San Francisco Giants: The Angst Toward Belt is Just Weird

May 2, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Brandon Belt (9) hits a two run RBI double in the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Brandon Belt (9) hits a two run RBI double in the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

The Belt Wars rage on, even while the San Francsico Giants have plenty of areas much more deserving of all that angst.

The San Francisco Giants’ offense is pretty bad, that’s no secret. If you’re surprised to read that sentence, then it’s probably best to continue to not watch the Giants and continue on living your life blissfully.

The team is in the bottom four in the National League in both average and on-base percentage, and they’re last in slugging by a full 30 points. They have seven fewer home runs than any other NL team, and only the Miami Marlins have fewer extra-base hits.

And it’s not like their pitching has been nearly as dominant this season as in the past, which could cover for these poor offensive performances. The pitching staff’s collective ERA is 4.35, which is ninth-worst in the NL. On top of all that, the defense hasn’t been nearly as consistent as in previous years, which is partially a result of the rotating cast of characters in center field and the team needing to put just about anyone with a pulse out in left field.

So yeah, there’s a lot of problems with this team, and when all these numbers are lumped together, it’s extremely easy to see why they  have won only 11 of their first 29 games and sit last in the entire National League.

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And still, one of the main scapegoats of the season continues to be the first baseman, Brandon Belt. The first baseman, the one that owns the team lead in home runs, runs batted in, walks, slugging percentage, totals bases, and is second in on-base percentage, continues to be the center of controversy.

That really just doesn’t make any sense. There are so many places to look in the lineup and see a problem, and Belt falls so far down that list. There’s plenty of complaints that hold so much more water.

There’s Buster Posey, the cleanup hitter that has just four extra-base hits in 88 plate appearances. There’s Gorkys Hernandez, who owns a career .199/.265/.310 slash-line and a .182/.250/.227 line in 2017, hitting leadoff on most nights. Admittedly, Hernandez has been a lot better in recent weeks, but he still shouldn’t be seeing the top of the order.

There’s Joe Panik, owner of a .305/.370/.411 line in the midst of a bounce-back year and probably the team’s best pure hitter, making his living in the bottom third of the order on a lot of nights. There’s Christian Arroyo, the 21-year-old rookie with 10 games under his belt providing protection for the cleanup hitter in the fifth-spot. Arroyo is a darn fine young hitter, but that doesn’t really seem like the ideal place for the kid to hit.

And of course, there’s the outfield, which is currently held together with duct tape and old wads of chewing gum. The starting center fielder is hurt. The starting left fielder is hurt. The guy who was supposed to platoon in left field has already been designated for assignment. Since then, left field has mostly been a hodgepodge of Hernandez, Belt, and third baseman Eduardo Nunez just to get as much offense in the lineup as possible, while whoever is available plays center.

Then you have Belt, the team’s most consistent guy in the lineup. He’s become a pretty reliable piece to the puzzle, and odds are he’s going to get on base at least once a game, and he’ll probably get on a couple more times. He’s reached base in 24 of the 27 games he’s started, and 12 times, he’s reached base more than once.

Sure, you can want a bit more out of Belt. It’s fair to think that he could hit for more power and be just a touch less selective at the plate. It’s fair to want him to not watch strike three as often, but what he’s doing right now is working.

And to call him overrated, as one Bay Area “sports personality” did so recently, is just insane. Belt may be one of the more under-appreciated players in the game, and there are certainly not many people over-rating the first baseman’s contributions. Plus, calling Belt overrated on a night he worked his way on base five times, four via walk and once via run-scoring single, probably isn’t a great strategy to get the point across.

It just seems like there are so many other complaints to make about this team. Even with a fairly low .260 average on the season, he’s still 21st in baseball with that .393 on-base percentage. There aren’t many guys that can work a count like Belt either. His 4.28 pitches seen per plate appearance leads the team, and is 10th-best in baseball. When a player can reach base five times and see 33 pitches in the process, as Belt did on Wednesday, maybe just appreciate it.

Don’t forget, Belt also plays some pretty good defense at first base. Not many first baseman could make the play Belt did in the eighth inning Wednesday, snaring a weird grounder down the line and contorting himself to make a nice flip over to his pitcher. In left field, he looks as one would expect a first baseman playing left field to look, but he still shines at first base.

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Yup, the Belt Wars will rage on for years and years to come. Long after Belt has retired from the game and begins enjoying the fruits of his labor with his family down in Nacogdoches, the debates will continue. Brandon Belt, keep being you. It’s working.