In the first of this summer’s project series for me here at CSP on what active ballplayers could be due for a call to Cooperstown, I’ll be taking a look at the credentials of Adrian Beltre. In a certain way, Beltre has flown under the radar, from a production perspective. He is veteran of (…) years, spent initially with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then moving along to the Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox and now Texas Rangers. In a time where third base depth is at arguably the highest group caliber it has ever been, Beltre has stayed consistent as any throughout the years, and now with Chipper Jones retired, he is the longest tenured everyday third baseman in the game. He has quietly offered up a very good career, and is entering into his crucial years for potential immortality. Here’s what he has both in his favor, against it and potentially where it all lands.
The numbers (pre 2013):
– 15 seasons (age 34) .279 average, 351 home runs, 1215 RBI, 2227 hits, 463 doubles, 30 triples, 115 stolen bases, .331 on-base %, .476 slugging percentage
1. The Case For: In making a point for Beltre, looking at the complete body of work is important. He’s already reached 350 career home runs, and has nine seasons of at least 20. His single-season high is 48 with the Dodgers in 2004. What’s more is that he’s shown great ability to be a consistent overall run producer as well; he has topped 80 RBI in nine separate seasons, and his in-prime years have seen him best 100 in three consecutive seasons since 2010. Beltre is one of the rare players that broke in as a teenager and stuck; he is entering his 16th season and is only 34 years old. Across that time he has played in an average of 141 games per season, and topped 150 in seven seasons.
Yet the greatest asset of his game perhaps is his defensive acumen. He has become the best defensive third baseman in the game currently, and has won the previous two American League Gold Gloves, bringing his career total to four. The Fielding Bible, which measures a variety of defensive metrics, as named him the best at the position in six separate seasons.
2. The Case Against: In the midst of his career, he slipped dangerously close to the “wasted” potential category of players…in a perspective way. The huge spike of home runs that he hit in 2004 followed a stretch he averaged 21 home runs a year for the next four years, in addition to not getting his average above .276 in any season, and has low as .255. Basically, he went through a very mortal stretch. In that time, a brand new stretch of third basemen came along in David Wright, Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman that took the spotlight at the position. Basically, he spent a good portion of his career being average, but the high seasons have added up and made some growing impressive totals here at the back end of his prime.
3. Similar Players (through age 33)
– Ron Santo (.279 avg, 337 home runs, 1290 RBI, 2,171 hits, 353 doubles)
– Cal Ripken, Jr (.280 avg, 310 home runs, 1179 RBI, 2227 hits, 414 doubles)
– Orlando Cepeda (.298 avg, 354 home runs, 1252 RBI, 2144 hits, 384 doubles)
4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what’s it going to take): Third base is a developing position in regards to Hall of Fame caliber players. There are 13 HOFers currently considered to be primary third basemen throughout their careers. Of them, the “magic number” rule (500 HRS, 3000 hits, etc) isn’t in play for that many at the position. Only Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews have passed 500 homers, while George Brett and Wade Boggs are the only members of the 3,000 hit club. Beltre’s projection over the course of the remainder of his career put him short of both of those numbers, so the complete body of work is what he’ll have to lean on.
He’ll likely pass 400 home runs, which would put him in the top 5 all-time at third. It would be helpful to surpass Darrell Evan’s mark of 414 to pull him closer to his contemporary, Chipper Jones, who’s 468 have him third all-time currently at the position. If he averages 150 hits a year over the next four seasons, he’ll top 2,800 hits, which would a very strong case of placing him among the elite of bats to play the position. It would move him into range with a player that he has some in common with, due to his defensive acumen: Brooks Robinson.
Robinson, a 16-time Gold Glove winner, is the absolute standard defensively at the hot corner. Beltre, the standard bearer of his era, could present an intriguing case on his behalf by approaching (or surpassing) Hoover’s 2,848 hits, which currently stands as the fourth best total of all-time for the 3B. It also would pull Beltre past Chipper Jones, the preeminent offensive third baseman of his time.
Overall, there’s more work to do, but Beltre is currently in good range. For intangibles, not winning a major award in his career isn’t helpful, nor is not having a championship on his resume. But luckily he plays a position where there’s a lot of growth during his time, and he’s had multiple seasons of finishing in the top 5 in AL MVP race (2004, 2012). Advanced metrics show him already on the verge of being a candidate: Baseball-Reference’s JAWS meter places him as the 13th most productive 3B all-time, and there are only three players (Craig Nettles, Edgar Martinez and Scott Rolen) in between him and breaking into the elite area of the position manned currently by Paul Molitor and Brooks Robinson. Adding in his defense and continued offensive production at an average rate into his decline seasons, and Beltre has a much better than expected case for being a member of Cooperstown eventually.
So when it’s all said and done, when the question is asked, is Adrian Beltre In, Out or In-Between, as things stand already, in my estimation, he’s really the definition of IN-BETWEEN as it stands right now.
For more on the season as it unfolds (and some of everything else as it unfolds around me), follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan