Friday, January 24, 2014

The fine wine of Adrian Beltre

Adrian Beltre has been perhaps the most unappreciated player in baseball over the past four seasons. They have been four seasons in which he has averaged thirty-one homers and a hundred runs batted in and a .385 wOBA. According to the leaderboard, Beltre has been the fifth best position player in the Major Leagues during that time. In fact, if Adrian Beltre were to never play another game, he would be the eighth best third baseman of all time. Six of the seven in front of him are in the Hall of Fame. The seventh, Chipper Jones, will be.

Beltre's consistency has been remarkable. You may--if you think of Beltre at all--think that his success over the last three years would be from hitting in Texas half of the time. And yes, Texas is a great place to hit. But Beltre does not have Nelson Cruz-like splits. His wOBA at home last year was .891 and on the road it was .879. In fairness, the splits were a little more dramatic his first two years in Texas and perhaps facing the Astros helped in 2013.

But look at his wOBA over the last four years. They are, in order from his year in Boston to last year: .391, .381, .388, .379. That is a great four-year spread. Beltre's triple slash line over the four years: .314/.358/.545. Nice.

But of course, Beltre is not just a great hitter. There has also been his defense at third. Beltre is currently ninth on's all time total zone runs for third basemen. Perhaps Beltre is slowing down a bit. His numbers on both and went into barely negative territory for 2013 for the first time in his career. And this has been part of a slow decline in his fielding numbers over the last four years.

But regression as a player probably shows up more on the field than anywhere else. He is heading into his age 35 season after all. So how much longer will Beltre be a great player? If history tells us anything, perhaps three more seasons.

I studied the WAR graphs of some of the great third basemen over time. I left off Mike Schmidt because he blows away the curve. But when comparing Beltre to Brooks Robinson, George Brett, Chipper Jones, and Ron Santo, only Santo was done by Beltre's age. The others all had three more productive seasons after Beltre's current age and then leveled off.

Take a look at the WAR graphs of some of these greats:

Source: FanGraphs -- Chipper Jones, Adrian Beltre, George Brett

What I find remarkable about this chart is how similar all those careers were. Not only that, how well Beltre stacks up against all those great third basemen. For his age, he is right there with all of them at similar points in their careers. And, again, only Santo was done by age 34. 

Adrian Beltre has been a terrific player over his entire career. He has done it with the bat and with the glove. His statistics with the bat over the last four years show consistency and have been prolific. When you watch Adrian Beltre play a baseball game, don't just think of him currently as one of the better players in the game. Think of him as one of the best third basemen of all time.

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