Brandon Belt hasn’t started his season as most would have hoped, as he currently boasts a .227/.346/.330 line. He’s had solid on-base numbers to this point, but he’s failed to hit the ball with much authority — in fact, he has yet to hit his first home run of 2012. Additionally, he’s striking out at a rather high clip — 26.2% of his plate appearances have ended in a strikeout, compared to a league-average of 19.5%. The strikeouts have especially plagued Belt of late, as he has K’d in 9 of his last 19 plate appearances.
In light of Belt’s disappointing performance, I think it’s worth point out a few things.
For one, strikeouts aren’t such a bad thing. Plenty of great hitters strike out at relatively high rates, and it doesn’t prevent them from having success. Given his patience and power potential, Belt fits the bill for a player that could go this route. (And it’s not as though he’s striking out at Mark Reynolds rates.) In fact, it’s pretty refreshing to see a hitter like Belt on the Giants — strikeouts and all.
Since 2007, the Giants rank:
- 12th in the National League in K%
- 15th in the National League in BB%
- 15th in the National League in wRC+
If their recent offenses are any indication, the Giants seem to love hitters who don’t strike out a lot, even if it’s often at the expense of drawing walks. Recent acquisitions like Melky Cabrera (12% K rate) and Angel Pagan (14.4% K rate) reflect this approach. (And, for the record, I like both Melky and Pagan a lot, and I’d say they’ve proven to be solid hitters).
Belt, as a high-walk high-strikeout hitter, represents a shift from this kind of hacktastic approach that so many recent Giants hitters have shown. He’s not too passive at the plate, either. According to pitch f/x data, Belt swings at 25.1% of pitches out of the strike zone. The league average is 28.3%. Belt also swings at 74.9% of pitches within the strike zone. The league average is 61.3%.
That’s not an overly passive hitter. That’s a selective hitter — one that waits for good pitches to hit, and then swings away. As long as Belt continues to employ this selective approach, I expect him to come around eventually.
Belt has come to the plate 107 times this season. It’s far too early to start worrying about him, especially considering that he hasn’t been that terrible. He’s currently at a 91 wRC+, which, while poor for a first baseman, isn’t approaching Eric Hosmer or Ike Davis levels.
So, just be patient. Especially with the power — there’s not much to conclude yet from Belt’s early power outage.
Over their previous five games, the Giants had drawn 33 walks — 31 of them unintentional; this is a team that’s been all about swinging at the first pitch, putting the ball in play, and avoiding strikeouts at the expense of working the count and drawing walks, but for once, it seemed as though they had begun to adopt a more patient approach. Sunday’s game against Bartolo Colon — who had walked eight of the 237 batters he’s faced this season — presented this team with a good test.
And at first, it looked like they would fail that test. Gregor Blanco struck out on three pitches to lead off the game. Brandon Crawford then struck out on three pitches as a follow-up. Melky Cabrera popped a ball up into left field that fell for a double, but Buster Posey grounded out to end the inning. It was going to be an afternoon of quick see-ya’s and weak contact.
But in the second inning, Angel Pagan got the Giants on the board by way of some excellent baserunning — first by barely stretching a single into a double (he’s now hit safely in 31 of his last 32 games), then by tagging up twice on flyouts.
The Giants scored their first two runs via the sacrifice fly, bringing their running total to seven sac flies over the last four games. They had seven sac flies through their first 36 games. Hey, if they’re not going to get hits with runners in scoring position, at least they’re finding other ways to get the runs in.
Except, those would be their only two runs on the day, as Colon held them in check for five innings — and, in the process, racked up the strikeouts. Colon had struck out five hitters over his last three starts, but managed to K seven Giants in his five innings of work.
The fifth inning was particularly ugly, as the Giants failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded less-than-two-outs situation. Angel Pagan worked the count full, then struck out looking on an inside pitch which — to Colon’s credit — had some beautiful movement. Then, in an at-bat that featured some pretty bold and arguably ill-advised two-strike takes, Belt eventually did the same thing: struck out looking on a 3-2 pitch.
As for the pitching side of things, that wasn’t too pretty either. The A’s are one of the worst teams in baseball when it comes to hitting right-handed pitchers; as a team, they’ve hit .211/.289/.333 against righties, with an AL-worst 75 wRC+. Today was as good a day as any for Tim Lincecum to give the Giants one of his trademark dominant outings. And through the first three innings, he was. He was throwing strikes, getting whiffs, and keeping hits to a minimum. In the first inning, he struck out the side — all three of ‘em swinging. In the second, he retired the side in order, tallying a fourth strikeout. In the third, he pitched out of a two-out runner-on-third jam, getting Cliff Pennington to ground out.
But in the fourth inning, it all unraveled. Seth Smith and Josh Donaldson hit back-to-back singles. Daric Barton drew a six-pitch walk. And with the bases loaded, Lincecum fell behind to both Kurt Suzuki and Colin Cowgill, eventually serving up RBI singles to both of ‘em. Lincecum eventually got out of the inning with a Pennington foulout; but the damage was done: four runs on four hits, two walks, and a grand total of 41 pitches.
Lincecum wasn’t exactly hit hard, but his command was all over the place, and it was more or less the same struggles we’ve seen out of him all season long. We’re now nine starts into the season, and Lincecum’s ERA is still over 6.00; he’s had one quality start, and even in that outing he walked four hitters, and only struck out five. DIPS says he hasn’t been all that bad — his FIP is at 2.93, which is identical to his career mark. But I have a hard time buying into the notion that he’s been as good as his underlying peripherals would suggest, and while I still expect him to bounce back, his command (paired with the dropoff in fastball velocity) is a very serious concern at this point.
- The Giants struck out looking eight times on the day, which is uncharacteristic of this team. Entering today, only 22% of their strikeouts were looking — which puts them in the bottom-10 in the majors. In fact, when Crawford struck out looking in the seventh inning of yesterday’s game, it had ended a streak of 21 consecutive swinging strikeouts.
- Aside from his sac fly, Belt had a rough day at the plate, as he accounted for three of the Giants’ strikeouts. It’s only a matter of time before Aubrey Huff takes back the starting first base job.
- Melky Cabrera accounted for four of the Giants’ eight hits on the day, as he extended his season total to a major-league-leading 20 multi-hit games. His hits today weren’t especially impressive — a grounder that found a hole, a pop-up that dropped in for a double, and a couple bloops — and he’s bound to slow his pace eventually, but that’s not to take away from what he’s accomplished; he’s now within inches of .300/.400/.500 territory (currently hitting .353/.396/.497).
- Bruce Bochy continued his trend of leaving pitchers in the game too long. After Shane Loux had already given the Giants two scoreless innings, Bochy left him in the game to hit in the sixth inning, and he gave up a two-run shot to Josh Reddick upon coming back out for a third inning of work. For a manager generally lauded for his handling of pitchers, Bochy’s been unimpressive in that regard this season — to say the least.
On the day it was announced that Pablo Sandoval would miss the next six weeks with a broken hamate bone in his left hand, the Giants didn’t do much to raise spirits. In fact, these last three games against the Marlins have featured some pretty shoddy baseball on their part:
- The Giants scored five runs this series. They managed to strand 23 baserunners in this three-game set. They drew a grand total of five walks. As promising — by which I mean “potentially acceptable” — as the Giants’ offense looked at the beginning of the season, they’ve fallen back to earth. Over their last few sets (Reds, Padres, Marlins), they’ve averaged 2.7 runs scored per game. Yuck.
- After collecting a couple hits in back-to-back games, I have to think the whole Brandon Belt fiasco is actually nearing its end. He’s raised his overall line to .292/.370/.396 (120 wRC+), and given that the Giants are starved for run production right now, I think Belt has finally reached the point where he’ll be given regular playing time. At least, I hope so. What a relief that would be.
- With today’s 0-for-2, Brandon Crawford‘s numbers have dropped to .208/.228/.338. That’s a 43 wRC+. At least his glove is…oh, six errors on the year already? I’ve been pretty back-and-forth on the issue of Brandon Crawford. It took a while, but I eventually warmed up to the idea of him as starting shortstop. I’m not hopping off the bandwagon yet, but I’m close. He’s gotten off to a miserable start this season.
- This was Anibal Sanchez‘s fourth career start against the Giants. In 31 innings, he’s now allowed four runs. 24 strikeouts, five walks.
- This is only the second time the Giants have been swept at home in the last year. The last time? Another ugly series against the Marlins.
- We’re a few days into May, which means there’s a lot of baseball left. This Sandoval injury is by no means a nail in the coffin for the Giants. But things are looking pretty bad at this point. They’re already five games back in the NL West, and that alone feels like a lot of ground to make up (of course, there are also a couple wild card spots up for grabs). They’ll need to somehow tread water until Sandoval’s return; with near-automatic outs slotted in at third base, shortstop, and second base, that’s an unenviable task. These next few weeks could very well be disastrous. One can only hope that today was the low point of 2012.
- With today’s performance, Ryan Vogelsong brought his ERA/FIP down to 3.42/3.43 respectively. Through four starts, he’s quietly remained great at the back end of the Giants’ rotation, which was far from a sure thing heading into this season. At least there’s that.