Who is the real Brandon Belt?

 

Who is the Real Brandon Belt

If you’ve been following the Giants at all (and how can you not with their even year magic/madness), you’ve probably come to think of Brandon Belt’s performance closer to enigmatic than consistent. He has bounced up and down value wise, posting wRC+ marks of 119, 140, 117, 135 since 2012. In short, for those unfamiliar with this particular stat (a linearly regressed statistic where 100 is league average and every point up is a percentage point better or worse than average), Belt has gone from good to a monster, back to good, and then back to dominating any pitcher who dares to oppose him. So with this much mystery, we are forced to dig deeper to find out who the real Brandon Belt is.

Starting out, it’s not fair to say that Belt has gone good to great twice. He’s improved himself in different ways both times, and likewise for his collapse. In 2012 and 2013 he struck out 22.5% and 21.9% of the time, and then in 2014 and 2015 those numbers were 27.2% and 26.4%, suggesting more than simple random sampling, but a change in swing and approach. To properly view his trends, emphasis shouldn’t be placed on his past couple seasons, although we still will consider them.

Something that jumps out immediately about his rebound in 2015 is an improved line drive rate, something we know is fluky and will almost always regress to 20%. From just 18.0% in 2014 he spiked up to to 28.7% last year, and from this we can also draw the reason for his insane 80 point jump in BABIP. While this may look like drawing causation from correlation, we can assume safely this is the main point since hitter hit around .685 on liners.

You might be inclined to think even with the high BABIP (mark of .363) he might be able to hold his production invariant of luck, since his 2012-13 BABIP average was .351 in both seasons. And even with this his line drive rates used to stay around the 25% mark in 12-13. So is Belt just in the upper echelon of hitters who have the ability to live with high liners? It might not be as far-fetched as is appears on the surface (because quite honestly not many fans will have Brandon Belt come to mind when you think of best hitters), because when we look even deeper at his hard contact percentages he comes across as one of the harder hitters; last year he was at 39.5%, and in 2012-13 he was at 36.8%.

But Brandon Belt shows more promise than just going as his line drives do. During the 2014 season, he kept his isolated slugging percentage at .206, a career mark and far above average. He’s kept that around the mid .190s in his two excellent campaigns, which shows us that his power stroke not only is still existing in his bad years, but has a strong presence. Even though he hasn’t cracked 20 homers in a season yet, he was close last year with 18 and might just jump over that barrier in 2016.

We can tell the power is going to be there no matter what, and it seems the main concern is his line drive rates, but looking at his discipline also helps us paint his down years in different lights. His walk percentages of 11.4%, 9.1%, 7.7%, and 10.1% have one outlier by a big mark, when considering the statistic. Not only does his strikeout rate go up, which is something he only combats now by elite batted ball skills, but he’s impatient and doesn’t draw many walks. This begins to tell a story, one of a hitter off his best season who is struggling and pressing at the plate. Higher strikeouts, lower walks, and flashes of power are all symptoms. 2015 wasn’t about that, but instead him getting his confidence back.

Something else to consider about Belt might be his potential move to the outfield. He played a little left field here and there, and with the franchise’s cornerstone taking repeated fouls to the dome, and wearing his knees down to nothing, a move to first for Buster Posey is imminent. He’s not going to just platoon but will eventually move full-time, pushing Belt permanently to the outfield. This tends to help hitters out as there is less to focus on when playing a corner position like left or right field, so it can be expected a move like this will only help Belts’ offense (I am not going to comment on his outfield defense, as the numbers do not look pretty).

Belt’s bright spots are sometimes dimmed by his struggles, but it’s important to look at why these seasons happened the way that they did. It’s tricky to tie someone to a high line drive rate, but with Belt it appears that’s exactly what we should do. He’s not a huge fly ball or homer guy, which explains why instead of an extreme shift towards fly balls we see it to liners. His power stroke has always been with him, and so long as he’s making proper contact don’t worry about the couple down seasons; Brandon Belt’s bat is legit.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.