In 2013, Brandon Belt was 14th in the National League in OPS. That’s higher than Carlos Beltran. Higher than Jay Bruce. Higher than Justin Upton, Yadier Molina, and Adrian Gonzalez. If you must know, it was also higher than Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Pablo Sandoval.
Belt is a Super-Two, Arbitration-eligible player. In layman’s terms, this means he’s played for two years and ranked in the top 22% of all two-year players when it comes to service time. It also means the San Francisco Giants control him for the next 4 years, but at arbitration prices. In three seasons (2 full), Belt has hit .273/.351/.447. More importantly, last season he hit .289/.360/.481 with 17 home runs and 39 doubles in a pitcher’s park, a particularly challenging one for left-handed hitters. It stands to reason that Belt could have easily hit 20-plus long balls had he not spent all his home games hitting in the vast confines of AT&T Park.
A closer look at Belt’s season shows he hit .325 after the All-Star break. His fly-ball rate dropped from 43.9% to 38.2%, and this coincided with a stellar line-drive rate of 27.7% in the second half, which would have led the National League if he had maintained it the entire season. Although he only hit .261 against lefties, something he surely aims to improve upon this year, Belt’s success in 2013 is a stark contrast to the slumped shouldered youngster who seemed to lack confidence at the plate the previous year, his first full season in the Majors.
Many believe Belt’s “break-out” season is merely a foreshadowing of what is to come. Coupled with the aforementioned numbers, such believers point to a change in grip and newfound confidence as reasons to expect Belt can maintain, or perhaps (likely?) improve upon his success in the second half of last season.
Even if Belt doesn’t ascend to superstar status in 2014 and his 2013 numbers represent the average of what fans can expect in the future, perhaps with a smattering of more RBI, then Belt is surely a candidate for extension rather than trade. In addition to his emerging hitting metrics, his defense at first base continues to be solid. Belt made just 8 errors in 143 games at first, and his dWAR rating was -0.5. This number is deceiving, however. Unlike with batting, it’s generally believed that the replacement level fielder is around league average.The idea is that there are more players who can field in the Major Leagues than can hit. Given this, Belt represented a solid anchor on the right side of the infield, especially given the defensive woes the Giants experienced at second base this past season.
2013 was Belt’s most productive season as a pro, and the Giants would be well-served to keep him rather than trade him before the season begins – or at the deadline in July. In fact, as previously mentioned, extending Belt at his current numbers could conceivably save the Giants millions should Belt build off his 2013 numbers, something he appears poised to do. And if not, he would represent at worst a “poor man’s J.T. Snow” with slightly less power and RBI. From 1997-2002, Snow’s most productive years as a Giant, he averaged 142 games or more, 14 home runs and 77 RBI per season – numbers nearly identical to Belt’s output in 2013. Snow’s batting average in 9 years as a Giant? A modest .273. He was also 29 years old when the Giants signed him in 2007. Brandon Belt is 25.
It’s entirely possible the Giants may opt to wait and see what kind of player Belt has become this year before making a long-term commitment to him; however, it might be wiser, more beneficial, and far cheaper to keep the “Baby Giraffe” in San Francisco for many years to come by offering Belt a contract extension now, before heading into the ugly process of arbitration, a process the Giants have tended to avoid in the past with eligible players. Belt is going to get a raise, regardless, and reports suggest the Giants and Belt’s representatives have not agreed on that number yet. If the Giants decide to haggle over one or two million with their young first baseman, they may find themselves tens of millions short should he put together a big season in 2014 and the team wish to extend him later. Perhaps it’s time to finally show confidence in player that has finally shown confidence in himself.
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