By Adam Brown
Watching last weekend’s ESPN telecast of the Texas Rangers trip to the Bronx to face the New York Yankees, there was a segment heavily involving Adrian Beltre and a New York City barber. After the brief, yet intriguing story finished, the panel began discussing the on field career of the now 36 years-old third baseman. During their discussion, host Karl Ravech referred to Beltre as a “potential hall of famer”, which brought the question to my mind of whether this was even a debate. My immediate reaction was an unflinching “Yes!” When thinking of his career, the elite defence at the hot corner, the ability with the bat, and the post-Safeco Field power resurgence would give the Dominican a resume worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown.
A career that has seen over 16 years of service time thus far, Beltre has amassed 2,655 Hits, 401 home runs and a career slash line .284/.478/.814 since he made his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998. A career that began at a solid, but not spectacular pace, Beltre headed into his final year before free agency in 2004 having never surpassed a WAR of 3.9 (1999). Beltre entered the 2004 season on the back of becoming a defensive wizard the previous season, where his dWAR of 2.8 doubled his previous best of 1.4. Beltre then went on to produce a year to enter the pantheon of walk years, where his bat exploded for 48 home runs (previous high of 23), 121 RBI’s (85), hit .334 (.290) and harboured an OPS of 1.017 (.835) on the way to a 2nd place finish in the MVP voting, behind only Barry Bonds.
That winter, Beltre signed a 5-year $64million contract with the Seattle Mariners and went on to have four highly productive years, where he was a model of consistency, with an OPS+ of 93, 105, 112 and 109 to his credit during those first four season in the Pacific Northwest. His fifth year, however, was the complete antithesis of his previous walk year. Whilst 2004 saw him head to free agency on the back of his best season throughout his career. 2009 was comfortably his worst. Beltre slugged .379, nearly 100 point below his career mark of .478. He also had a career low in Runs Created per game (RC/G) of 3.6, exactly two runs below his career number.
Putting the disappointment behind him and signing a 1-year/$9million with the Boston Red Sox led to the beginning of a rejuvenation of his career. A season with a 141 OPS+, 49 doubles (career high) and his second highest WAR of 7.8 saw a top 10 finish in the MVP voting, and another big contract in the American League West – this time a 6-year $96million deal down in Texas. His first four years in Texas has cemented the longevity of excellence of Beltre’s career, producing consistently on an annual basis despite creeping up to and beyond his mid 30’s. Four top 15 finishes in the MVP voting, including a third place finish in 2012 is demonstrative of his continued production in the heart of the Texas lineup. The overall numbers of Beltre’s stint in Texas to date are eye-popping. He has accumulated an OPS+ of 136, 20 points higher than his career average. He’s been worth 27 wins via WAR, including 23.1 oWAR, offsetting his declining, albeit still above league average defence.
The summary of Beltre’s career has been that of mostly consistent, solid production, with various peaks and troughs in throughout which have contributed to, on the whole a career of two-way excellence from third base. The questions still lies, “potential” hall of famer, or sure-fire?
Player A – .377 (OBP) .440 (SLG) 115 (OPS+) 95.7/-9.7(oWAR/dWAR) 71.8 WAR (20 Years)
Player B – .337 – .478 -116 – 59/23.9 – 79.2 (17 Years)
Player C – .364 – .490 – 122 – 52.1/20.6 – 70 (17 Years)
These three players, who all play very similar positions are all on the precipice of being hall of fame eligible, one is all but guaranteed of enshrinement, another seems to be in a similar position to Beltre, and the third is Adrian Beltre, who still sits at “potential”. Beltre is player B. Amassing the highest WAR, mainly bolstered by his defensive superiority more than holds his own with the other two with his offensive numbers. Player C, Scott Rolen, like Beltre will rely on voters becoming more inclusive and open to defensive statistics. “Rolen and Beltre (and Chipper, for that matter) each rate above the average Hall of Fame third baseman in both career WAR and peak WAR. Every eligible player ahead of these two (three) has already been inducted”. (Dotson, Harball Times, 2013)
Yet an offensively elite player, with similar career numbers, yet neglected one facet of the game with his defence, “is going to waltz in to Cooperstown in his first opportunity” (Cameron, Fangraphs, 2011). It shows the bias against players whose candidacy relies on numbers that extend beyond the traditional numbers such a batting average and RBI. The expansion of defensive metrics should help promote Rolen and Beltre’s claims, and give them a deserved place amongst the greats of the past.
In case you didn’t figure it out, Player A is Derek Jeter.