SAN FRANCISCO — The Belt Wars will never die. Want proof?
Many Giants fans still believe the first move the team should make this offseason is trading the first baseman, and yet, for the last three weeks, I’ve been doing these season recaps in reverse order of baseball-reference’s version of WAR, and there’s only one Giant left to be written about after Brandon Belt.
Once again, despite the injuries and the missed time, Belt had a valuable season. It wasn’t what it could have been, but by Wins Above Replacement, he was more valuable than any Giant but Buster Posey. Here are the highs and lows of another season that could have gone much differently for the Giants first baseman …
What Went Right
Early on, it looked like Belt was headed for huge numbers. He homered in four consecutive games in late April and had a .995 OPS through the end of that month. At the end of May, Belt was on pace for 33 homers and 94 RBI, and he was batting .309. That’s when his appendix flared up, sending him to the hospital.
Belt wasn’t the same once he returned from surgery, but he still finished the first half with a .287 average, 13 homers and 42 RBI. He was second in the Final Vote to be an NL All-Star.
Despite playing just 112 games, Belt finished second among MLB first baseman with 13 Defensive Runs Saved. When the last in-season SABR rankings were published, he was a clear leader among NL first baseman (at 6.9 SDI) in the metric that makes up a quarter of the Gold Glove vote.
On April 22, Belt had a 21-pitch at-bat against the Angels’ Jaime Barria, the longest in 30 years. It lasted 12 minutes and 45 seconds. He fouled off 16 pitches.
What Went Wrong
Belt never found his rhythm after having his appendix removed on June 1, and when he hyperextended his left knee running the bases in late July, it just added to his issues at the plate. He had just three homers and 15 RBI over his final 230 plate appearances, posting a .203/.283/.290 slash line.
Belt didn't homer over the season’s final two months, and when he was 4-for-32 in September, the Giants finally shut him down and sent him for surgery. His overall OPS+ (108) was his lowest since his rookie year.
The appendix injury was the latest in a run of bad luck. The knee injury was wear-and-tear. Regardless, Belt, who turned 30 in April, played just 112 games a season after playing 104.
Belt is due $16 million in 2019 and each of the following two seasons. He can list 10 teams that he cannot be traded to.
It seems like Belt has been a potential trade chip for years, and Posey’s hip surgery added to the chorus. But he likes San Francisco, and if he’s strategic about it, he can turn that 10-team list into pretty much a full no-trade clause, because there aren’t that many teams that can absorb his salary.
Bobby Evans liked Belt, and his extension certainly came from that side of the brain trust, but a new GM will be well-versed in analytics, which have always shown Belt to be a valuable player. He still is as good a bet as any Giant to be this team’s most productive hitter in 2019, and barring the unexpected, he’ll be at first base on Opening Day.