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Brandon Belt is Breaking Out, Finally

When Brandon Belt yanked out 17 long balls and posted an .841 OPS in 2013, we sensed his potential breakout. And we became confident of it after he went nuts in the first week of 2014, where he hit 5 dingers in 8 games. Unfortunately, his supposed-to-be breakout season was plagued by a series of injuries, including a fractured finger and concussion which was sustained when he got hit by a baseball during batting practice.

After a slow start to the 2015 season, the UTA product has been on fire in May. Recently, he wowed the baseball world with this 475-footer that landed on Coors Fields’ third deck.

[mlbvideo id=”127299983″ width=”400″ height=”224″ /]

Is this another sign of Belt’s long-awaited breakout? Or just a hot stretch? To investigate his numbers, there’s enough evidence to convince me that it’s rather the former than the latter.

Entering Sunday’s contest, the Giants first baseman is slashing .313/.388/.511 with 4 round-trippers and 18 RBI in 147 PA. His 154 wRC+ to date is ranked 17th best among qualified hitters (I also note that two spots below him is a fellow Brandon and Giants infielder Brandon Crawford, who’s spotting 149) and better than some of his first base peers like Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman (138 each), and Jose Abreu (123). It’s easily noticeable that his production is fueled by a stratospheric .411 BABIP, which is ranked third highest on the leaderboard. You can assume that it will start regressing to the mean sooner rather than later.

However, while Belt won’t keep getting the love of the BABIP goddess, he’s not performing totally out of his mind. According to FanGraphs’ batted ball data, his 34.0% line drive rate sits near atop of the rankings, trailing only Lucas Duda’s 35.0%. Additionally, spotting a 45.7% hard%, which ranks third-highest among qualified hitters. The only two batsmen mashing the ball hard at a higher rate than Belt are Alex Rodriguez (47.0%) and Giancarlo Stanton (45.9%).  His 10.6 soft% is tied for 10th lowest in baseball. Factoring in these figures, the ball flies off his bat when he makes contact. From 2012-2013,  he recorded a BABIP of .351 in consecutive seasons over a span of more than 1000 plate appearances. His career mark is a steady .339 So, when it regresses, his BABIP is likely to settle around that range.

Let’s dig a little deeper into Baby Giraffe’s batted ball data, retrieving from the fantastic Baseball Savant this time. His average batted ball velocity comes out at 94.03 miles per hour, seventh best mark among 224 hitters with at least 50 at-bats with data. His average fly ball distance is 209.12 feet, fourth best among those who exceeded the same cutoff line. For comparison, his numbers from 2012-2014 were 192.76, 204.38, and 191.89, respectively. One can argue that he’s barely had a quarter worth of plate appearances, but study shows that batted ball data stabilizes rather quickly.

It’s safe to say Belt is tormenting the baseball harder than ever. His moonshot at Coors Field din’t come out of nowhere.

What will his full-season production look like? I don’t think a .280 AVG, 20+ HR,  80+ RBI campaign is out of reach. In this era of historically low offense, these are solid numbers even from a corner position. These numbers are enough to make him a solid second-tier first baseman. He’s a legitimate starting first baseman in deep leagues. For those who are concerned about his vulnerability against southpaws, , his career platoon splits are relatively small (131 wRC+ against righties and 115 wRC against lefties).  To consider the fact that he’s stepping into his prime years, he could blossom into a top-tier guy. The real kryptonite for him is home park which can kill his value drastically. The series of concussions he suffered from could be the devil too. But if he manages to maintain health, he’ll live up to the once-top 30 prospect hype.

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Kazuto Yamazaki

Kazuto Yamazaki

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