In a surprising yet logical move, the Toronto Blue Jays signed free-agent first baseman Brandon Belt to a one-year contract in early January. It seemed like a natural fit given Belt’s lefty power bat, quality of experience, and the ability to occasionally spell Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base.
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The 35-year-old didn’t see much time in Spring Training, and it turns out he could’ve used a few more at-bats in the Grapefruit League. The longtime San Francisco Giants standout was still adjusting to big league pitching at the onset of this season, and his numbers suffered.
Over the first three weeks of the season, Belt hit just .154 (6/39) with no home runs and 19 strikeouts in 39 at-bats. A big night on the Jays 2023 debut on Apple TV+’s Friday Night Baseball on April 21 was the start of a turnaround for The Captain.
On the big stage, the lefty hit his first home run of the season and drove in four as part of a rare early-season division win. From then on, he hit .267 with 19 homers, 43 RBI, and a .908 OPS.
Belt experienced his best stretch of power hitting to end off the season, with eight home runs and a 1.077 OPS over his last 16 games played. However, the concerning trend of an alarmingly high strikeout rate was something he could never get down to an acceptable level. The 13-year veteran never previously had a strikeout rate above 27.2%. By the end of the 2023 season, he was 34.9%, well above the MLB average of 21.3%.
Striking out in over a third of your plate appearances is never ideal, but Belt did experience better bat luck than he had at any point of his career. His .370 BAbip was a career-high, and a .369 WOBA had him in the top 8%. Also, while his strikeout rate was in the top 1%, Belt’s 15.1% walk rate was in the top 3%.
Belt’s abilities as a runner and defender have never been his calling card, and this year was no different. He had a run-scored percentage (RS%) of 26% and extra bases taken (XBT%) of 32%, below the league average. It was unexpected to see Belt record an average sprint speed of 26.2 ft/sec, just ahead of sluggers J.D. Martinez and Josh Bell.
He started 28 games at first base and only made one error with a .995 fielding percentage. The advanced numbers aren’t overly impressive. A -1.0 dWAR, 1 Out Above Average (OAA), and -2 defensive runs saved. It quickly became clear that Cavan Biggio or Spencer Horwitz were more athletic options at first base.
The two-time World Series champion endeared himself to the fan base with his tongue-in-cheek MVP campaign but appeared to be a man whose body was letting him down by the end of the season. He was forced to miss some time with back issues and hinted that retirement could be as imminent as next season.
Belt struck out far too often and wasn’t the nimblest player, but got on base frequently and was one of the more consistent hitters on the team, a sign of the deeper problems of the 2023 Blue Jays season. For a one-year deal worth a little over $9 million, he was a solid value signing, a veteran presence with a considerable thump.
With retirement rumors circling, it appears that this year was the only one for Belt north of the border. With Horwitz ready to fill this role, Belt's likely to go one-and-done. Either way, he will be missed both on and off the field for this club.