Last week, Fake Team's HeathCapps wrote an excellent profile of Brandon Belt here. This weekend, John Shea published some information about Belt's newly acquired fitness and nutrition habits.
The Giants lost a lot of power with the departures of Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, but Brandon Belt doesn’t see a problem.
"We lost 40 home runs, but I’m probably going to hit 50 or 60," he said.
Prepare for a more confident Belt this season. Maybe a more steady Belt. Preferably a more healthy Belt. Certainly a more in-shape Belt, who’s training like no other time in his career, including more functional workouts and a better diet.
Obviously, Belt was joshing with the 50 or 60 homers, but it’s no tall tale to say a breakout year could be coming.
Now he feels like 3.6 million bucks, thanks to his new training routine, not just his new contract. He’s following a four-workouts-a-week program (emphasizing core work) outlined by strength and conditioning coordinator Carl Kochan. He’s also focusing on eating right.
Giants nutritionist Danielle LaFata arranged for Belt to have healthy meals delivered to his Texas home for much of the offseason, including breakfast, not previously a key part of Belt’s menu.
"We’re working a lot on nutrition for me," Belt said. "I’m not perfect for that. If it’s up to me, I’ll go to my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant. But it definitely helped. I’m noticing it in my workouts. I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been in my career."
Belt was kidding about the 50 or 60 home runs, but I don't think this is your traditional "baseball player is in the best shape of his life" narrative. "The best shape of his life" is a routine offseason narrative that we often laugh at because it's printed so often. However, you usually see this narrative written about players who have seen better days physically and are on the decline, and are now trying to compensate some of their lost physical abilities with new fitness habits. For a 26 year old hitter, it's a little different. Strong gains in physical strength and improved health are two forces that should not be underestimated for a young hitter. The stronger a hitter is, the more exit velocity he can generate on his batted balls, which makes it more likely he'll see better results.
Improving health and nutrition are also two very underrated components of being a successful athlete. Eating unhealthy, processed foods can tax the body with a buildup of toxins. By eating better, the body is exposed to less toxins and functions more efficiently. Belt will sleep better, recover faster, and be put in a better position to succeed.
What is also important to note is that Belt underwent a swing change in 2013 that fueled a somewhat under the radar breakout already. Now it's just about Belt sustaining health for a full season.
Keith Law covered Belt's mechanical change in depth. Law wrote,
Belt first emerged as a prospect in 2010, racing through three levels of the minors and finishing the year by ripping up the Arizona Fall League, a time when his swing was very balanced and he kept his weight back consistently enough to be able to hit left-handed pitching and handle fastballs inside. Keeping his weight back -- which means waiting to transfer his weight to his front leg until he gets his hands moving forward -- has turned out to be the biggest challenge for Belt in translating his minor league success into major league performance. It was a problem for him at the end of 2012 and carried over into spring training and the start of 2013.
"I was real off balance, I don't know what the reason for that was, maybe I had crossed that line again," Belt said Tuesday. "I was lunging at the ball. They wanted me to stay back, and the thing that happened right there is that [Bruce Bochy] told me what they saw, and they let me fix it. I think that's what helped out a lot. Sometimes [the coaches] are all saying the same thing but saying it in different ways, then one person says it and it clicks in my head."
After the Giants benched Belt on April 21, he ran off a nine-game stretch in which he hit .357 with all three of his homers on the season, one of which came on a 95 mph David Hernandez fastball on the inner half. He was keeping his weight back, which allows him to get to fastballs on time and to "keep rotating," using his hips to create torque that leads to power, whether he's trying to pull the ball or to drive something out to left-center. In short, he looked like the player I predicted would be an above-average regular at first base.
Belt broke his thumb after being hit by a pitch on May 9 of last year. In the 168 games between the mechanical change and Belt's thumb injury, Belt hit .294/.364/.512 (.876 OPS) with 26 HR and a 150 wRC+. That's just over a full season's worth of top performance.
Unfortunately, the thumb injury, combined with a terrible concussion, caused Belt's production to come to a screeching halt. After Belt returned from his thumb injury, he hit just .212/.292/.365 with 3 HR and an 89 wRC+ in 96 PA.
There are some concerns about how Belt's concussion will affect him this season, but if he's fully healthy, he's an under the radar candidate for strong production. Belt might not be the type of hitter at his peak that he flashed over the 168 game sample mentioned above, but for where he's being drafted in 2015, he's a good candidate to provide excellent value.