Is There Hope For Brandon Belt?

Brandon Belt is entering a critical year. A former top prospect, it would be fair to say that Belt hasn’t lived up to the hype during his one and a half seasons in the majors. As we know, it’s not entirely his fault. Despite Belt’s billing as an impact prospect, he hasn’t been utilized in a full-time role all that much. But entering his age-25 season, Belt will go into the season with no competition for the San Francisco Giants’ first base spot. Playing for a team that has shown little patience with his struggles in the past, Belt is going to have to prove that he has what it takes to make it as a big league first baseman.

First basemen who have posted similar numbers to Belt’s at the same age do give some reason for optimism. Belt hasn’t been awesome during the last two years, but some very talented first basemen struggled just as much as Belt early in their careers. When sorting by wRC+, some players with similar value to Belt include Todd Helton, Derrek Lee, Justin Morneau and Rafael Palmeiro. Some of those players were, at one point, considered some of the best players at their position over a decent stretch of time. And Morneau might have been even longer if he hadn’t sustained that terrible concussion, but that’s another article. There are some busts on that list, of course, so it’s no guarantee Belt will get better. But, at the very least, the list does give us some evidence of talented first basemen struggling early in their careers.

What about the players who have employed a similar approach at the plate. When narrowing our search to focus on players with similar walk and strikeout rates, we see some interesting names appear.

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Bob Robertson 987 11.20% 20.20% 0.242 0.301 0.278 0.361 0.520 0.389 142
Fred McGriff 979 14.20% 25.80% 0.266 0.322 0.270 0.376 0.535 0.397 147
Dave Kingman 882 10.40% 29.70% 0.252 0.246 0.216 0.302 0.468 0.346 114
Ike Davis 750 11.90% 22.50% 0.189 0.325 0.271 0.357 0.460 0.355 123
Paul Goldschmidt 764 10.50% 24.00% 0.209 0.337 0.278 0.353 0.487 0.361 121
Brandon Belt 681 10.90% 23.90% 0.159 0.329 0.259 0.344 0.418 0.332 112
Derrek Lee 782 10.20% 24.70% 0.193 0.309 0.258 0.336 0.450 0.340 100
Justin Smoak 886 11.40% 22.10% 0.157 0.265 0.227 0.316 0.385 0.309 93

The first thing that jumps out on that list is the number of current players at the position with the same skill set. Belt, Ike Davis, Paul Goldschmidt and Justin Smoak have somewhat similar numbers, and have put them up during the same era and at similar ages. Since we’re dealing with players roughly the same age, that makes it tough to predict how Belt will perform. Bob Robertson and Fred McGriff also present problems, as both guys were much better than Belt at the same age. And while Dave Kingman has nearly the same wRC+ as Belt, the different in strikeout rate is too much to compare, in my opinion. That leaves one of the guy mentioned initially, Derrek Lee.

Both Belt and Lee displayed similar numbers during their age-23 and age-24 seasons. The only area where we see a large difference is slugging percentage, where Lee’s .450 was a good deal better than Belt’s .418. And that is a legitimate concern, as Belt’s lack of power has been troubling at this stage in his career. Lee managed to hit .282/.346/.474 during his age-25 season, with 21 home runs. Those numbers were actually a downgrade for Lee, who hit much better the previous year. Belt has yet to accomplish those heights as a player, making it tough to use Lee’s age-25 season as a great predictor for Belt. Plus, even if it’s reasonable for Belt to match Lee’s average and on-base percentage, he won’t be nearly as valuable if he doesn’t develop his power.

Belt has shown an ability to hit for power in the minors, but he’s had difficulty carrying it into the majors. There’s been a lot of talk about the Giants trying to make him change his swing, which could have been a contributor to Belt hitting just seven home runs last season. He might be able to turn himself into a useful real-life first baseman even with below-average power for a first baseman, but he won’t be fantasy relevant until he flashes the ability to club 20 home runs. There’s evidence that similar players have gone on to be successful, but the lack of power adds another obstacle Belt must overcome in order to emerge.



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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.


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DrBGiantsfan
Guest

I am so sick of reading the accusation that the Giants have not been patient with Brandon Belt or that they have not handled him properly!

He got rushed to the majors to open the 2011 season due to an injury to Cody Ross and probably some irrational exhuberance on the part of Giants management. He looked totally lost at the plate and was sent down to AAA with some specific mechanical things to work on. He was brought back up and promptly broke his hand. He was brought back again late in the season after the injury healed and he had played some rehab games in the minors. He actually hit quite well as the 2011 season wound down.

In 2012, he played in 145 games and 472 PA’s. He was the regular first baseman for most of the season except on days when Buster Posey played first base, something the Giants can hardly be blamed for wanting to do in order to rest Posey’s legs, yet keep his bat in the lineup.

There have been occasions where they gave him a day or two off after an extended series of terrible AB’s followed by even worse body language. I look at those days off as positives. The Giants have always brought him back after time off for specific reasons and specific tasks he was asked to work on.

Contrary to popular opinion, I believe the Giants have handled Brandon Belt very well and have been extaordinarily patient with him.

I am optimistic that we will see continued improvement in 2013 with a possibility of a breakout season.

Giants Fan
Guest
Giants Fan

I don’t think Belt will ever be a typical power hitting first baseman. The things he (potentially) does well are not traditional 1B attributes: defense, good base running, and patience at the plate. Approach wise, I think Belt is more valuable as a player who can get on base, and run and play his position well, rather than a perennial 20 plus HR guy.

Rickettsia
Guest
Rickettsia

The problem is, those skills are easier to come by than power and have little fantasy relevance. There’s nothing special about Belt’s average, his power is nonexistent, and his steals aren’t worth more than a second glace on the waiver wire. His peers, Ike Davis and (especially) Paul Goldschmidt, do what he does, and better.

Belt is, seemingly, a classic example of a toolsy player who had a fluke minor league season and was mistaken to be more advanced than he was. He’s no “first basemen of the future”, he’s a placeholder until a legitimate impact prospect or major league starter comes around.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

I still think there is 25+ HR’s in Brandon Belt that we could see as soon as 2013.

The Wisdom Cow
Guest
The Wisdom Cow

Sorry DrB. He’s been handled poorly and with little support. Ever wonder what would have happened had Pablo not hurt himself doing the splits? Bochy had given up on Brandon. But for an injured Panda, he was going to get another prolonged benching or demotion. It’s a “popular opinion” because it was so.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

You are going to judge an entire body of development based on speculation about something you think might or might not have happened? I just don’t accept that!

Rich Funk
Guest
Rich Funk

At the beginning of the season, after being promised the starting 1B job, he would sometimes go 5-6 games without starting. THAT can mess with someone’s head.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

What can mess with someone’s head is going 5-6 games striking out 50% of the time. He only went 5-6 games in a row off once or twice. The time off was needed to clear his head and work on specific mechanical adjustments.

Betty Childs
Guest
Betty Childs

‘I am so sick of reading the accusation that the Giants have not been patient with Brandon Belt or that they have not handled him properly!’

Hear hear.

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