No doubt about it, Brandon Belt is off to a hot start. He was the subject of week’s “Fantasy Baseball Crackerjack of the Week” at the Dear Mr. Fantasy Podcast, and it appears as though, finally, he just may be ready to be a top hitter. Of course, that means that he may be a top fantasy option that should be owned in every league — as he is now.
But is Belt’s hot start for real? Just a mirage? Or does his value lie somewhere in between?
What to Like
The numbers are pretty hard to dislike.
Obviously that pace is laughably good. So much so that there’s no way he’ll come anywhere near sustaining it. But really, Belt’s improvement as a hitter goes beyond the first eight games of 2014.
Despite having a rather pedestrian .260 average at the All-Star Break last year, Belt hit .289 in 2013. That’s a .326 second half average and even with a poor first half of 2013 mixed in there, he’s been a .290 hitter since the All-Star Break of 2012. He also entered 2014 as a .282 hitter at the notoriously pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, so the average has never been a serious question.
The question has always been, can he hit for power?
So far, the answer to that question has been yes. It’s always very encouraging to see young players overcome their weak spots. But Belt’s done a lot more than that, his weakness has been a strength in 2014. Fantasy owners have to like that. Also, he hasn’t walked once in 2014, something Belt’s always done very well. So when he begins to walk more, things will likely get even better.
There’s been a perception about Belt that his manager, Bruce Bochy, had it out for him. As a person who’s seen an awful lot of Belt in his career, I’ll say that’s not entirely true. Belt played 145 games in 2012 — the exact same number as Paul Goldschmidt — and 150 in 2013. The Giants were obviously a contending team in 2012 and Belt did struggle quite a bit in the early part of that season. So, 145 games is not a bad number.The real issue was more about Belt’s placement in the Giants order.
For now, that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Belt’s been batting second against right-handed pitchers, and fifth against left-handed pitchers — both pretty good spots in the order for fantasy production. If he keeps hitting, it’s unlikely that Belt will be moved from the 2-5 window, even when/if Marco Scutaro returns to the Giants lineup.
What to Dislike
Despite the hot start to the year, Belt’s currently on pace for over 200 strikeouts. Now, there’s a potential comeback there. Paces are always misleading in the early weeks of the season. Yes, he’s on pace for over 200 K’s, but as we already saw, Belt’s also on pace to hit about 100 bombs this season. Early season paces are always incredibly misleading. There’s nothing new about that.
But strikeouts have always been a bit of a concern for the Baby Giraffe. So far, he’s been good enough to withstand that. But when the season gets older, the pitcher’s arms begin to strengthen, and they make their adjustments to what Belt’s done. I wouldn’t call it a value killer, but a value diminisher? Sure.
More importantly, you don’t need to strike out over 200 times to have your value diminished. It’s not a deal-breaker at this point, but it is a warning sign.
The power numbers have also come largely against the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation — which is in shambles right now. He did hit one against Zack Greinke on Sunday night but if you watched that game, you definitely noticed that Greinke was a little sore that inning. That’s not to diminish anything — remember, I’m a San Francisco Giants fan — but it’s definitely something to note.
He also hit three of those five home runs in Arizona. Not only is their pitching staff a wreck right now, but the home park is quite hitter-friendly. San Francisco’s AT&T Park is not, especially for left-handed bats and their power.
As a matter of fact, since the park opened in 2000, the list of left-handed hitters to hit 20 or more homers in a season is not a long one: Barry Bonds and Aubrey Huff. Switch hitters like Pablo Sandoval, Jose Cruz Jr, and Ray Durham do deserve special mention, but Bonds and Huff are the only exclusive lefties to do it.
So if you’re expecting Brandon Belt to hit 25-30 (or more) homers, you may want to dial your excitement back a notch or two.
What to do Going Forward
First of all, I do believe that Belt will have a good enough season from this point forward to stay on fantasy rosters everywhere. So, if by some chance he ends up on the waiver wire in your league, I’d snag him up.
He’s got a lot of value if you can realistically afford nothing more than 20 homers from his spot on your team. I’m not saying that Belt can’t exceed that but until he does, you can’t go and expect him to be an elite power hitter over six months based on what he’s done in a week.
If Belt is on your team, this would not be a bad time to sell high on him. Don’t look to give him up, but if you drafted Belt as a UT or CI guy, it means that you already have a starting 1B. If one of your league-mates needs a first baseman, offer a trade to him. Make sure it’s one that would benefit you, but realize that realistically, Belt’s value can’t get much higher than it is right here, right now.
If you can’t get that trade, ride forward with Belt on your roster. He’s almost certain to regress in some areas, but Brandon Belt been knocking on the door of being a good fantasy player for a few years. Remember, he’s still a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday, and is in all likelihood headed towards the best year of his career.
Curb your expectations a little. But don’t be afraid of regression. Brandon Belt could be a fine player for a fantasy baseball champion at season’s end.