Just under a month ago, our own Wendy Thurm wrote about what the Giants should do with Brandon Belt. Her conclusion: Belt needed to start, preferably at first base. Most of the unwashed Internet agreed. But Belt played for the Giants, and standing in his way was a veteran. That's like when Tom Hanks meets Meg Ryan in a crappy romantic comedy. You know how the movie is going to end, and it's probably not with Ryan's head in a box.
But the Giants went avant-garde on us. Belt kept hitting and hitting in the spring, and he forced his way into the Giants' lineup. Aubrey Huff was moved to left field. Nate Schierholtz was the unlucky player pulled from the lineup to make room. Against all odds, the Giants went with the youngster to start the season. It was a bold new direction.
And after three games, Belt was back on the bench. He hasn't started since Sunday, and with Jamie Moyer, a lefty, starting on Thursday, it's fairly unlikely that he'll start then, either. On Monday, Andrew Baggarly talked to manager Bruce Bochy about his plans for Belt:
Bochy reiterated that he will not yo-yo Belt in and out of the lineup. The talented first baseman will get every opportunity to settle in, the manager said. And he'll be in the lineup Wednesday, after the entire team takes Tuesday off.
Belt was not in the lineup against Jeremy Guthrie, a right-hander, on Wednesday. Yo-yoed out, as it were. The explanation was that Coors Field was too big of an outfield for Aubrey Huff, who was swinging a hot bat (.214/.353/.357 before the game on Wednesday, but the Giants have to come up with different definitions of "hot bat.")
Here's where the guy on the Internet tells you where the manager is a dummyface, using minor-league stats and a sense of self-satisfaction to explain his case.
Yes and no. I'm not saying that there's a whole lot of information to be gleaned from 11 plate appearances. Making a decision based on three games seems like a silly idea after a month of spring training or, even better, a year-and-a-half of minor-league evaluation.
But the Giants left the Cactus League still concerned about Belt's swing -- specifically, a hole that left him vulnerable to fastballs up and over the outer-half of the plate. In his first 11 plate appearances, he struck out on such fastballs from three different pitchers:
The Giants had the book on Belt, and the Diamondbacks borrowed it. And so far, he hasn't been able to make the adjustment.
Again, we're talking about ten at-bats. You can dig around any player's history and find stretches like that. But the point isn't to mock the Giants for paying attention to such a small sample; it's to empathize with the job of a manager like Bochy.
The Giants fancy themselves contenders. A win in April is as good as a win in September. And Bochy has a hitter who is being dominated by pitchers who are throwing to a well-known scouting report. It's easy for me to suggest he should ignore the small sample, but Bochy is the one in the clubhouse. He's the one who has to tell the veteran why he isn't starting. He's the one who has to keep order in the clubhouse. And if the Giants spent most of the spring trying to close a hole in Belt's swing, what does it look like if Bochy keeps starting him despite an inability to close the hole?
That isn't to say that Bochy is right for sitting Belt, or that it's even fair to look into this too much -- if we're going to laugh at a small sample size of 10 at-bats, shouldn't we also laugh at a small managerial sample size of four or five games? Maybe this is the equivalent of Bochy waving through a high fastball because he guessed wrong, not because he can't hit the high fastball, as it were. Judging Bochy for his decisions last year with Belt and Huff is like judging Belt on his hitting last year -- you have to allow for some kind of growth.
Managers make a lot of money to make these decisions, so they don't deserve that much sympathy. But balancing the win-now/win-later dynamic of easing a young player into a starting role is one of the toughest things to do in the majors. Just because statistics don't mean a whole lot after a week doesn't mean that anecdotal data are easy to ignore. Bochy knows Belt has trouble with a certain pitch. He sees the other teams making a point to throw that pitch. Belt isn't catching up. The games are important. What's a guy to do?
I know what I'd do: I'd start Belt and give him the chance to make the adjustment against major-league pitchers. And over the next couple of weeks, I'd be a little surprised if that's not exactly what Bochy does. Belt will get starts. Belt will get more chances. For now, though, Bochy wants to start who he thinks will give him the best chance at winning a game.
And if he doesn't start Belt by the weekend, I'll go back into "the manager is a dummyface" mode because this is the Internet, after all. A week into the season, though, I'll acknowledge that managing is just a little tougher than most fans give it credit for being and leave it at that.
Oh, maybe just once, with feeling. Hey, Bochy: Start Brandon Belt, dummyface. Yeah, that felt good. Still don't envy Bochy's job, though.