Brandon Belt has a job for the Blue Jays

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY sports

During Carlo Correa Negotiations remain at an impasse, the Blue Jays made (some) headlines yesterday by inking Brandon belt to a one-year deal worth $9.6 million per year several Sources. Belt, a longtime fixture on the Giants offense, is expected to play at first base and serve as Toronto’s designated hitter. That means he will share time with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as well as Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirkwho will likely take turns DHing to minimize their grueling workload as catchers.

First of all, this arrangement makes no immediate sense. What Guerrero, Jansen, and Kirk have in common besides their hatred of oncoming baseballs is right-handedness, and right batters are usually worse against right pitchers. You might have guessed that the Jays recruited the left-handed belt to compensate for this particular weakness. But so far in their careers, the aforementioned trio haven’t shown much vulnerability to even-handed pitching. Check out these splits:

Career Platoon Splits (wRC+)

player against RHP against LHP
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 140 115
Danny Jansen 105 83
Alejandro Kirk 124 126

So why did the Jays bother signing Belt? Some possible answers: It’s good to have diversity in a constellation; the Jays needed depth; and Belt is an intriguing rebound candidate regardless of handedness. But I have another theory! The number one reason even-handed pitcher-batter matchups end up embarrassing for the batter is that breaking balls are good—almost too good, as evidenced by the league-wide imbalance between pitchers and batters. Or just ask Max Scherzerthrowing his slider right-handers only and eat them alive. It is becoming increasingly important that teams are able to endure such breaking ball volleys.

The Blue Jays are and will likely be a great fastball batting team. But they’re not such a great breaking or off-speed team. That’s true for most other teams, although that doesn’t mean it’s not a bug. If anything, mastering all three pitch types would give you a significant advantage over the rest of the competition. One Brandon Belt won’t give the Blue Jays a multi-win lead, but consider his damage against right-hand pitcher breaks since 2020, along with that of his new teammates:

Where Brandon Belt stands out

player Batted Balls wOBacon
Brandon belt 68 .621
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 287 .440
Danny Jansen 103 .379
Alejandro Kirk 144 .314

Those aren’t bad grades from Guerrero, Jansen and Kirk – they’re good sluggers, after all – but Belt was just so incredibly good at hitting breaking balls. Sure, the chances of him repeating his 2020-21 resurgence from scratch are vanishingly slim. But even if you isolate 2022, a year in which he dealt with injuries and generally fell back to earth, he still recorded a .435 wOBAcon against righty breaking balls. That beats all of Jansen and Kirk’s individual grades, albeit in a limited sample. The bottom line is that throughout his career, Belt has feasted on certain types of pitches that caused minor problems for the Blue Jays. He’s not a left-hand batsman; He’s a left-hander who can fill a valuable niche for a lineup.

Additionally, the Blue Jays don’t have to jump through multiple hoops to figure out the best way to use Belt without exposing him to left-handed pitching. That might have been the case had he been more of a versatile hitter with no apparent strength. But the slider-spamming, platoon-split-prone helpers appear almost exclusively in later innings when the Blue Jays can summon Belt and don’t have to sacrifice much in lineup building. And that doesn’t mean much, but for fun I looked up his track record as a pinch bat: a 128 wRC+ in 104 plate appearances, which is pretty good! Factor in the pinch-hit penalty and you could tell he’s been decently pinched throughout his career. Again, that doesn’t say anything about how he’ll do as a pincher in 2023, but I mean, don’t tell me you can’t imagine him doing something like that in a crowded Rogers Center:

Often injured in recent years and in the “Wheeeeeee!” Part of a roller-coaster aging curve, Belt hasn’t exactly garnered much attention from the market. We saw as “safer” first basemen like Jose Abreu and Josh Bell signed early in free agency, which more or less guaranteed a full season’s playing time. Maybe that kind of limited role isn’t what Belt had in mind, and he may have spent the winter looking for better deals. But you can see why he and the Blue Jays struck a nice little deal. The Jays aren’t counting on him getting back in shape or even staying healthy for an entire season. They don’t have to! They seem content to task him with one role, and that’s beating the snot out of right-handed crush balls. The worst-case scenario is that he’s too weakened to even do that, in which case the Blue Jays still don’t lose much; Her offense would still remain one of the best in the league, and rightly so.

From Belt’s point of view, there is perhaps less pressure to perform initially to hold his own for a team whose fans didn’t always appreciate him. Now he’s secured a part-time job and is on the verge of getting a hell of a fee for his services. Technically, one could argue that the Blue Jays have forked too far, but I won’t go that route. It’s a bit like saying that a team overpays a LOOGY (RIP, btw) for playing only a handful of batters. Of course he does; that’s the whole point of his job! I’m not sure what the Blue Jays have in store for Belt, but based on everything it’s likely they’ll name him their resident righty and pinch-hit specialist in a league where breaking balls are becoming more common . Solid decision if you ask me.

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