Dave Cameron weighs in on Adrian Beltre.
I really enjoyed the excellent Adrian Beltre write-up that Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing, a Seattle Mariners blog, did for Lone Star Ball a few days ago, so I asked the great Dave Cameron, of U.S.S. Mariner and FanGraphs and ESPN, if he was interested in penning his own Beltre piece for the Newberg Report since, you know, he doesn’t have enough on his plate already.
You can follow Dave at the above websites and on Twitter (@d_a_cameron), but in the meantime here are his thoughts on the Rangers’ new third baseman:
One of the best things I was ever told was that it takes very little discernment to see what is wrong with a person. For many of us, our flaws are self-evident, and perhaps with no baseball player is that more true than Adrian Beltre. Watch him play just one or two games, and you will quickly catch on to a few glaring problems in his game.
He loves to chase the low-and-away slider, even though he just can’t hit it. Even when ahead in the count, he’ll chase pitches a foot out of the zone. He commits to swinging too early, often ending up on one knee when trying to hit a ball in the dirt, because he simply can’t stop his momentum from swinging even by the time he realizes that the pitch is not even close to being a strike. He’s done all of this his entire career, and to anyone who has watched him for any length of time, it is a complete mystery that he hasn’t corrected any of these flaws.
If you’re more into the numbers, his flaws can also be spotted quite easily over there. Despite playing a position where power is usually expected, he’s only hit 30+ home runs in a season once, and that was six years ago. He doesn’t like to walk, and in fact, he’s only drawn 48 unintentional walks in the past two seasons combined. He’s posted an OPS under .800 in eight of his 12 full Major League seasons. In 2009, his OPS was lower than Elvis Andrus’. And, as is often repeated and you have no doubt been told countless times over the last week, the two best seasons of his career came when he was playing for a new contract.
Readily apparent flaws. As I was told, it takes no real skill to identify the problems in Adrian Beltre’s game. You don’t need to be a well-seasoned scout – anyone can pick apart his game with relative ease. However, wisdom is often found in looking beyond the obvious and finding the positives in a person, even one with apparent flaws. When you get past the rough exterior, you often find a pretty good person. That is also true of Adrian Beltre as a baseball player.
Just as he has obvious weaknesses, he also has obvious strengths. He is going to go down in history as one of the best defensive third baseman of all time. I can’t emphasize enough how much you guys will enjoy watching him charge a slow roller down the third base line or hilariously cutting off Andrus on a ground ball hit right at the shortstop. His defense is really a thing to behold, and it will quickly become evident just how valuable having a superb defender at the hot corner can be.
While defense is his calling card, and I listed a bunch of sort-of-scary numbers a couple of paragraphs ago, he’s also a pretty good hitter. In particular, he does two things well – hit the ball really hard and make decent amounts of contact. In fact, his offensive profile is pretty similar to that of Ian Kinsler. Beltre brings a bit more power and a few more strikeouts (while walking about 50 percent less often), but they’re both line drive guys who have enough power to hit them out occasionally while also racking up a ton of doubles. Neither of these guys are great hitters, but if someone tells you that Beltre can’t hit, ask them if they think Kinsler can hit, because they’re pretty similar at the plate.
They also share another commonality – unexpectedly good base running. You don’t look at either of them and expect a ton of stolen bases, but like Kinsler, Beltre is quicker than he appears, and he’s actually a very good base stealer, going 37 for 44 over in thefts over the last four years. He goes from first to third as well as any player in the game who might be expected to hit cleanup, and he’s intelligently aggressive on the base paths. I’m sure the Rangers are hoping that he can teach Andrus a few things about that.
Overall, it’s something of an unusual package, especially at the kind of money he received. Above average hitter, good baserunner, great defender at a corner position – this just isn’t the kind of skillset that people generally consider to be all that valuable, preferring classic lumbering sluggers and generally only giving defense some real credit if it comes from a shortstop or center fielder. The statistical crowd often derides Beltre for his inconsistent offensive performance and his lack of plate discipline – after all, no group in history has ever been more fond of the ability to stand still as statheads and their affection for walks. The more traditional sector of fans focus on the other weaknesses in Beltre’s resume, and often buy into the claim that he only puts up numbers when money is on the line. He has few supporters on either side of the spectrum, making him an easy target for criticism.
However, both sides should look beyond their prejudices. The statistical crowd is just now beginning to accept the value of defense, and metrics that incorporate that part of Beltre’s game show that he’s been one of the best overall third baseman in baseball for quite some time now. As far as the argument about Beltre and contract years go, I showed how that narrative is missing some facts last week (link: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/adrian-beltre-is-not-motivated-by-contract-years/). While Beltre is not a perfect player, and there are legitimate criticisms to be made about aspects of his game, the overall package is quite valuable, and Rangers fans should be excited about watching him play.
Beyond just his value on the field, however, Beltre is remarkably easy to root for. He is quirky in ways that are hilarious and entertaining rather than contrived or just plain weird. He doesn’t wear a cup. He absolutely hates having anyone touch his head (link: http://bosoxgifs.imgur.com/beltre_head_rubs/). He appeals his own check-swings. On pitches when he really can’t decide whether to swing or not, he shuffles his feet like a 14-year-old at the prom. He smiles all the time and has no problem laughing at himself. He plays hurt, he refuses to take days off, and he actively mentors young players. He’s simply a really likable guy, and yet he commands the respect of his teammates by working harder than everyone else.
Once you get past the hacking, the rest of Beltre’s game is very easy to enjoy. He’s also remarkably easy to root for, and that feeling will only grow as you come to realize just how unappreciated he is by a great majority of baseball fans. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself vigorously defending Beltre over the next six years – he’ll earn your affection on and off the field. He makes the Rangers better, but he also makes them more fun. It’s a great combination, and you guys are lucky to have him.