Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Giants need patience with Brandon Belt's strikeout problem

Once upon a time the Giants had an awesome hitting prospect, he had all the tools one could ask for, he had good power, made contact well and by all accounts was a very good fielder.

At each minor league level against inferior pitching he looked like the second coming of Babe Ruth, a real can't miss prospect that was the envy of every scouting director and general manager in baseball.

When he was finally called up to the majors something funny happened. He couldn’t hit a major league curveball and his strike out rate soared. When he did put the ball in play, he had poor luck with those balls falling in for hits leading to a poor batting average.

The major league team was dumb struck, "how could this happen?" they asked and proceeded to yo-yo him between the majors and the minors giving him spurts of playing time.

Luckily the Giants gave this prospect enough shots and after being in the big leagues for 700 or so plate appearances he was finally able to get his strikeout rate under control and fulfill his promise becoming a 4 time All-Star for the Giants.

If you thought this was a story about Brandon Belt I don’t blame you, but this is the story of Matt Williams who had similar struggles adjusting to pitching at the very highest level but eventually figured out things.

Over his first 3 seasons in the big leagues, Williams had strikeout rates of 25.6%, 24.1%, and 23.2%. It wasn’t until after he had logged over 700 plate appearances that he began to show the skills that would make him one of the best players in the game.

After those early seasons he pretty much kept his strikeout rate at or below 20% which is still pretty high but with his power that level of contact was more than enough.

This is the development path I imagine for Belt, early in his career he will likely strikeout too much but after he has around a full season’s worth of plate appearances his strikeout rate will start to move towards more acceptable levels. Belt has the skills to be a very good baseball player but at this point he just needs to be given the chance by the Giants to learn and adjust. I may not like it if Belt doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training but when he does get his next shot the Giants need to just let him have at it.

There will be some frustrating moments early on but in the long run it will be best for Belt and the team to give him the time to make the needed adjustments. I hope the Giants can hold off on the quick hook.

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