Brandon Belt was not technically a rookie as he racked up over 200 plate appearances in 2011. Despite a decent .718 OPS the gangly lefty nicknamed "Baby Giraffe" failed to inspire the fans' confidence. Moreover, he still had "lost" stretches were he looked like a hopeless rookie. Fortunately the Brian Trust and Ol' Boch had faith in the kid and not only handed him the first base job for 2012 but stuck with him, mostly, for the entire season. He made 106 starts (102 at first base) in his 145 games played. It was a rocky road, with a solid April (.755), iffy May (.650), breakout June (.963 and his first four HR), scary July (.480, 30 K), impressive August (.887, 30 H), and clutch September (.881, 16 RBI). One of the most interesting things about Belt was his home/road split: a .906 OPS (232 PA) at AT&T and .662 (240 PA) everywhere else. In the playoffs, Belt was 1-13 in the LDS with 7 K, and 1-13 in the Series with 7 K. His one hit, though, was a booming triple that drove in Hunter Pence with the first run in Game Four. He sandwiched in a .304/.360/.565 line in the LCS (7-23, 2B, 3B, HR, 6 R, 2 RBI, 1 SB) though, proving he could deliver in the big moments. Four of those hits came in Games Six and Seven when the Giants put the final nails in the Cardinals coffin. The Giants like their first basemen to have range and good hands, and the big-wingspan Giraffe made several impressive grabs throughout the post-season to steal outs, stop hits, and finish infield plays. Belt turns 25 in April and looks, now, to be a mainstay of the Giants infield for many years. I guess the club can develop young hitters after all!
Brandon Crawford wasn't a rookie, either, as he also racked up over 200 plate appearances in 2011. He, alas, could not crack the .600 OPS line. The Giants had certainly seen his spectacular glove work, though, and were willing to risk his nearly non-existent bat (.204/.288/.296) in the lineup every day in order to keep that flashy leather flashing. Like their forbearance with Belt, it also bore fruit. Crawford committed what seemed like an error a week before the All-Star Game, but settled down in the second half and played arguably the best defense in baseball after that. His effortless acrobatics, soft hands, great range, and cannon arm at shortstop were more valuable to this pitching-dominated club than any 30-HR man. His left-handed bat was still a little weak for the bigs, but like his namesake above he saved the best for last with a .288/.351/.409 final month. He had holes in his swing (95 K in 476 PA), no doubt, but also flashed some power (33 XBH) and the ability to spray the ball to all fields. B-Craw dazzled the national audience with his fielding prowess in the playoffs, making a couple of good young NL SS (Zack Cozart and Pete Kozma) look like wannabes, and a solid veteran ALer (Jhonny Peralta) look like an old man. Yeah, he's that good. The future star also had 10 hits in the post-season, along with 7 walks and 7 RBI. His .603 OPS was higher than both Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence!
Here's what I said in April:
The most exciting story--other than the return of Buster Posey--is the emergence of Brandon Crawford. I really hope the Giants are patient with him. If they are really willing to put him in the 8-hole and let him ride out the rough spots I think they will find he will hit better than they expect. We all know his glove will save piles of runs--can't wait to see it everyday!Brian Sabean, Bruce Bochy, and the rest of the staff deserve one hell of a lot of credit for their baseball smarts. They made the right decisions in the off-season and throughout the long 162-game haul. They got the right guys and put them in the right spots. They kept their heads during the crises and showed faith in themselves, their supporting cast, and their team. And they were justly rewarded for it with a second title in three years. Now they have a homegrown infield core the envy of all of baseball to go along with their marvelous pitching staff. I can't wait for next year!