San Francisco Giants: Should They Start Brandon Belt or Brett Pill?


First base: a key position that the San Francisco Giants field with uncertainty.

Brandon Belt and Brett Pill are your current candidates–besides when Buster Posey takes a day off from catching. Belt’s about 3.5 years younger, 15 pounds lighter, and slightly taller than Brett Pill. The baby giraffe seems the better ‘project’ for the team to work on.

The younger Belt’s played 230 major league games more than Brett Bill, or to put it in other terms, Belt’s 933 at bats resulted in more hits (244) than Pill’s at bat total (200). Belt should continue to get the majority of starts, but we’ll first look to the Giants position in the standings and then discuss Giants 1B woes before getting into the Belt/Pill debate.

Aug 7, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt (9) hits a single against the Milwaukee Brewers during the seventh inning at AT&T Park.

The San Francisco Giants are last place in the NL West; 13 games behind the Dodgers, 12.5 games out of the second Wild Card position. With less than 50 games in the season the Giants can still make the playoffs, technically.

Recall the memorable 2012 World Series run? That year the Dodgers apparently bought the entire Boston Red Sox, and fortunately they took awhile to mesh as a team. This year the Dodgers look to be the division winners, they’ve won eight of their last ten games, and Yasiel Puig shows no signs of slowing down.

In Gary Radnich’s interview with Mike Krukow on Tuesday, August 6; after a long discussion about PEDs, in the last minute of the interview,Radnich asked how Giants fans should feel about the Dodgers roster and abundance of money going into the future.

In response, after praising the Giant’s management and ownership group, Kruk said, “I say bring the Dodgers on. I want them to be as good as they possibly can be, Gary, because then the rivalry comes back. It intensifies as good as it has ever been. And when the Giants kick their ass it will mean a whole lot more.”

The Dodgers will likley win the division this year. That’s baseball, and fine by me (this year). For the remainder of the season, the Giants should focus their efforts on the future, and first base is a key component.

The San Francisco Giants seem incapable of consistently fielding a dominant hitting first basemen in recent history. Barry Bonds wielded enough power for an entire squad while he played, but first base? Well besides J.T. Snow (who hit power from 1997 to 2000 and above .300 once in his career in 2004) the Giants simply lack consistent production at the first base for anything longer than a year.

In 2006, after Snow’s departure, five players played 1B for the Giants; Mike Sweeney received the majority of starts and the Giants introduced Travis Ishikawa to the majors.

2007, Ryan Klesko played his final MLB season with the Giants. Meanwhile Rich Aurilia returned and occasionally played 1B, but he never returned to his dominant 2001 form batting /.324/.369/.572 with the most hits in the NL (206) and 37 home runs (he was playing shortstop and his production was likely the result of PEDs).

2008 showed continued confusion at the first base position with prospect John Bowker and veteran Aurilia splitting most of the starts. Travis Ishikawa, who spent ’07 in the minors, played 33 game. That year Snow took the field for a single game (but never played) in order to retire a Giant.

The next year Ishikawa started most games, but the following year he relinquished the starting roll to Aubry Huff in the 2010 championship run. That year Huff hit .290 with 26 HR, very solid production, but for a single year.

In 2011 Huff’s average dropped to .246, he only hit 12 home runs, and both Brandon Belt and Brett Pill were introduced to Major League Baseball.
In 2012 Huff’s age really showed, batting an abysmal .192. Brett Pill played more than Huff, and Belt earned the starting spot with an impressive NL Championship series.

So here we are in 2013. The Giants, unable to find any first baseman to start for consecutive years since Snow, have 49 games remaining in the season to test either player. Belt should continue his starts at 1B, the numbers show his defensive ability, a .992 fielding percentage with 15 errors in 268 games. His Major League career batting average sits at .262, lowered by his 2011 .225 BA when he played behind Aubry Huff and broke his wrist.

This year, Belt showed his potential in spring training, hitting a home run every ten plate appearances with a .410/.432/.833 line. After such a strong spring, Belt only hit .260 up to the All-Star break with 10 HR(a HR every 28.8 plate appearances). Since the All-Star break Belt’s heated up with a .298 average.

Aug 1, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Francisco Giants first baseman Brett Pill (6) singles during the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Giants defeated the Phillies 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile Brett Pill’s also been on a tear since the All-Star break. In limited appearances, Pill improved from a .148/.172/.333 line over 14 games to a .389/.389/.556 in six games since the break. Pill’s sample size is too small to read too far into his numbers, but both Bochey and Belt reacted appropriately.

Entering August Bruce Bochy sat Brandon Belt so that Belt could work on his swing, and it worked, “first of all, I think it kind of relaxes me more to have that loose grip on the bat,” Belt said. “It keeps the bat in the zone longer in my swing, keeps it more flat, and that’s huge for me. If I can keep repeating that, hopefully I can make that jump.” Quote from Andrew Baggarly’s August 2 article.

Since the beginning of August and the grip adjustment, Brandon Belt’s batting average rose from .255 to .266. Belt should receive the majority of starts at 1B repeat his swing with the new grip in game situations, but that doesn’t mean Pill can’t play. Pill and Belt both can play LF, and Pill’s played 3B as well.

Vouching for Belt is difficult with the power of Pill readily available. Belt’s unpredictable production, or lack there of, continues to frustrate and impress me.

But after seven years of shuffling first basemen I vote for Belt to start for a few reasons: Belt’s demonstrated great batting and fielding ability; Belt’s far younger than Pill; he bats left handed with the ability to produce against LHP; lastly his a new swing that should get repetitions right now. The end of this season should be a look to the future, perhaps a future with a full grown instead of baby giraffe.

What do you think about the first base situation? Comment below.

I find Belt a promising starter for the next six years, especially if his adjusted grip can add fifteen points to his batting average. Pill can sure crush the ball out of the ball park, but I feel teams would pitch around his bat with off speed pitching if he were to be the everyday first baseman. The Giants could also grab a free agent in the upcoming market like Mike Morse (32), Napoli (32) or Morneau (33).