With the internet abuzz with news that Pablo Sandoval has usurped Mets' third baseman David Wright as an All-Star game starter, few, if any, have noticed the man who came in second for NL first basemen.
Clearly Brandon Belt was the beneficiary of some extreme voting from the San Francisco constituency. And, while his near election to a starting role in the 2012 All-Star game is rather generous, it does speak to how far Belt has come as a player in two partial seasons.
With Aubrey Huff constantly injured and Brett Pill back in the minors, Belt is relishing his first opportunity as a regular starter. His slash line of .263/.370/.436 has room for improvement, but it also shows a batter starting to truly get comfortable in the majors.
Meanwhile Pablo Sandoval, the infamous All-Star, is back from his second lengthy injury in as many seasons. He's shown flashes of slugging moxie, but coupled those flashes with cold streaks and poor choices in the field and at the plate. When all is said and done, Sandoval remains an incomplete player pushing the patience of a front office that feels it's waited long enough for the Panda to establish himself.
Trends are a fickle science, but with the way things look at present, it's entirely conceivable that Brandon Belt will ultimately have a higher ceiling as a player than Pablo Sandoval. Let's look at five factors that support this claim.
Plain and simple, Pablo Sandoval has weight issues.
The first sign of how significant the problem was manifested itself in 2010, when Sandoval more or less ate his way out of being a major factor in the Giants championship run. During that off-season Sandoval was put on a strict regiment to get back in shape, and threatened with a demotion if he failed to comply.
Sandoval responded, and upon coming back from breaking his right hamate bone early in 2011, hit .315/.357/.552 with 23 home runs and 70 RBIs. When spring training began this year, Sandoval came to camp once again looking rather portly. After breaking his left hamate bone in May, Sandoval returned from a six-week stint on the disabled list even heavier (and with a sexual assault allegation to boot).
The wear extra weight has placed on Sandoval's bat is present, but even more noticeable is the effect it has on his glove. In 2012, Sandoval has seven errors to his name, compared to 10 in all of 2011. Bruce Bochy even called out his third baseman in the media, telling reporters "He has been working hard, but that's got to be consistent. It can't be for three or four days or a week. It's got to be for a season."
The liability of Sandoval's weight provides a significant asterisk on his future value.
Brandon Belt has provided the Giants with something they haven't had in awhile: a defensively-gifted first baseman.
In 66 games started, the Baby Giraffe has committed only two errors. Furthermore, Belt has played with a revolving door of second basemen and shortstops. Pablo Sandoval began the year with very little confidence in his throws to first, and on many occasions Belt scooped out an errant throw to nail the out or at least prevent a run.
To be certain, Belt was forced to secede starts to Aubrey Huff, Brett Pill and Buster Posey. But in many ways, that only makes his confidence with the glove all the more impressive.
Last season, Pablo Sandoval was one of three finalists for the NL Gold Glove at third base. However, this season has seen a major regression in the Panda's talents on the bag. An inconsistent fielder at the hot corner is a major issue, and one that may speak to how the Giants view Sandoval in the long-term.
A Pablo Sandoval home run is a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, you almost never know when you might get one. Sandoval has earned himself a dangerous reputation as a hitter: he'll swing at almost anything. When he connects, fans see what kind of power he has as a batter. But, those other at-bats, the ones with whiffs at balls bouncing in the dirt and strikes on throws two feet outside the strike zone, tell of a different hitter.
Brandon Belt has had his share of scuffles at the plate. But, opposed to the patternless travails of Sandoval, Belt's problems are a progression, the story of a hitter finding his groove. It may have taken Belt until June 12 to hit his first home run in 2012, but he followed it with long balls in his next two consecutive games. Perhaps Belt is riding a hot streak, but his batting prowess is starting to show itself.
With Belt's stock soaring and Sandoval's plateauing at best, career hits are not cut from the cloth currently shrouding the latter.
If there was an MVP for marketing, the San Francisco Giants would surely be front-runners. The magic they spin with nicknames, persona's and so forth has filled their coffers so full it makes one wonder why it is exactly they never have enough money to go for big name free agents.
The crowning achievement of the Giants' spin room is the Pablo Sandoval Pandamonium. Panda hats, T-shirts, lucrative tie-ins with mediocre Jack Black movies, Sandoval's brand has it all. Of course, there's his value as a baseball player. But, in all honesty, with the business side of baseball becoming more prevalent any team trading for Sandoval is buying his merchandise line as much as his bat and glove.
Plenty of teams would be interested in Sandoval, especially at the very affordable price tag of three years, $17 million. Brian Sabean is a long way from dangling the Panda as trade bait, but if it came down to Belt or Sandoval it's a no-brainer which player will translate into the bigger return.
But, if Sandoval has a higher trade value, doesn't that give him an edge on Belt? Only in a sense. If Sandoval proves himself to have the skills everyone expects him to exhibit on a nightly basis, then he wouldn't be traded at all. The fact that it's even a possibility bodes ill for the Panda.
The most important factor in considering whether Brandon Belt has a higher ceiling than Pablo Sandoval is completely intangible: who will have the more fruitful career.
Sandoval has accomplished a lot in his four plus seasons of major league play. He has a World Series ring, an RBI double in the 2011 All-Star game and a massive, adoring fan base. But let's break this achievements down a bit.
For his 2010 bling, Sandoval played in six total post season games, including only one World Series game. In his 19 plate appearances for those games he had three hits, two RBI and a slash line of .176/.263/.235.
No doubt, Sandoval's RBI double was legitimate, but his path to the game was a wee bit ancestral. That's because Bruce Bochy handpicked him to replace an injured Placido Polanco. The Panda did have a 21 game hitting streak intact when Bochy gave him the nod, but in a legacy tarnished by footnotes, his All-Star selection last year is no exception.
Pablo Sandoval's fanbase adores him. Every time he comes to bat, there's a deafening roar at AT&T Park. The orange and black faithful are desperate for hitters to complete the team's elite stable of pitchers, and Sandoval has represented one of the team's best options to get runs on the board. The only caveat here is whether Sandoval would find similar popularity elsewhere compared to the unabashed love he gets in San Francisco.
Brandon Belt has no rings, but he was an important factor in Matt Cain's perfect game. He's taken his knocks in quiet, letting the outcry of fans and media outlets do his commenting for him. Only a fool would make claims on what Belt's significance as a major leaguer will be at this point in his very young career, but in battle of potential Sandoval has started to fade.
Keep in mind that what the Giants want is for both players to excel. Brian Sabean has no plans to put Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt in a cage match and give a six-year extension to whomever emerges. Realistically however, the Giants are in a pre-rebuild state, where the pitchers they have are locked for about five years of "win now" baseball before an overhaul will be necessary. Belt may be a big part of those years, but the role of the Panda remains unknown.