Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The Giants pigeonhole Brandon BeltPosted by Brad Johnson
Following Buster Posey's horrific injury last week, the Giants recalled Brandon Belt from the Pacific Coast League. Should he be on the major league roster and how much playing time should he get?
Injuries helped Belt win a roster spot out of spring training. He saw major league action at the beginning of the season but struggled out of the gate. When a host of outfielders began returning from the disabled list, Belt found himself caught in the roster crunch.
In 31 Triple-A games following his demotion, Belt posted a robust .337/.470/.525 triple slash with four home runs. He had 27 walks against 31 strikeouts. The 20.5 percent walk rate is impressive but striking out in 23.5 percent of plate appearances (30.7 percent of at-bats) is unacceptable.
What's more, part of his triple slash can be discounted. Belt hits the ball hard, likely leading to a high balls in play average, but a .435 BABIP is excessive. For the purposes of illustration, if we change that BABIP to .319 by removing 8 hits, Belt's average plummets to .257.
Despite the warts, the Giants desperately needed an injection of offense now that their two best hitters (Posey and Pablo Sandoval) are on the disabled list. The Giants called in the cavalry in the form of Belt and he has since proceeded to... sit.
Belt has been on the roster for four games and he has played in only one. Two games were against lefty opponents, so it makes sense that the Giants opted for right-handed starters. However, he also sat against right-hander Kyle McClellen on Monday— a fairly easy assignment for a lefty bat.
Sitting Belt actually makes perfect sense. Aubrey Huff has been hitting just enough to remain in the lineup at first base, and Belt isn't the most adept outfielder. Furthermore, the Giants currently have Andres Torres, Cody Ross, Nate Schierholtz, Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell sharing starts in the outfield, leaving little room for Belt.
So, the Giants had every reason to sit Belt for three of four games—mixed results in the minors, two lefty opponents, indifferent defense, and a half dozen outfielders on the active roster. Which begs the question, if sitting Belt is the correct decision more often than not, why did the Giants recall him?
The answer is a dearth of alternatives. Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot, Sandoval, and Darren Ford are all on the 15-day disabled list, forcing the Giants to roster the likes of Emmanuel Burriss and Brandon Crawford. The only reasonable alternative on the 40-man roster is third baseman Conor Gillaspie. Travis Ishikawa would also make sense but isn't on the 40-man roster.
Another reason the Giants recalled Belt is for the thump he can provide off the bench. The most common outfield for the Giants these days is Ross, Torres and Schierholtz. That makes Belt the only potent lefty stick on the bench, a skill that could change a game in the late innings. For a team in a tough division race with the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, a win off a pinch-hitter's bat could decide the Giants' October plans.
Ultimately, Belt needs to be playing every day to hone his tools. Specifically, he needs to strike out significantly less often or else he'll find out what it's like to be Chris Davis. The Giants are smart; they know this too. They also know they are in a tough division race and that every little contribution could make a difference. When Sandoval returns to man third base and the middle of the Giants' lineup, expect Belt to reprise his role with the Fresno Grizzlies.
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