Checking Your (Brandon) Belt

As you get older, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your belt. A danish or three and you might need to reevaluate that notch you’ve worn into your favorite leather strap. As your fantasy team progresses, you might want to keep an eye on your Brandon Belt, too. A home run or three, and you might want to reevaluate that notch he’s worn into your team’s bench.

Certainly, the news is better today than it was even just a week ago. He’s now got three home runs and looks to have a handle on at least three-quarters of the playing time at first base in San Francisco. Especially now that Aubrey Huff Kendrys Morales‘d that Matt Cain celebration, the position is mostly Belt’s to own. He’s always had patience, too, so in OBP leagues — especially those with five outfielder slots — he’s already a boon. But the question still remains: what is his true-talent power level?

Belt only once had an isolated slugging percentage below .244 in the minor leagues, and that was his .218 Triple-A ISO in 2011. So it wasn’t really a surprise when projections systems like Bill James‘ and RotoChamps’ pegged him for an ISO around .215 in the major leagues. Or when certain emboldened analysts embiggened those projections in a fit of optimism. There were plenty of high hopes surrounding the former college pitcher turned first-sacker.

There are some mitigating circumstances to those minor league slugging rates. That .218 ISO in 212 Triple-A at-bats last year came in the PCL, where the average ISO was .162. The average ISO in the majors this year is .144. An average line of .286/.359/.448 in the PCL makes you want to put a fat asterisk on those numbers. But Belt also hit .337/.413/.623 in 201 Double-A plate appearances, and that was in the Eastern League. That more neutral league showed a .259/.332/.397 line (.138 ISO) that he blew out of the water. Belt showed non PCL-aided power in the minor leagues.

He hasn’t quite shown it in the major leagues. After a single in four plate appearances Sunday night, his .162 ISO this year is barely above league average. His career ISO is around .175. The league’s first basemen have a .179 ISO this year, but that’s with power down around the league. In 2000, the league average ISO for a first baseman was .207, and it stayed at or near .190 until sometime in the last four years. With OBP factored in (.338 was the league average 1B’s OBP last year), he’d be above average, but he’s struggling to put up league average power for his position.

And league-average power doesn’t quite excite the average fantasy player. Not when the player once showed much more promise, too.

Unfortunately, where Logan Morrison had a more stable approach at the plate, Belt is more of a work in progress. Take a look at his batted ball angle below on the left, and we can maybe see why his batted ball distance (on the right) hasn’t really shown the peaks that the Marlins’ young hitter has shown.

If Belt wants to show some pull power, he should be displaying a positive batted ball angle (more towards right field). He hasn’t ever done that consistently, and so he’s still waiting for a power boost like the one Morrison had late last year. Belt does have more powerful success when he pulls the ball, like most power hitters, but he hasn’t been consistent in that approach. Check out his spray charts (career on the left, 2012 on the right, thanks to TexasLeaguers.com).

For every groundout to the second baseman, it seems that Belt has a more powerful hit to right field. It seems that though his distribution of balls in play is almost equal to all fields, his distribution of hits is not. Belt might benefit from pulling the ball more.

One thing that we did notice as Belt advanced in the minor leagues was that his strikeout rate went up with each level. 370 plate appearances into his major league career, he has a double-digit swinging strike rate and has struck out in about a quarter of his at-bats. A .300 batting average is probably not in his future.

But we also know that 370 PAs don’t close the book on a player’s true talent power. If he’s not going to be a great contact hitter, he might as well focus a little more on the inner half of the plate, pull the ball to right field with more authority, and push that power to where it belongs. If he doesn’t belt the ball more, he’ll continue to be a deep leaguer, OBP league oddity, and barely worthy of a bench spot in deeper mixed leagues.

We hoped you liked reading Checking Your (Brandon) Belt by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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HunterPants
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HunterPants

Does his tendency to consistently pound the ball to RF have any correlation with his crazy reverse splits (.955 OPS vs LHP)?

Thanks for doing an article on Belt!

HunterPants
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HunterPants

Whoops, consistently not* pulling the ball

Mario Mendoza of commenters
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Mario Mendoza of commenters

I would say SSS size has more to do with that, since Bochy would rather send his right-handed bat boy to face lefties.

Mario Mendoza of commenters
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Mario Mendoza of commenters

(I mean that as a condemnation of Bochy, not Belt. It would be nice to see what a bigger sample vs lefties would look like.)