Most Giants fans know the deal when it comes to Bruce Bochy and his veterans. Bochy loves a good veteran – he always has. Because Boch masterminded the Giants 2010 line-up into a World Series championship, there happens to be very few times that I chose to question his leadership. That batting order, top to bottom, was filled with veterans. Players like Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe and Aubrey Huff lead the offensive charge down the stretch and into the playoffs. Edgar Renteria, in his 14th season as a major leaguer, was the man to seal the deal on a title for the Giants. Although Bochy’s loyalty to veterans may have proved to pay off in the past, there is one case this year where I have to call foul on Bochy’s loyalty; that case belongs to Aubrey Huff.
Huff was magical in 2010 and his numbers reflected it. Huff batted .290 while hitting 26 homers and driving in 100 more runs. 2011, as we know all too well, was not so spectacular. In 150 games played, Huff batted at an underwhelming .246 clip, hitting 12 homers (3 of which came in one game) while driving in just 45 runs. Those mediocre numbers all came while Huff was stealing time from youngster Brandon Belt, who yo-yoed up and down between Fresno and San Francisco over the course of the season. When Belt was up in SF, he was sharing time with Huff at first base.
Considering that the Giants outfield is already crowded with names like Schierholtz, Pagan and Cabrera, there doesn’t seem to be much room for Belt. Given Huff’s inability to field the ball out in wide open spaces, it wouldn’t be logical to send him out there either. We have ourselves a good old fight for first base (awkward!), but knowing Bruce Bochy, it’s pretty clear who’ll win that spot. That leaves Belt as the odd man out – either on the bench or back in the minors – and I’m thinking that it shouldn’t.
In Huff's two years with the Giants, he played in 307 games, hitting .269 with 293 hits, 145 RBIs, 38 homers and 130 walks. In the same two years, Brandon Belt spent one full season in Fresno and followed it up with split time between Fresno, San Jose and San Francisco. His numbers amounted to 252 games hitting .299 with 272 hits, 166 RBIs, 40 homers and 160 walks.
In other words, in 55 less games, Brandon Belt’s batting average was 30 points higher than Huff. Huff had 21 more hits, but Belt hit 21 more RBIs, took 30 more walks and hit 2 more home runs than Huff did.
It’s obviously difficult to compare a player who has spent most of his career in the minors with one whose stats get pulled from the majors. There’s really no statistical way to account for the difficulty of pitching that Belt faced without having to write a thesis.
On the other hand, the stats I pulled for Aubrey Huff were solely from his career in San Francisco, and thus they were skewed. One year was one of his best seasons; it was followed by one of his worst.
The point is that Brandon Belt has shown – at least during his time in the minors – that he is capable of putting up numbers as good if not better than Aubrey Huff. Furthermore, any holes in Belt’s game can only be repaired by getting more meaningful at bats with the San Francisco Giants in 2012.
The statistics actually show that Belt was harmed by the constant moving he experience in 2011. In 2010, when Belt spent his entire season in Fresno, he finished with a .352 batting average, knocking in 99 runs and 23 homers. In 2011, while Belt was bounced back and forth, his production dropped -- .273 average, 54 RBIs, 17 homers. These numbers were obviously affected by the type of pitching he faced in the majors, but even his statistics in the minor leagues were down in 2011, hitting .320 in Fresno exclusively that year. That’s a 32 point drop from the season prior.
Should Aubrey Huff struggle out of the gates in 2012, Bochy would be wise to yank that leash quickly in favor of playing Brandon Belt at first base. Exactly how many games he gives Huff to fail is not my call – I’m just a fan, not a manager. But the Giants should find a way to jump on the opportunity that Brandon Belt poses while they have the chance. Good talent like this simply should not be wasting away by sitting on the pine or a plane back to the minors.