First baseman Brandon Belt is a pivotal offensive proponent who will make or break the San Francisco Giants‘ ability to score more runs in 2014. The Giants averaged less than 3.9 runs per game last season, ranking 21st in that category. But the 25-year-old slugger had a breakout season in 2013, recording a .289 batting average with 17 home runs and 67 runs-batted-in.
Belt was especially impressive in the second half of the season, posting a .915 OPS in 221 official at-bats. The “Baby Giraffe” now prepares to enter his fourth season as a pro with substantial expectations as the Giants’ No. 3 hitter in the lineup. Manager Bruce Bochy is going to rely upon Belt to be a run-producing machine.
The Giants struggled mightily in clutch situations last season, specifically with two outs and runners in scoring position. Belt would ideally be part of the solution, but owns a meager .200 batting average with one home run while driving in 35 runs in such situations. A bulk of Belt’s production actually occurs with less than two outs, although the awkward power-hitter figures to get far fewer at-bats in those situations while in the three-hole.
Belt significantly improved at the plate last season after making a pair of subtle adjustments to his approach. He sat back in the box, allowing himself an extra split second to react to the ball, and also altered his batting grip. The outcome was enormous, resulting in substantially better statistics.
Belt still needs to increase his productivity in clutch situations if the Giants are going to collectively score more runs in 2014, though. He’s arguably the biggest difference-maker in the Giants’ lineup. In fact, Belt owns a career .973 OPS in Giants’ wins compared to a mediocre .624 OPS in losses. If the Giants’ prized first baseman can sustain some kind of consistency on a game-by-game basis, San Francisco stands a solid chance of posting a winning record next season.
It typically takes Belt a decent chunk of time from the get-go to gain a rhythm at the plate. His career batting average is well below .250 through the first two months of the season, but he heats up as the season progresses. The Giants need Belt to display a constant ability to drive in runs, regardless of what the calendar says.
San Francisco recorded a cumulative .381 slugging percentage last season to rank 22nd in baseball. Belt can drastically increase that number if he’s able to maintain a steady power stroke throughout the season. He seemingly has a hole in his swing, though, which opposing pitchers often try to exploit. Belt noticeably has difficulty making contact on soft stuff away, largely contributing to a high strikeout tally.
Belt figures to work ferociously on plugging the gap in his swing during spring training. The result could spark an increase in his overall power numbers and ultimately net the Giants more wins next season.