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The Hapless Brandon Belt

March 28, 2012

I was perusing through some recent updates pertaining to my fantasy team when I stumbled upon a video of Matt Moore. I decided to click on it and saw Moore’s boyish smile materialize over the heading, “The Talented Matt Moore.” I paused for a few seconds, then played the clip because, well, who doesn’t like to follow top prospects?

So I listened to the lauding of Moore, for his talent, work ethic, wisdom, and the other routine embellishments bestowed upon him, and while watching this I thought of Brandon Belt and all his talent, work ethic, and wisdom that’ll likely be rotting in Fresno to start the year. And while I was lost in my own thoughts, Joe Maddon came up to the plate:

“A guy like him…you coach him very carefully, meaning that you don’t want to take away from some of his natural abilities by putting too many thoughts in his head.”

For anybody who’s watched Brandon Belt lately, too many thoughts seem to be exactly what’s in his head. In Tuesday’s game against the Angels, Belt looked uncomfortable at the plate, overly aggressive at times, and tentative when swinging at pitches on the edge of the plate, as if he were fighting off his own natural instincts instead. He’s been told to hit more aggressively this spring—and he does carry a .382 average to this point—however it’s resulted in over twice as many K’s to BB’s and a modus operandi that doesn’t seem sustainable for success.

Belt is a naturally patient hitter, a breath of fresh air after being subject to hack-aways such as Tejada, Rowand, and even Sandoval. And not only is he a patient hitter, he’s got a keen eye for the strike zone, swinging at only 27.2% of outside balls and 72.5% of balls in the zone according to PITCHf/x, better than Miguel Cabrera of the 15.7% walk rate last year.

All he needed was some more practice against breaking balls and it seemed like he would be on the right path towards developing into a premier player. Hell, he was almost a league average batter last year despite a .225 average and 27.3% K rate (98 wRC+). But right now, Belt is looking like damaged goods. His approach was his calling card, and now it’s looking out of whack. He’s not looking as he should, and with Huff’s $10M looming over Sabean’s head, Pill’s ability to hit right-handed, and Buster reserving several days at first it doesn’t seem likely he’ll make the cut for opening day.

While it’s possible that Giants may be may be making the correct adjustments for Belt and that I’m just a blind evaluator, it might actually be good for Belt to go to Fresno to clear his head and clean up his approach, rather than attempt to fix it in a bench role against Major League pitchers. At the very least, he’s guaranteed a full-time gig there and he won’t have to deal with the pressure of 40,000 fans and the front office scrutinizing his every at-bat. He’ll come up when he’s ready, though he doesn’t have much to prove.

It’s hard to not worry about Belt’s progress as he gets yo-yoed around in limbo, but if he goes down, hopefully he’ll be able to find his way out sooner than later.

Stats via Fangraphs, Moore video via ESPN

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