MLB: The Career of Adrian Beltre

Mike Schmidt.   No third baseman in the history of baseball can quite compare to what Schmidt did in his career for the Philadelphia Phillies.  He is the only third baseman in history to amass over 100 career WAR.  He led the National League in home runs eight times, runs batted in four times, OPS five times, and OPS+ six times, including five seasons in a row.   Sometimes, we lump Hall of Fame players into two categories:  Those who dominated over a period of five or so years (Sandy Koufax, for example) and those who compiled numbers over the course of a long career (think Phil Niekro).   Schmidt was a Hall of Fame player who did both – he compiled the big numbers while also putting together stretches of dominance over the course of five or more seasons.

This post is not about Adrian Beltre overtaking Mike Schmidt, because anybody with a brain can see that he isn’t even close.  However, this post is to show just how close Beltre is to being the second best player all-time at the position.  While he is probably behind the likes of Eddie Mathews, he can at least be lumped into other contenders like Chipper Jones, George Brett, and Brooks Robinson.   Beltre’s career is one of the most underrated careers in recent memory.  A player who started building major accomplishments in the age of social media, and yet has been unable to really generate much of a trend on Twitter.  Part of that is due to baseball’s inability to market their players.   Part of it is because Beltre himself has hardly been flashy, even if his recent ejection for moving the on-base circle was one of the best moments I have seen in a decade.

Beltre recorded his 3,000th hit today.  While some may say that automatically puts him in the Hall of Fame, that actually diminishes what Beltre is.  He didn’t need 3,000 hits to get into the Hall of Fame – it is just another gold star to add to the collection.

Beltre’s career is interesting in that he spent the first dozen years (his prime!) playing in pitcher’s ballparks in Los Angeles and Seattle.   In those 12 seasons, he hit .270/.325/.453 (105 OPS+) in 6,877 plate appearances.  He had one monster year (2004, when he lead the league with 48 home runs for Los Angeles). He would end up second in the MVP vote, the highest he would ever get in that voting.   With 1,700 hits after his age-30 season, it didn’t seem like he was going to be threatening 3,000 hits or the Hall of Fame. He seemed destined to be one of those “Hall of Very Good” players, which is nothing at all to sneeze at.     However, when a player can put up a .453 slugging percentage while playing so many games in those two ballparks, it can make you wonder what would happen if he ever got out of those ballparks.

We found out in 2010, when the Boston Red Sox took a chance on Beltre (seems silly now to say that!) after a season in which he hit only eight home runs for the Seattle Mariners.    He took a liking to the Green Monster, leading the league in doubles (49) while hitting 28 home runs and compiling a 141 OPS+, which is currently his third highest number in his career.   He finished 9th in the MVP race, but didn’t stay in Boston any longer than that one year.  In 2011, he signed a big deal to go to the Texas Rangers, where his career has taken off.   As for the Red Sox, they handed the third base reigns over to veteran Kevin Youkalis, who had a down (but still excellent!) 2011 campaign before his career started to fade away due to injuries.

Beltre has flourished since arriving in Texas, posting a 133 OPS+ over 3,954 plate appearances heading into Sunday’s action.   While an injury has slowed him down this season, he has been mostly durable and considered one of the best defensive third basemen in the game.  Other than not stealing bases, Beltre’s offensive game has always been solid.  His great defense just adds to what makes him a legendary player who hardly anyone likely saw coming a decade ago.

There will always be naysayers out there:  Beltre has only that one home run title on his mantle.  He has never lead the league in RBI or batting average. His black ink consists of a home run title, and a doubles title.   It isn’t really that Beltre has been a dominant hitter throughout his career.  It is more about how great he is as a third baseman, one of the most underrepresented positions in the Hall of Fame.  When you add in his five Gold Gloves, his defensive value, the number of times he has been in the top five or top ten in various categories, and his overall career rankings, you are left with a player who is a no-doubt-about-it Hall of Fame third baseman.  Compared to other third basemen, he has more than enough dominant seasons combined with a career of sustained excellence.

Beltre has been one of my favorite players to follow, because his career fascinates me.   While players like Derek Jeter storm out of the game and seemingly cruise (I know that really ISN’T the case!) to their Hall of Fame status, players like Beltre start off a bit more slowly before their careers begin to take off.  One of my favorite things about baseball is that no career arc is the same – we have our players who let the baseball world know right away how great they are, while we have others (like Jamie Moyer) who dawdle around forever before becoming MLB All-Stars and even Hall of Fame players (Moyer is most certainly not a Hall of Fame pitcher!)

Where would I rank Beltre all time?  He seems to obviously be behind Schmidt and Mathews.    Jones was such a dominant offensive player that it is hard for me to put Beltre ahead of him.   I might rank him fifth, behind Schmidt, Mathews, Jones, and Brett, but ahead of Robinson.   Robinson was spectacular as well defensively, but didn’t have Beltre’s bat.

Up next on the quest to 3,000 is Albert Pujols, who has slowed down tremendously through the years but should be able to get to the magic number.

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