The next player in our 2023 season preview series is newly-acquired first baseman Brandon Belt.
First, here's a refresher on the projection system we're going to be taking a look at.
STEAMER: 326 PA, 62 H, 13 HR, 40 RBI, .222/.323/.410, 111 wRC+, 0.6 WAR
2021: 381 PA, 89 H, 29 HR, 59 RBI, .274/.378/.597, 157 wRC+, 3.4 WAR
2022: 298 PA, 54 H, 14 HR, 23 RBI, .213/.326/.350, 96 wRC+, 0.0 WAR
Belt, 34, is joining the Blue Jays on a one-year deal and looks to be a valuable depth piece off the bench to spell Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first and take up residence in the DH spot when manager John Schneider wants to give Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen a full day off.
STEAMER's projection came out before Belt signed with Toronto and follows a down year in 2022 in which the two-time World Series champion played through a knee injury, only getting in 78 games, before opting for season-ending surgery in early September. Looking at his 2021 season, one of the best offensive years of his career, in conjunction with STEAMER's prediction, can give us some insight into what the veteran first baseman will bring to the Jays in 2023.
After a big power season in 2021, in which Belt hit a career-high 29 home runs in only 97 games, the injury sapped his power in 2022, and he only managed eight long balls. STEAMER thinks he'll bounce back with 13 in 2023, but if his knee is fully healthy, it's entirely possible that he will beat that projection.
Looking at his plate discipline and batted ball profile, there was virtually no change in most of his metrics from 2021 to 2022. He walked 12% of the time, with a 27% strikeout rate. His batted ball distribution remained steady as well, with 27% ground balls, 22% line drives and 50% fly balls.
The difference over the past two seasons for Belt has been the quality of contact and the power with which he drove the ball. Looking at his Average Exit Velocity, Barrel rate and HardHit rate, you can see the drop off in 2022. With a healthy leg to help generate power, we could see him improve those metrics and hit for more power in 2023.
Avg. Exit Velocity
STEAMER is also down on Belt's batting average, predicting a below-league average of .222. This number is nowhere near his .274 from 2021 but above the career-low mark of .213 he hit last year. As a career .261 hitter, this projection doesn't make much sense and perhaps puts too much weight on the skewed results from last season. Again, if he's healthy there's no reason he couldn't be an above-average hitter, based on his long track record.
Another way the Jays could deploy Belt is off the bench as a pinch hitter. Justin Choi of FanGraphs claims that Belt "has been decently clutch throughout his career." He has a good chance to be a difference-maker in late innings, with a career 128 wRC+ in 104 pinch-hit appearances.
I, for one, welcome Brandon Belt with open arms and can't wait to see what he does in a Blue Jays uniform in 2023.