Brandon Belt (ESPN: 15 percent owned; Yahoo!: 18 percent owned)
Were it not for another left fielder in the midst of PED issues, the chatter in the Bay might well be about Brandon Belt finally looking like the player many expected him to be this season. The expectations laid on the 24-year-old may have been too high given his age and lack of experience, but his performance in July (.186/.266/.214 with nary a home run) failed to reach the most realistic or even pessimistic projections. August, however, has been far kinder to the Giants lefty as he has hit .450/.500/.625 in 44 PAs.
Belt’s issues in July stemmed largely from a sudden inability to make contact with anything. He whiffed some 30 times, which helps explain how he could post a .480 OPS despite a 29 percent line drive rate. Contact rates aren’t subject to the same regression rule than BABIP is, but a hitter of Belt’s caliber was always more likely to come around than he was to challenge Adam Dunn for the strikeout crown. Even so, it’s good to see Belt starting to demonstrate the skills at that plate that have made him a prospect for whom high expectations would be set.
With Melky Cabrera sidelined until at least the playoffs begin, the Giants are in the same boat as Belt owners and admirers: enjoying the current production and strenuously hoping that his production remains near this level. His .586 BABIP so far this month looks unsustainable, but is there anything else in his profile that makes him a deceptively good option for the rest of the season?
While I think he’ll retain a solid OBP and an above-average AVG going forward, my concern with Belt is with his ability to add value in the counting stats. His power may well develop in subsequent years, but his home park isn’t going to help him in that regard, though he does hit .305/.405/.489 there compared to .228/.318/.324 on the road. The updated ZiPS projections have him hitting four more home runs in the remaining six-plus weeks of the season, but that seems too optimistic to me. Even with his hot streak this month, Belt still hasn’t hit a home run since June 23. With trips to Chicago and Colorado coming up in the last month of the season, it’s likely that Belt will eventually break that streak, but doubling his current total strikes me as a bridge too far.
Moving up in the Giants’ order will help Belt’s RBI chances, as will the return of Pablo Sandoval and his .349 OBP, but the Giants as a team have an OBP just a tick above average and that figure will drop without Cabrera. Belt has driven in both Sandoval and Cabrera six times; losing one while getting the other back can’t be seen as anything but a push.
The fact that he’ll steal 10-15 bases this season – ZiPS says 12 total or three more – is a nice bonus, but cheap speed options abound on the wire at this point in the season, and there are some that will steal more than a base every two weeks from here on out. Darin Mastroianni, for example, is seeing plenty of playing time in Minnesota and will probably steal eight to 10 more bases as long as he stays healthy.
Toeing the party line with my fellow stat nerds, I really like Belt. I’ll probably draft him next year, even with his unfriendly home park, but with the fantasy playoffs looming, I have a hard time looking at him and seeing a player that helps a lot of teams. He’s a big(ish) name on a hot streak and that attracts attention, but when the regression comes, Belt just isn’t offering enough total value to push a team that isn’t already in title contention into that position.
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