If you asked Giants fans which player they'd prefer to have in the lineup, Pablo Sandoval or Brandon Belt, the answer would probably be overwhelmingly Sandoval. Which only proves that fans react on emotion, not reality.
Sandoval has been a fan favorite from the time he first came up. The lovable Panda, a natural athlete with surprising agility at third and a swing-at-everything hitter who could hit pitches off his shoetops for home runs.
Belt, by contrast, has been a whipping boy for Giants fans almost from the start, upset by his low production at a position expected to supply power and his frequent strikeouts.
This year, one of these players has a .267 average, 23 doubles, two triples and 11 home runs. One of the new baseball statistics is WAR (wins above replacement) value. This hitter's WAR is currently 2.2.
The second hitter has a .261 average, 18 doubles, no triples and nine home runs. His WAR is 0.6.
The first player is Belt, the second Sandoval, whose only advantage over Belt is in RBIs, 52-41, chiefly because he's batted in the middle of the order and had many more opportunities.
Oh, and not incidentally, Sandoval's salary is more than 10 times that of Belt.
Earlier, I advocated trading Sandoval but that hasn't been possible because his current trade value is very low. Other teams see the same thing I do: Sandoval is eating his way out of a career. The optimists think that he will slim down in the offseason, as he approaches free agency in 2015. But the Giants have tried everything to encourage him to curb his eating habits and nothing has worked. Can he reverse that pattern this offseason? I doubt it.
When the Giants brought up Brett Pill, many fans (and one writer for another paper) thought they should put Pill in the lineup and sit Belt. That won't happen for a couple of reasons:
The Giants have been patient with Belt because they know he was rushed to the majors after only 670 at-bats; teams usually want prospects to have about 1500 minor-league at-bats, roughly three seasons. But, they had nobody else who looked like a major leaguer at the position. Ironically, a team which had two future Hall of Famers, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, at the same time, has had great trouble filling the position since J.T. Snow's departure.
Belt had only converted to first base after being a pitcher in high school and early in his junior college career, so he had even less hitting experience than a normal player of his age. So, he has struggled, but he appears lately to be growing into the position.
Pill is what baseball people call a "AAAA player" — too good for even the top level of the minor leagues but not good enough for the majors. Since manager Bruce Bochy has made it clear that he regards Belt as the starter, Pill really has no role on this team.
And, though Giants fans doubt this, I believe Belt will have a solid career and that Sandoval will fade into baseball oblivion, a victim of his appetite.