal leagues he exceeded his peers.

        At 24 he made his major league debut and people are disappointed because he was ONLY league average.

        I think that at 25 (he is actually still just 24), there is really no rational argument that he should be starting over a player who had a .294 wOBA and an 84 wRC+.

        Nobody is arguing that he should be up there with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in terms of hitting prospects or that he can develop into a Pujols type power/speed 1B. But for comparison sake he BB more than twice as much as Lawrie and K at a slightly lower rate than Brett Lawrie in the SAME LEAGUE (PCL).

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        At no time did Brandon Belt “tear it up” last year. I don’t know what stat you are looking at but he finished with a .225 BA and a .306 OBP. Yes, he did hit for some power in that. Maybe league average is a lot poorer than I think it is, but those do not look like league average numbers to me.

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      • Pitnick says:

        Dr. B, Belt’s wRC+ last year in the majors was 98. So, yeah. Offense was down enough last year that after accounting for park factors, Belt’s .225/.306/.412 line is just about league average.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Most of that offensive value is in the SLG% and 8 of his 9 HR’s occured in the last 2 months of the season. He was terrible before that. I don’t think there is any MLB manager or team that would have kept him in the lineup any longer than the Giants did. Accusations that he was mishandled are really way off base.

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      • Socrates says:

        Wow. You mean Belt had to adjust and then hit 8 HRs in his last two months!!! Horrible. (SARCASM!!!).

        DrBGiantsfan – Belt is better than Huff. In all likelihood, by a large margin (multiple wins over the course of a season). Your arguments are weak. Just admit there is NOTHING that suggests that Belt shouldn’t be starting.

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    • abreutime says:

      For as “bad” as Belt was in 2011, he was still a league average hitter.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Well, he did do some good things. He may have been a league average hitter by some measures, but by others he was quite a bit below average. Just watching him play, he looked completely lost for long stretches with some atrocious AB’s.

        He still has a lot of trouble with hard stuff inside and has to adjust by pulling his arms in. That produces some funny looking swings, but I saw him hit a HR late last year with one of those funny looking swings and he hit a double in the first game of the Bay Bridge Series with a funny looking swing. He’s strong enough to hit the ball a long ways with funny looking swings.

        Still, the risk is that he won’t be able to close that hole and MLB pitchers will wear him out with hard stuff inside.

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      • Socrates says:

        If he was “lost for long stretches” then he must have been tearing it up for long stretches as well to come out as a league average hitter. Also as with his first go in MLB, who wouldnt expect him to struggle a bit at times.

        The truth is that in his debut he was jerked around and mismanaged (not a surprise considering who we are dealing with). The Giants have a GAPPING hole in production that 1B, that prevents them from being a better team. They can either repeat what they did last year (jerk around Belt and play a .650 OPS) OR go with the better player and try to win games. It really doesnt seem like a complicated choice to me, but I know that Bochy is befuddled by it.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        I don’t see anything in a .225 BA with a .306 OBP that would suggest he “tore it up” for at any time last year.

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      • Socrates says:

        DrBGiantsfan – You understand how averages work right? If he was “atrocious” for some stretches then he also equally good for some stretches. That is how you get to league average.

        Now alternatively, Huff was atrocious for some stretches and NOT equally good for some stretches. And that is why he was worth about 84% of league average. Of course that is just with the bat. When factoring in his defense he loses even more ground to Belt.

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      • kellin says:

        Regardless of his actual production (which as it was pointed out was average). Aubrey Huff was the worst everyday 1B in MLB last year, statistically the WORST, and the Giants were fortunate enough to have one of the top 1B prospects in the minors. That prospect was almost universally recognized (outside of the Giants of course) as being ML ready. And he sat, was reassigned or benched every third game. Mismanaged is the only way to describe Belt’s 2011 unless you just write it off as a total lost year

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    • Nate says:

      Mark Trumbo. (In terms of power, at least)

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    • Indeed, I guys named Rizzo and Sands come to mind. PCL performance seems to inicate you chew tobacco properly.

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  2. Ben says:

    It’s progress. If Belt hits and Huff doesn’t, someone as smart as Bruce Bochy will adjust playing time as the season goes on

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  3. D4P says:

    The best option for the Giants:

    1B: Belt
    LF: Melky
    CF: Pagan
    RF: Schierholtz
    Bench: Huff

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    • Big Jgke says:

      Everything seems so simple. This problem seems similar to the Reds and Red Sox closer/end of rotation issues in that the management of theses teams seemingly refuses to see what the majority of fans see as the ideal allocation of talent in those slots. Either they know something we don’t (probable), or locker room issues are at play in these decisions (also probable), or the brain trust at these teams isn’t very clever. The proof, as in most things, will be in the pudding.

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      • kellin says:

        Or one of those players is making $10mm per year and it’s really hard for a GM to admit to a bunch of very successful businessmen that he made an incredibly poor investment.

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  4. Angelsjunky says:

    I like Belt and think he’s going to be a very good hitter, but for some reason I can’t get the words “Jeremy” and “Hermida” out of my head. Every few years there seems to be a Sabermetric Darling that ends up falling on his face; I’m hoping it isn’t Belt.

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  5. west says:

    And Bochy will still get credit for being a good manager…… give a chimp that pitching staff and it’ll do just as well.

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  6. Mark says:

    I wonder how long until they send Belt down this year? 17 games again? 25 this year maybe?

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  7. geo says:

    Oh boy, more of Aubrey Huff in the outfield! I predict this will last about as long as it did last year.

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  8. pbjsandwich says:

    This guy is gonna be Votto-lite with better D

    Stoked.

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    • geo says:

      Funny how many guys that’s said of now…Hosmer, Belt, Freeman, Rizzo. They can’t and won’t all be Joey Votto.

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  9. tz says:

    This will probably play out like Posey taking over for Molina, except that Belt won’t have to take over all of Huff’s playing time

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  10. Mark says:

    (Warning! Anecdotal evidence alert!)

    Nobody is going to mistake Aubrey Huff for Brett Gardner in left field, but from what I saw of his outfield escapades last year, Huff is much better in left than he is in right. He was a debacle in right last year, but I think he could be passable enough in left.

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    • The issue with Huff in any OF position is how or if it exacerbates his chronic lower back problem. I, for one, can’t see him going beyond the AS break if he is consistently in LF. It’ll do as it did last year, and effect his bat eventually.

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      • Bhaakon says:

        It seems weird to me that jogging down routine fly balls in the outfield exacerbates Huff’s back, but stretching for errant throws and diving for line drives at 1B doesn’t (let alone running and sliding on the base paths, or swinging a bat, for that matter). Of all the thing that might be done on a baseball field to injure one’s back, playing left field seems like it would be at or near the bottom of the list

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  11. Shane H says:

    I really like Belt as an everyday player. I think by 2013 Panda, Belt and Posey will be one of the best 3, 4, 5 combos in the National league. I think you stick him in their everyday, maybe sit him against Kershaw, Hamels or Lee but play him day in and day out otherwise and see what happens over the course of 140 games. Let him play first base 110 games and the outfield 30-40 times. Screw PiLL or Huff. Let Posey play the other 50 games at first to keep him healthy.

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  12. bill says:

    I’d be interested in a fangraphs study of platoon splits and their relation to number of at-bats. My money is on more samesided at-bats not helping much, if at all, after about age 24 or so.

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  13. Hindsight says:

    It might be worth noting that ZiPS has the highest OBP projection for Belt and lowest for Pill. Marcel has no confidence in Belt’s major league walk rate and foresees Pill on the bag more often. The point is: there is enough concern over Belt’s strikeout rate to keep him in platoon with a hitter like Pill, who strikes out much less at the price of rarely walking.

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  14. fergie348 says:

    Belt will have to prove to ML pitchers that he can cover the inside fastball. They wore him out with it in his limited audition last year and he never looked comfortable. Soft away, hard in. He squared up lots of inside pitches in the spring, but he’ll have to do it in the show for people to be convinced.

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  15. How about the +1 DRS in 500 outfield innings in 2010? Is that not a bit of evidence? I’m not trying to say he’s a good defensive outfielder, or even an average one, but I think he’ll be passable. But it’s pretty misleading to cite an 86-inning sample of UZR data, throw in a caveat, and call it a day.

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  16. Oops, weird formatting. Here…

    “Now, no one should draw firm conclusions from a sample size of less than 100 innings in the field, but every bit of evidence suggests he’s been a comically bad outfielder.”

    How about the +1 DRS in 500 outfield innings in 2010? Is that not a bit of evidence? I’m not trying to say he’s a good defensive outfielder, or even an average one, but I think he’ll be passable. But it’s pretty misleading to cite an 86-inning sample of UZR data, throw in a caveat, and call it a day.

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  17. Nate says:

    There’s also a very good chance that Huff will depart after the 6th inning in every game that the Giants are leading in with Schierholtz or Blanco coming into the OF for defense, the same game plan as they did with Burrell in 2010.

    Of course that assumes that Huff will hit as at least a league average hitter this year. If he hits like last year, he won’t make it to end of May as a starter.

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  18. Walter Guest says:

    There’s something going on between Bochy and Belt. I sense, from Bochy’s actions and language, a deep down personal antipathy towards Belt. There was the repeated benching and demotion last year in favor of an inferior player. In spring training this year there was always the threat of being cut hanging over Belt’s head, even though he was doing great. The Giants even invented a fictitious ‘hole in his swing’ to cover their a$$ with irate fandom when they cut him. They belittled his accomplishments by saying he was doing that against minor league pitching, as if the rest of the team was hitting off major league pitchers. Finally, when belt rose to the challenge by hitting near 500 over the last ten games, Bochy had to reluctantly include him on the roster. Man, it looked like he hated having to do that. He was even forced to admit, upon questioning, that belt may have been hitting some good pitching.

    So Bochy was pretty much forced to include Belt on the roster and start him at first base. But Bochy isn’t done yet. He may have to play him, but he doesn’t have to play him full time. He has announced that Belt will be platooned!

    Now Bochy is an intelligent man and he keeps up with statistics. I’m sure he knows that Belt kills lefthanders but has trouble against righties. Last season against lefties belt hit:

    348/412/522/934

    So if he hits lefties far better than righties, why platoon him?

    Like I said, there’s something going on there. Belt has done something to really piss Bochy off. My first thought was ‘maybe he’s been messing with Bochy’s daughter.’ Then I wondered what a daughter of Bochy might look like and I imagined Bochy in a dress.

    Wow! Imagine that!

    Imagine that!

    No that can’t be it.

    It must be something else.

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  19. ElJimador says:

    On paper Belt should be the everyday 1B. But the game isn’t played on paper and anybody who followed the Giants last year could see that Belt’s struggles early on messed with his confidence and was creating a downward spiral. Was the right thing to do to leave him out there anyway until he figured it out? Maybe. But that really depends on that player’s makeup, doesn’t it? My sense is that Bochy knows Belt’s talent and wants him to be the everyday 1B, but until he establishes himself he’s going to be careful to put him in the best situations to succeed. If that means a platoon to start with or some juggling to the OF or bench when Posey needs a break from catching, I’m fine with that. It will all sort itself out in the end.

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  20. I am a McCovey Cove Giants kayak fan and I am pulling for Brandon Belt!!!!! I feel he does not have enough MLB AB’s (less than 200) to know what you are getting, but I love what he has done in the minors and in Spring training. I think he has lots of potential and I am impressed with 9 HR’s he hit last year in limited play with the Giants. I will admit I am biased as I LOVE lefties or switch-hitters as they are the ones that hit Splash HR’s!!! I almost had Belt’s first Splash that he hit the next to last game of the season, but another regular Kevin Keene came up with it. What I can say is I will analyze where Belt hits his HR’s this year on on-line scattergrams that will show me where he likes to hit his HR’s. For instance, does he hit them more down the right field line or maybe to right center? Once I have that spot, that is where I will position my kayak in the Cove when Belt is at bat. It turns out that I can use statistics on each pitcher and on each hitter along with air temperature and wind forecasts to figure out the likelihood and probable location of McCovey Cove HR’s. Those statistics and forecasts have helped put me in the lucky spot for 12 AT&T homers so far. So thank god for statistics! And good luck Mr. Brandon BELT!!!!

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  21. One thing I am surprised is that everyone say Belt hits lefties better than righties. If that is the case, that is unusual. At least for power and I also believe for batting average the average lefty hitter hits better off righty pitchers. For instance, it you pull Barry Bonds who could hit both lefties and righties well for power using performance enhancers, roughly 90% of the non-Barry Bonds McCovey Cove HR’s are hit off righty pitchers. So I am surprised that Belt would have a problem with righty pitchers.

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  22. Name says:

    “Belt get’s his opportunity”

    yea… it’s only april 11th, and he’s already getting benched for the second game after just 10 AB’s. my fantasy team really hates bruce bochy.

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  23. Bruce (SF) says:

    Well you know, Brandon Belt got his shot. He got to start and proved he was a .100 hitter. Huffy looked good in warmups, was hittin’ great during BP so he’ll get the nod today, probably go with Pilly tomorrow. Just gotta get these veteran bats hot.

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