Yet Another Argument About Why Brandon Belt Should Play
Let me tell you all a story about a player I’ve talked about pretty frequently. It’s a story about a young player struggling to hit at the Major League level. He came in as a much-talked about prospect that many agreed should play every day. But opposing pitchers quickly figured him out. One could even say they were exploiting a hole in his swing. In his first fifteen games at the big league level he hit a measly .218/.317/.418, and even asked his manager to consider not playing him. This player’s name was Willie Mays.
Now far be it from me to compare Brandon Belt to a player widely considered to be one of the greatest to ever play the game, but that’s beside the point. What needs to be explained here is that young hitters struggle when they’re first called up. It’s a byproduct of playing at a higher level of competition and even Willie Mays was susceptible.
Back in 1951, Mays practically begged his manager Leo Durocher to send him back to the minors after feeling overmatched by the big scary Major League pitchers. Durocher responded by continuing to play him every day. Within days, Mays rewarded his manager’s confidence, ending the season hitting .274/.356/.472. Similarly, there are rumors that Belt requested a day off after his struggles against Arizona. These same rumors claim that this is exactly what landed him in Bochy’s doghouse.
This of course brings me back to the draconian standards that Bochy has instituted for Belt, as evidenced by a choice quote that comes to us from Andrew Baggarly:
“Pressed further on Belt, Bochy made it clear he is not interested in developing players who aren’t ready.”
And by “not ready” I’m assuming Bochy meant “had ten at-bats and didn’t get a hit in every single one of them.” Now I’m no manager, but the idea that our manager isn’t interested in developing players seems a tad counter-intuitive to what a Major League team is for. You know what the best way to learn how to hit Major League pitching is? I’ll give you a hint, it involves hitting against Major League pitching. But now that Aubrey Huff has had one game where he hit a home run, there’s a good chance Belt is ticketed back to Fresno.
But Bochy wants to win games and playing a guy who isn’t hitting well is counter-productive to that. How could a team with playoff hopes possibly justify letting a young player struggle for a whole month at the expense of winning? Last season the Braves decided to allow their own rookie first baseman the chance to fail against all common sense. Freddie Freeman hit .217/.314/.380 in April of last season, and finished 2011 as a leading Rookie of the Year candidate. The Braves still managed to finish the season with an 89-74 record.
But hey, between Mays and Freeman that’s just a couple of completely unrelated examples. So I’ll give you another in Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who hit .182/.308/.236 in his first month back in 2007. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series in the same season that they were “interested in developing players.”
The real terror strikes when you imagine how the careers of Mays or Pedroia would have gone had Bruce Bochy been their manager. Mays’ request to be back in AAA would have been honored by Boch’ faster than you can “Say Hey” and one of the most prodigious careers in the history of sports likely never would have taken place. Pedroia’s horrendous first month would have seen him benched instead of winning the AL MVP the very next season. As a manager, if you claim that you’re not interested in “developing players who aren’t ready,” you’re not doing your job. Which is why it was a breath of fresh air when Bochy was quoted as saying the following:
“But 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.”
As a fan, it’s hard not to feel a tad deceived when the exact opposite of this happens. You have a responsibility as a manager both to your young players and the fans buying all the panda hats and $30 upper reserve seats to be communicative and honest. But this is the brave new world of not developing young players that was really the same old world that we forgot about because of the 2010 World Series. It’s frustrating at the very least. At most, it’s downright infuriating.