It's been over two months since Ron Belliard last committed an error. Ron Belliard
"He's fat." "He's cocky." "He's too nonchalant." "He's lazy." "He's non-clutch." "He's a bum."
You've heard all of these said about Ron Belliard before. You may have said them too.
But here's one more thing to consider.
Ron Belliard is playing at an All-Star level right now. Even in the midst of the losing streak, he's been remarkably steady in the field and he's been doing just about everything he can offensively to keep the Brewers competitive.
Right now, in the midst of a devastating losing streak, it's easy to overlook the positives. But Belliard has been one. Let's look at the details as of July 22.
It's been over two months since Ron Belliard last committed an error. That's right, two months and over 50 games. His last error, a memorable gaffe, was committed on May 17 against the Phillies in extra innings when he tried to rush a double play with the bases loaded and bobbled the ball instead. Since then he's be basically flawless in the field. The man immediately called to replace him, Mark Loretta, has made just as many mistakes in the field this year including a memorable one last night. That's not to say that fielding percentage is the be-all and end-all of defense, range, positioning, and arm strength are other important factors, but they're also strengths of Belliard's as well.
But how does he compare to his peers defensively? Even better than you may expect.
Ron Belliard currently leads all major league starting second basemen in Range Factor (Putouts + Assists/ 9 Innings) with a Range Factor of 5.55. His .991 fielding % in the 5th best in the majors, tied with Fernando Vina and Quilvio Veras. His 58 double plays turned are the 4th best in the majors, tied with Roberto Alomar, and would have been higher if he hadn't lost playing time to Loretta or Jose Hernandez had been paying attention in Los Angeles. He's lagging a little bit in Zone Rating, Stat's Inc.'s measure of how many balls hit into your "zone" are converted into outs (a stat that takes into account positioning and range among other things), at 11th overall with an .858 ZR. That's still above average, mind you, just at the low end of that range.
So, by any objective measure, Belliard has been at worst above average defensively to somewhere at the elite at his position. It's time for the reality of this to catch up with the perception of him as an underachiever defensively.
Belliard hit .284 (BA) / .377 (OBP) / .433 (SLG) for an .809 OPS in June. Those aren't All-Star numbers, but they're close. In July, he's really exploded hitting 361 / .361 / .639 for a 1.000 OPS. Those are elite numbers and better than what Richie Sexson put up in the second half last year. The only troubling thing, symptomatic of the team possibly, is the lack of walks. It's hard to complain about a 361 OBP with power from a middle infielder though. In the midst of a team in the throes of a monstrous slump, it's hard to find any positives on offense. Belliard has been the lone, consistent bright spot.
Overall, Belliard's again performing better than people would expect. His .791 OPS for the season ranks 9th among major league starting second basemen. That's better than Fernando Vina, who's making $5 million this year. It's also much better than Mark Loretta. Belliard's current .349 OBP and .276 BA, among the team leaders on the Brewers by the way, ranks 14th among second basemen. His .442 SLG ranks 9th. Overall, Belliard's been at worst average to above average, but not elite, at his position. That's not bad for "a bum".
Belliard's had some good times and bad times with the Brewers, but it is time to acknowledge that he is picking up his game. He's also young with room to get better, cheap, and durable. Right now, he's one of the least of the Brewers problems.