The Giants pigeonhole Brandon Belt

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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  1. j66chevell said...

    First off, your BABIP calculation on Belt is wrong.  You left off the home runs in the upper half and left off the Sac Flies in the lower half.  His BABIP is actually .435.  According to BaseballReference, he has 101 ABs, 31 ks, 4 HRs, 34 hits, and 3 Sac Flies.




    Also, why would you take away hits when you are arguing his K’s are too high? Turn 10Ks into ground outs and drop a few hits and he is at the .318 BABIP with a ~.250 average.  A high K rate is going to result in a higher BABIP, see Mark Reynolds.

  2. Brad Johnson said...

    You’re right, I left out the sac flies and home runs. I’ll get that adjusted ASAP.

    As to why I adjusted his hits column, I was demonstrating what a drop to a .300ish BABIP would look like holding all else constant. As a player, those are the measures he needs to adopt in order to succeed in the majors – cut his K rate significantly. Are you saying that his current strike out rate is higher than it should be? I would argue his 30 percent rate reflects his current talents.

    Mark Reynolds has a .314 career BABIP. He had a .257 last year and a .235 so far this year. So I would say he doesn’t support your assertion on high k rates equally high BABIPs. If you have a link to some research though, I’d like to see it.

  3. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Finally, some clear sabermetric thinking about Belt and his situation with the Giants.  Nice article too, not just because you agree with my position.

    Though honestly, given your title, I thought it was another attack job on the Giants management.

    People forget that Belt is feasting on AAA/AAAA pitchers who despite their lack of ability to strikeout major league hitters, are able to strike out Belt to great proportions. 

    Another thing I would note is that he has been struggling to hit homers in AAA, and if he is having troubles (relatively) hitting homers in AAA, it would be even worse in the majors.

    Things would be even worse if he were to play regularly in the majors now (and was in the brief time he was in the majors earlier).

    And I believe in Brandon Belt, I think he will eventually figure things out and hit well at the major league level.  He just isn’t there at the moment.

  4. Steve Treder said...

    “Aubrey Huff has been hitting just enough to remain in the lineup at first base”

    Huff’s OPS in .499 over the past week, .448 over the past two weeks, and .669 over the past month.  That’s his OPS, not his SLG.  I’ll respectfully disagree that such output represents enough hitting to remain in the lineup at first base.

    “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.”

    Rowand shouldn’t be playing ahead of anyone.  At all.  Yet Bochy started him yesterday in left field against the right-hander.  And Belt is likely as least as good as Burrell or Schierholtz.

    There is no good reason for the Giants to recall Belt and then sit him.

  5. Brad Johnson said...

    Let me put it another way with Huff. He’s not mired in a 1 for 30 type slump and he’s still owed the better part of 22 mil over the next two years. I don’t think the Giants are ready to call him a sunk cost while he’s showing some signs of life. Especially when Belt hasn’t forced the issue.

    I’m willing to ignore the triple-A BABIP, but we still should expect a league average BABIP and slightly more K’s in the majors…the combination of which is lethal to Belt’s continued existence on the roster.

  6. Steve Treder said...

    A 1-for-30 type slump from Huff would be BETTER than what he’s delivered.  A 1-for-30 can be written off as a teeny sample size anamoly, something obviously not sustainable, especially if the guy has been taking decent at-bats, hitting some balls with authority but right at people.  That doesn’t describe Huff.

    Huff is in a 43-for-196 slump.  One that started on Opening Day and hasn’t let up since.  He isn’t driving the ball with any power, he isn’t hitting it the other way for singles, and he isn’t working counts and drawing walks.  He’s spent the entire season doing nothing well.

    Clearly, 196 at-bats is a small sample size too, within the scope of a career.  And I do think that Huff is capable of better than this—good heavens let’s hope so.  But he’s also 34, he had a lousy year in 2009, and an iffy season in 2007.  It’s looking very much like 2010 was the outlier at this point in Huff’s career.  The fact that they tied up $22M and two years in him is a problem for Sabean, but Bochy shouldn’t be making his lineup decisions on that basis.

    I will agree that Belt is a raw player with plenty yet to prove.  But he won’t prove any of it sitting on his butt.  If the Giants want Belt to develop into something special—and his K rate included, Belt’s minor league stats are tremendous, indicative of an unusually good major league career to follow—they must play him.  If they aren’t confident that he’s ready to handle the major leagues, then they should give him the full year playing every day in AAA.  Calling him up to the big leagues to sit at the end of the bench, only to be sent down the minute the next guy comes off the DL, is how you handle the Ryan Rohlingers of the world, not the Brandon Belts.

  7. Brad Johnson said...

    I could be wrong, but I think Belt’s serving a two and a half week role with the team. Assuming they don’t continue this game past Sandoval’s return, Belt’s development should be fine.

    Huff is a mess, I couldn’t believe they signed him the first time or the second time (though I can understand both decisions). He’s someone who really should be starting his seasons in AAA with an AL club until he gets hot. When he’s hot, he’s very good, but it’s like he’s two different ball players. The risk of getting monetarily attached to this version of Huff is too high for a club like the Giants who really just need a couple consistent .350 wOBA hitters to provide firepower for the pitching staff.

    If you want a bit of silver lining Steve, on May 27th last year I wrote my first THT post. It was about Buster Posey stating that the Giants should call him up because Molina and Huff both sucked (I used numbers not words to say they sucked). Molina went byebye but Huff suddenly turned into a monster. Hope remains. I think?

  8. Steve Treder said...

    Well, the Giants surely did mismanage the Posey call-up-or-leave-down decision last year.  Fortunately it didn’t cost them the division title (though it came THIS close).  I’m not getting a good feeling that they have any more of a clue of what to do with Belt.

    As for Huff:  dude, come on, as of May 27 last year he was hitting 281/361/450.  Not great for a first baseman, but hardly sucky.  Let’s just say your characterization of him was spot-on, just a year too quick!  grin

  9. Mark said...

    I think you’re right, Brad, it seems like there’s a good chance Belt is demoted once Sandoval comes back, though it could also be Crawford if they decide to try Tejada back at SS for a bit.  But this is more Bochy’s wont than anything, and I disagree on the strikeout rate issue, or at least would like to raise a potential counterpoint. Sometimes high strikeout rates can be deceptive in small samples when paired with high walk rates.  What we really need to see is Belt’s SwStrk%.  It may just be that he’s being too patient, and that an approach adjustment, especially deep in counts, could result in both marks normalizing and evening out a bit.  This could even partially account for the high BABIP, as he may only be swinging at pitches right down the middle, and swinging at pitches a bit more on the corners could result in some weaker contact, but more balls in play, both decreasing the numerator and increasing the denominator (relatively speaking) of the BABIP equation. 

    I’m not saying I expect him to have a league average strikeout rate, but it may not be in the 30% range either, more like ~25% along with a ~10% walk rate.  Those would be pretty typical for a hitter of Belt’s ilk as long as the power continues to improve and especially if the BABIP stays above league average.  If you look at the major league numbers he’s put up, both his Contact% and SwStrk% are just a touch worse than league average, so my inclination is to believe that this is more an issue of approach than raw ability or current talent level. 

    Also, as an aside, I always use PA’s as the starting point for a BABIP calculation.  It saves the trouble of dealing with sacrifices.  Is there any reason using ABs is better?  Why not just do (H-HR)/(PA-HR-SO-BB-HBP).  Much simpler than mucking around with sacrifices and it should give you the same result.

  10. Brad Johnson said...

    I may use that version of BABIP next time, I think I forget sacrifices more often than I remember them.

    I agree on the SwStrk% point. My viewpoint was that he has had similar rates at three of his five minor league assignments and it jived with the player I observed (albeit for only a handful of at bats…and I’m no scout). But the two stops he spent the most time at last season came with sub 20 percent strike out rates so maybe I was being pessimistic? We shall see.

    I agree with the approach aspect as well but I wasn’t trying to get into his long term prospects, I just wanted to discuss what the Giants are doing and why it makes sense.

  11. Mark said...

    Right, I mean its very difficult to tell mostly because we don’t really have any extended quantity of data in Triple-A or the majors.  I do agree that this is how the Giants are likely going to handle him, I’m just more on the fence as to whether its wise of them. 

    You know what would be interesting:  A Brandon Belt-Jesus Montero swap.  The Giants would then have to figure out what to do with Montero long term, maybe he and Posey could split time behind the plate and at 1B or something, but there’s still Huff to deal with. 

    As for the BABIP formula, the only thing I think you might lose with the way I suggested is weird calls like catcher’s interference.  I believe those aren’t recorded as ABs so you don’t lose those by starting with ABs, but they’re so rare anyway I don’t think it matters much.

  12. Steve Treder said...

    So now the dreadfully-slumping Huff, finally benched in favor of Belt as the Giants, only gets put back into the starting lineup because Belt gets hit on the wrist by a pitch and has to sit out for a few days.

    And the dreadfully-slumping Huff hits four home runs in two games.  After hitting four home runs in his first 53 games.

    As for attempting to understand anything about this game, I give up.

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