Notes on Splits: Is This the Brandon Belt We’ve Been Waiting For?

Much has changed since those uncertain and perilous first two weeks of the season. While most players who stumbled to slow starts have steadied themselves, we’re still early enough where a poor couple of weeks weighs fairly heavily on the season statistics. With that in mind, I’m going to focus on some of the top hitters from the past 30 days who have been playing better than their overall season numbers indicate. Statistics through May 20.

Name Past 30 days wRC+ Season wRC+ Career wRC+
Bryce Harper 246 217 134
Anthony Rizzo 202 183 125
Brandon Belt 202 149 126
Jason Kipnis 199 154 112
Nelson Cruz 195 213 122
Russell Martin 190 158 108
Michael Brantley 187 163 113
Brandon Crawford 180 151 94
Mark Teixeira 179 158 129
Eric Hosmer 178 162 108
Manny Machado 176 127 106
Josh Reddick 176 158 105
Andre Ethier 172 160 122
Miguel Cabrera 169 180 152
Jimmy Paredes 168 173 87

I’ll pass on many of the more obvious names. Bryce Harper is good, as is Anthony Rizzo, etc.

It’s slightly gut-wrenching to see Brandon Belt, who missed 97 games with thumb, back and head injuries last season, get hit on the wrist by a pitch as he did Thursday. Initial news is positive, so I’ll carry on with the analysis as planned. While Belt is swinging and missing in the zone more than usual, his other plate discipline numbers look solid. His absurd .500 BABIP in the past 30 days sticks out as a big reason for his great batting average to this point. He is hitting more line drives and making more hard contact than before so perhaps there’s a real change responsible for a small part of that boost. The real problem continues to be his lack of home run power. He’s also been caught on both of his steal attempts so far. Once the BABIP-fueled stats dry up, he won’t carry much fantasy value unless he can tap into the early power he flashed before injuries in 2014.

As I noted back in April, Jason Kipnis started the season with an abnormally high percentage of his plate appearances against lefties, and that stood out as a possible reason for his early struggles. That rate has dropped to a more palatable level for the season. His BB/K quadruples and his SLG nearly doubles from lefties to righties. Kipnis looks healthy, is hitting with a fair amount of power and is stealing.

Russell Martin has been a completely different hitter in each of the season’s first two months. He was particularly putrid in April and finished with more walks than hits for the month. He’s hit .388 in May, with one walk. The real Martin is somewhere in between and is roughly what should have been expected with a move from the worst park for right-handed power to one of the best.

The power spike for Brandon Crawford looks mostly real. I’d put less stock in his average remaining helpful for fantasy owners. He’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone than ever before and missing more than ever before. Breaking pitches have been especially rough, as he’s swung and missed 49 percent of the time. Pitchers appear to be catching on and the percentage of fastballs he’s seeing has plummeted from last season.

For a player like Mark Teixeira to have the best walk rate and best ISO of his career at 35 years old is pretty wild. This seems like an appropriate time to remember Teixeira was not bad in 2012. In the two seasons since then, he’s popped up on the injury report with wrist injuries eight times. While it’s exceedingly easy to write off older players coming off of multiple injury-prone seasons, Teixeira’s start to 2015 is exactly why that’s not wise. Of course, we’re 39 games into the season, so there’s no guarantee he’ll remain healthy this year either.

Now the oddball. Jimmy Paredes sticks out a bit here because he’s actually been slightly worse over the past 30 days than he has on the season as a whole. He’s here because, even after his hot start, no one really expected him to be hitting at this level so far into the season and the dropoff between splits I set is very minimal.

Despite the fantastic numbers, it’s hard to look beyond a couple of red flags. One, Paredes has swung at the highest rate of pitches outside the zone in baseball. And perhaps not surprisingly, he’s swung and missed the most in baseball. His plate discipline profile this season looks very similar to Avisail Garcia, a player that’s polarized the fantasy community on the issue of whether his upside is worth his downside. As with most super aggressive hitters, he’ll likely be prone to some nasty slumps. Don’t forget Paredes has some wheels when valuing him. He stole 25 bases (and was caught once) between the majors and Triple-A last season.

We hoped you liked reading Notes on Splits: Is This the Brandon Belt We’ve Been Waiting For? by Adam McFadden!

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Adam McFadden contributes to RotoGraphs when he's not working as a sports editor at MSN. His writing has appeared online for FOX Sports and Sports Illustrated.

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Jon L.
Jon L.

So disappointing to see Miguel Cabrera’s slump this last month dragging down his line for the season.