The defending champion San Francisco Giants enter play on Tuesday with a record of 50-61. They’re in last place in the National League West, and they’re 12 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers.

If you tune into the Giants’ radio affiliate KNBR, you know that one of the favorite scapegoats for the team’s woes this season has been first baseman Brandon Belt. After a recent slump, Belt was benched for three games to work on his hitting mechanics. First baseman Brett Pill came up from Triple-A Fresno and had some success, which led to a large fraction of the fanbase clamoring for more Pill and less Belt.

The reality is that Belt is the least of the Giants’ many problems in 2013. He’s second on the team with a .790 OPS behind only Buster Posey (.883). He’s third on the team behind Posey and Marco Scutaro in on-base percentage.

It seems that a lot of the frustration towards Belt has to do with his body language. When he strikes out, he tends to slump his shoulders, which can be somewhat aggravating to watch. Another reason for the frustration with Belt is that he makes a lot of his outs by striking out. He leads the Giants with a 23.7 percent strikeout rate.

Belt strikes out a lot, but those outs aren’t any worse than a fly-ball out or a ground-ball out. Pablo Sandoval only strikes out 13.9 percent of the time, but his OPS is 82 points lower than Belt’s. There doesn’t seem to be the same eagerness amongst Giants fans to replace Sandoval at third base, even though he’s had a pretty dismal year.

Since the start of last season, Belt has hit .271/.353/.432 with a .785 OPS. During that same period, Sandoval has hit .275/.330/.421 with a .750 OPS. Hunter Pence has hit .264/.332/.438 with a .760 OPS. Thus, if you think Belt needs to be replaced at first base, you must also believe that Sandoval and Pence need to be replaced. However, there doesn’t seem to be much chatter about upgrading at those two spots.

The Giants rank 21st in the league in OPS this season after ranking 12th last season. The offense has declined because of a lack of production in center field, left field and at third base.

Angel Pagan hit .288/.338/.440 with a league-leading 15 triples last season in center field. This year, he slumped to .262/.314/.374 before injuring his hamstring in late May, which could force him to miss the remainder of the season.

Melky Cabrera hit .346/.390/.516 in left field for the Giants last year until he was suspended in mid-August for performance-enhancing drug (PED) use. In 2013, the Giants’ left fielders have hit .266/.310/.343 with just two home runs. They have combined for the third-worst OPS in the game.

At third base, Sandoval hit .283/.342/.447 in 2012 before slumping down to .267/.316/.392 thus far in 2013.

Meanwhile, for all the talk about Belt’s inconsistency, he put up a .781 OPS last year and has improved to .790 so far this season.

The Giants offense hasn’t struggled because of a lack of production at first base from Belt. He isn’t the problem. Left field, center field and third base have been the real trouble spots.

Belt is being used as a scapegoat. He’s also yet to live up to the immense potential he showed in the minor leagues when he hit .343/.457/.596 over 825 plate appearances. He may never reach that ceiling. This could be as good as it gets for him in the big leagues.

However, if Belt just stays the same and doesn’t get better, he’ll still be plenty good enough for the Giants at first base. After all, they won the World Series with him there in 2012. He’s been just as good in 2013, but other parts of the offense have faltered.

Belt is not the reason the Giants’ offense got worse this year. He’s the second-best hitter on the team by OPS. If you think he needs to be replaced, then so do seven other Giants regulars.


All statistics in this article are courtesy of ESPN and Baseball-Reference.

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