You can imagine my surprise last night when I turned on the game and lo and behold, Brandon Belt was in the starting lineup. Belt, who has seemed more like a stranger in the past few series, got a rare start in left field — his first start since September 5th against the Padres. Belt ended up going 1-4 with a couple of hard hit outs, one that included a long flyball to Matt Kemp that off the bat looked like it was destined for a homerun.
On the topic of Belt seeing a few more starts, Baggs says:
In other news, Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean and Hensley Meulens met after Friday night’s loss, and although Bochy didn’t term it as a white-flag understanding, it was clear they agreed to move forward and play with an eye toward next season.
Brandon Belt is in the lineup today against a left-hander and will start tomorrow too, Bochy said. Also, Brandon Crawford will be at shortstop tomorrow. And Justin Christian is getting a long look, along with Brett Pill.
Getting Belt more PT as the season winds down is a good move for the Giants. Much ink has been spilled on the topic of Brandon Belt and the Giants nearly criminal mismanagement of the young prospect. However, no matter how much the Giants would prefer not to waive any ‘white flags’ the team needs to evaluate its younger players at the MLB level before the season is finished. It doesn’t make sense to play guys like Orlando Cabrera at this point. And as much as it stings to say it, the season is effectively over.
Brandon Belt’s biggest struggle this year hasn’t come against hitting fastballs as many have theorized (his whiff rate on fastballs is currently 15.5%, league average is around 16% in 2011), but rather making adjustments against breaking pitches. Since Belt’s playing time has been so sporadic and random, you’re going to immediately run into the issue of small sample size (for instance, Belt has only “seen” 652 pitches this year, 160 of which have been a variation of a breaking pitch); but, I think Belt’s struggles against the breaking pitch are somewhat tellling.
Belt has swung at 65 breaking pitches in 2011 (pitches that are classified as either sliders or curves by the PFX classification algorithm), and of those 65 swings, he’s missed a total of 22 times for a 33.8% whiff-rate (misses/swings). According to this excellent benchmark article by Harry Pavladis, the average whiff-rate for breaking pitches tends to be around 30% by Harry’s grouping standard. So, while Belt isn’t totally out of sorts against curveballs and sliders, he’s missing more than your average hitter.
Note: I’ve added the batter image more as a point of reference, it’s not totally scaled correctly, so don’t freak out.
Here’s an image of Brandon Belt vs. breaking pitches (ie: sliders, curves). The blue circles indicate swings, and the “+” markings indicate whiffs — or swings and misses. From our image, Belt looks susceptible to the down-and-in breaking ball. More than half his whiffs on the breaking pitch are down-and-in. As expected, Belt shows pretty good knowledge of the strike zone against our small sample of breaking pitches. He rarely swung outside of the zone against these types of pitches.
So, what does it all mean? Well, for the Giants, and their internal evaluations, Belt taking some good hacks against breaking pitches over the remainder of the season would most likely go a long way to helping him find PT in 2012. Breaking pitches strike me as one of those things that a player needs exposure to (read this as, you know, actual in-game playing time) in order to improve at. Pitchers in the major leagues surely throw more, and better, breaking balls than their minor league counterparts. It’s big reason why Belt needs the playing time. It’s hard to improve against a pitch-type if you never get to take at-bats against that pitch-type.
On the other hand, it’s very possible that Belt’s fractured PT hasn’t done him any favors against hitting curveballs and sliders in the majors. Belt hasn’t had the chance to get consistent ABs this season and it could be showing right now. And, add in the fact that we’re talking about 65 total swings against breaking balls, and it’s not hard to see how things aren’t super reliable at this small of a sample.
I think (hope?) that Belt can improve against breaking pitches. He profiles as an intelligent hitter with good knowledge of the strike zone, and I think that given the chance, he’ll make the proper adjustments. Let’s hope that the Giants give him the chance to do so.