Brandon Belt has been forced to wait a long time to finally capture the starting first base job. But barring any sudden changes, 2013 figures to be his first year breaking camp with the first base job his and his to loose. And if that’s what happens, he’s certainly earned it.
By the shock of many, Belt broke camp in 2011 as the starting first baseman. He slashed for .282/.338/.479 with three home runs in 71 at-bats, which is an impressive line, but nothing out of the ordinary. It impressed his skipper, though.
Not only did Belt earn the starting gig, but he forced Aubrey Huff to right field, which was quite the accomplish in itself. Huff finished seventh in MVP voting the year before, and was a key piece in the Giants’ World Series run. So, some 23-year-old kid taking his job isn’t something you’d expect to see.
But Belt’s first 17 games were a struggle. He hit just .192 to go along with one home run and a .569 OPS. These numbers are a simple piece of evidence that spring training stats don’t have much value. There are exceptions, yes, but in most cases, a player’s true skill-set doesn’t appear when the real show begins–the regular season.
Let’s take Buster Posey for example. Currently, he’s hitting just .200 in 20 at-bats. Obviously, the casual observer would claim that there’s something wrong with the 2012 National League MVP winner. But that’s the casual observer.
Veterans, or players who have had at least a couple years of experience, simply go through the motions in spring training, unless said player is rehabbing from an injury, or something of that sort. These types of players know they will start Opening Day regardless of their spring performance, thus making it a time to get their timing back.
How does this apply to Belt, specifically? Because shredding up spring training pitching shouldn’t cause a stir. He’s torn up this type of pitching for three straight years now, and never has it led to consistent regular season success, which is the ultimate goal.
Take a look at a table displaying some of the main stats for Belt’s spring training performances since 2011:
Clearly, there’s something about Belt and spring training pitching. But again, there shouldn’t be much value put into the above stats. I mean, they’re great and all, but they haven’t yet translated into instant regular season success, as aforementioned.
The one observation that Giants fans should take note of is his improved numbers against southpaws. Thus far in the spring, he’s hitting .667 off lefties. This is an encouraging stat because Belt has had his woes with lefties in the past. Granted, five of his seven home runs came off a lefty, but in all, he totaled just a .242 batting average against them. Consistency will be key for Belt in 2013.
Fortunately for Belt, there are a handful of hints that may set the scene for a breakout season in 2013. For one, he caught fire in August and carried it through the end of the regular season. In all, he compiled a .884 OPS in 55 games in which the Giants went 36-19. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Secondly, Belt’s power started to come around towards the end of the season as well. He compiled a slugging percentage of .494 over his final 55 games.
He did struggle in the postseason, hitting .184 with a .633 OPS. Of the three series, he only found success in the NLCS against the St.Louis Cardinals, hitting .304 with a .925 OPS and a home-run in 23 at-bats. Still, those numbers are base on relatively short sample sizes.
On the flip side, had Belt not progressed at the end of the season, pundits wouldn’t shape 2013 up to be a potential breakout season. Sure, anyone with a functioning brain could predict someone to have a breakout season. But generally, some form of evidence wins. And in Belt’s case, there’s evidence that 2013 may be that year.
However, let’s get straight: Until Belt has a good year at the major league level, his spring training stats are forever meaningless from this point on.