Yesterday, the Giants completed a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros at home to begin the second half. It’s no extraordinary feat — the Astros are now 9-35 on the road this season, which is shockingly terrible (especially considering that they have a winning record at home). But there’s something to be said for winning the games that are supposed to be won — and the Giants did just that. Now they have a 1.5-game lead in the NL West, as the Dodgers continue to slide.
I was lucky enough to get into the press box for yesterday’s game, and a few things stood out to me:
– Brandon Belt drew a couple walks in four plate appearances, taking a very good approach in his at-bats. He doesn’t look like a player that’s been scuffling, that’s for sure. In the first inning, he “drove in” one of the Giants’ three runs by drawing a bases-loaded walk — in four pitches, no less. That’s the first time the Giants have drawn a four-pitch bases-loaded walk in almost exactly a year; Mike Fontenot did it on July 14, 2011. It’s not like it’s a pure reflection of a hitter’s plate discipline — it’s pretty clearly in the hands of the pitcher. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Belt was the first Giants’ hitter to do this in the last year. And it’s not like he stands up there just watching every pitch go by. In his fourth-inning walk, he was swinging on a 2-0 count.
He’s struggled over the past two weeks, and people have taken notice. But it’s been two weeks, and nothing looks off to me in terms of his approach/swing. It’s completely ordinary for a good major-league hitter to go through some rough two-week stretches; hasn’t he earned the benefit of the doubt at this point? I mean, if he were to go through an extended slump, I’d understand the concerns. In any event, it was nice to see Belt reach base a couple times yesterday and contribute to what turned out to be a crucial run, even if he did take an “0-for-2.”
– On the opposite side of things, Brandon Crawford had some extremely ugly at-bats yesterday, his sixth-inning walk notwithstanding. Following Belt’s four-pitch bases-loaded walk in the first inning, he swung (and missed) at Norris’ first offering. Then he swung at the second pitch, fouling it off. And then he swung at the third pitch, and once again missed. A pitcher walks in a run on four pitches, and Crawford comes to the plate and strikes out on three pitches to end the inning.
That wasn’t the only instance, either. In the fourth inning, Bud Norris began by walking Nate Schierholtz and Brandon Belt. Back-to-back walks to lead off the inning, and what does Crawford do? He comes up first-pitch swinging, of course, promptly flying out.
– There’s a pretty fascinating symmetry if you compare Emmanuel Burriss’ 2011 stats to his 2012 stats. He’s put up terrible numbers this season, and they’re just as terrible as they were last season. It should go without saying, but he is not worthy of a roster spot on a major-league team, let alone the #2 spot in the lineup.
– As a general rule of thumb, I try not to complain much about lineup construction, seeing as it doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. But having Belt (.360 OBP) bat in front of Brandon Crawford and [insert pitcher here] is absurd.
– The most important development of this series, of course, was the return of good Tim Lincecum. Eight innings, 11 strikeouts, one walk. Vintage stuff. Needless to say, that was highly encouraging to see, especially considering that the primary concern coming into the second half was Tim Lincecum.
Yesterday, I looked at how the Giants’ rotation fared in the first half. Today, I’ll look at the position players — the offense.
Melky Cabrera came over in a buy-high sell-low trade of Jonathan Sanchez, and wasn’t expected to repeat his excellent 2011 season — which was far and above what he’d done on the baseball diamond in the years prior to that. Instead, Melky has actually improved upon last year’s performance. He’s currently second in the National League in batting average, sixth in OBP, and top-15 in slugging. The near-.400 batting average on balls in play has a little to do with that, but at this point, I think it’s safe to say 2011 Melky was real. The Giants have had to handle Buster Posey with care, and they lost Pablo Sandoval for a while, but Melky Cabrera has been a constant for the Giants all season long, putting up a .353/.391/.519 while appearing in 83 of the team’s 86 games. The focus now, with Melky’s impending free agency, is signing him to a contract extension. The front office is going to have a tough decision to make…
Angel Pagan, the other outfield trade acquisition, has also proven a solid addition thus far. He got off to an unbelievably rough start, but managed to rebound quite well. Unfortunately, he failed to finish the first half strong, carrying a .488 OPS over his final 94 plate appearances before the all-star break. He’s ultimately been slightly above average with the bat, and he’s also been a pretty efficient basestealer (15 SB, 2 CS). His defense, on the other hand, has been a series of misadventures; but in all fairness to Pagan, Andres Torres isn’t exactly an easy act to follow.
After the Scott Cousins collision last season, Buster Posey was a major concern (at least for me) going into the season. How would he hold up behind the wear and tear of catching on a regular basis? Would he be as productive as before? Fortunately, Posey essentially picked up right where he left off. He’s as productive as he was last year prior to the injury, except he’s hitting with significantly more power. Plus, he’s continued to provide steady glovework behind the plate. As the season continues and the Giants head toward the stretch run, they would probably be wise to give Posey some more rest in lieu of some of these first base starts.
Along with the two aforementioned outfielders, Gregor Blanco has given the Giants one of the more productive outfields in the majors. Another brilliant minor-league pick-up, Blanco has added considerable value in the field, at the plate, and on the basepaths. Like Pagan, his production tailed off a little as the all-star break approached, but as with Pagan, it’s too early to hit the panic button. On another note, Blanco’s range in right field has been particularly convenient given Pagan’s defensive struggles.
Crawford has been a polarizing figure of sorts since the season began. The Giants committed to him as their starting shortstop for one reason — his defense; and Crawford’s defense has been anything but perfect (through 77 games, he’s committed 12 errors). But he’s also made some great picks at short, and in spite of the occasional bobbles and miscues, he’s been above average in that facet. His bat, expectedly, has left a lot to be desired. But the .268 wOBA is oddly tolerable from a plus defensive shortstop. Fangraphs has him at 0.8 WAR through 274 plate appearances, which is a hair below average production. Perhaps it’s a generous valuation, but overall, Crawford has certainly been okay.
Brandon Belt’s season can arbitrarily be divided into three segments:
- April 6 to June 10: .224/.340/.328, 141 PA
- June 12 to June 23: .441/.568/.882, 44 PA
- June 24 to July 8: .179/.195/.282, 41 PA
Belt was so blistering hot over that 11-game span in mid-June that he completely destroyed any doubts I may have had about him — at least for the time being. Overall, he’s had a solid season — and hopefully, given consistent playing time in the second half, he can start to produce consistently.
Pablo Sandoval picked up where he left off in 2011 — that is, until he broke his other hamate bone in early May. Upon his return, Sandoval’s power numbers took somewhat of a hit, and it’ll be interesting to see if that continues. In any event, while healthy, he’s inarguably hit very well (133 wRC+). The real disappointment — if any — has been Sandoval’s defense. Last season, he had a pretty strong Gold Glove case; this season, he’s been mediocre at best.
Joaquin Arias had a 51 wRC+ in Triple-A last season. But thanks to the Giants’ miserable middle-infield situation and the hamate injury that kept Pablo Sandoval out for several weeks, Arias has seen a lot of playing time — 54 games in total. Arias is the proverbial replacement level player, and he’s performed like it.
With the emergence of Gregor Blanco, Schierholtz has seen his playing time dwindle — and it’s probably for the better. He’s more or less been the same Schierholtz of 2009/2010 — a useful but dispensable fourth outfielder.
I don’t know what’s sadder — the fact that Emmanuel Burriss has an ISO of .008 or the fact that it’s actually an improvement over last year.
It’s easy be tough on Hector Sanchez, who’s drawn all of two walks this season. But it’s important to remember that he’s a) a backup catcher, and b) 22 years old. In light of that, his performance has been perfectly back-up catcher-y.
Over the past six games, Brandon Belt has put together a modest little hitting streak, during which time he’s collected eight hits — three of them homers — and drawn four walks. Not to mention, he’s only struck out in three of his 24 plate appearances. It’s only six games, but his performance over the last week has been enough to bring his overall seasonal line to .250/.364/.412, good for a 112 wRC+. While that perhaps still falls short of some of the lofty expectations we all had for Belt coming into this season — the power numbers in particular are disappointing — he’s been as good, overall, as we should have reasonably expected.
First of all, his 112 wRC+ is pretty solid compared to what other first basemen have done this season. National League first basemen, as a whole, have a 103 wRC+ for the 2012 season (.251/.328/.430). In terms of total offensive value, Belt has been better than guys like Albert Pujols, Freddie Freeman, Carlos Pena, Adrian Gonzalez, and Kevin Youkilis, to name a few (also, he’s tied with Mark Teixeira at a 112 wRC+).
And overall, Fangraphs (fWAR) has Belt’s 2012 production valued at 0.8 WAR over 165 PA. It’s important to be cautious in citing WAR over such small samples, but Belt’s fielding value (+1.3 UZR) is well within reason; in other words, he’s not just benefiting from some fluky defensive metrics here. If Belt could simply maintain his established level of production for 2012 over 600 plate appearances, he’d be a ~3 WAR player. (Of course, Belt likely won’t reach the 600-PA mark.) I’m certain that if I were told at the beginning of the season that Belt would perform at a 3-WAR pace, I’d have happily taken it.
It’s also worth noting that Baseball-Reference (rWAR) has Belt at 1.1 WAR, which translates to 4 WAR over 600 plate appearances. That’s especially impressive when you consider that Baseball Reference’s WAR doesn’t give players the same replacement level boost that Fangraphs does. Put on the same scale as Fangraphs’ implementation of WAR, Belt’s 1.1 rWAR translates to something like 4.7 WAR over 600 plate appearances. (Though in this case, the defensive value prorated over a full season is generous).
Anyway, it obviously remains to be seen how Belt will perform over the rest of the season, but that’s beside the point. I think it’s safe to say that he’s been good this season, and that there’s little reason to be disappointed with his overall production. For all the concern about his playing time, Brett Pill is in Triple-A right now and Aubrey Huff is on the DL, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem going forward. What the Giants have on their hands right now is a 24-year-old first baseman with strong defensive skills and a .335 wOBA in a year in which National League first baseman have collectively posted a .328 wOBA. While I’m still holding out hope that he’ll increase the power production as the season progresses and eventually climb up to a .350 wOBA (as projected by ZiPS), Brandon Belt has arrived.