Doing a little research in preparation for doing the comments on San Francisco Giants players in this year’s THT Forecasts (yes, Greg, I will make the deadline!), I stumbled across a nugget of very interesting trivia.
Brandon Belt put together the following batting line in his partial major league season with the Giants in 2011:
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS 63 209 187 21 42 6 1 9 18 20 57 .225 .306 .412 .718
And another player in a partial major league season from many years ago put up this line:
G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS 51 202 182 26 41 5 1 9 27 17 33 .225 .287 .412 .699
Belt’s was about as close to an exact replica of the earlier one as practically possible.
Do you know who that second player was?
Why, it was none other than Roger Maris.
That snippet of Maris’s performance came in the first couple of months of the 1958 season, for the Cleveland Indians, prior to his being notoriously traded to Kansas City in mid-June. Maris was 23 years old, playing every day in the majors for the first time.
Belt in 2011 was also 23 years old. Unlike Maris, Belt wasn’t given an opportunity to play regularly on a sustained basis. His 209-PA stint was compiled over three separate stretches on the big league roster, and included more pinch-hitting and other partial-game appearances than Maris in 1958. But, wow, the bottom-line performance delivered was uncannily similar.
The only distinction between the two lines that isn’t trivial is that strikeout column, where Belt was whiffing almost twice as frequently as Maris. But a lot of that is explained by the different styles of play exhibited by these two leagues more than half a century distant: in the 1958 American League, batters struck out at a rate of 4.9 per 9 innings, while in Belt’s 2011 NL, the rate was 7.3. Just about everybody nowdays strikes out a lot more often than was typical in Maris’s era, and they also hit the ball a lot harder when they do put it in play, which is what Belt had to do in order to match Maris’s totals of singles, doubles, triples, and homers with 24 fewer balls in play.
This isn’t to suggest that Brandon Belt is the second coming of Roger Maris. Not necessarily, anyway. But in wondering just how this young left-handed slugger might (or might not) develop over the coming years, we have one highly intriguing comp with a famous left-handed slugger of long ago, just staring us in the face.
Let’s put it this way: if the next thing that happens is the Giants trade Belt to Kansas City, don’t say you weren’t warned.