Position Roundtables: Starting Third Base

Dave · February 21, 2005 at 9:25 am · Filed Under 2005 Roundtables, Mariners 

Dave: We’ve talked about Beltre’s contract at length, and obviously, we were
all big fans of the signing. The organization needed a franchise
player on the right side of 30, a young player that they can
theoretically build around for the next decade. With one signing,
they went a long ways to addressing the problems in the middle of the
lineup, while simultaneously adding one of the best defensive third
baseman in the game. In 2004, only Barry Bonds was a better player
than Beltre, and I argued before the offseason began that Beltre might
be the best player for the Mariners on the market, a better fit than
even Carlos Beltran.

So, we’re glad he’s here. Three cheers for the signing. But what do
we think he’s going to do in 2005?

You just can’t realistically expect a repeat of 2004. It was a career
year in every sense of the word, an enormous leap over reasonable
preseason expectations. Keep in mind his 90th percentile PECOTA
projection for 2004 was .281/.336/.512. He hit .334/.388/.629. That
means he exceeded the most optimistic projection possible by 18
percent in batting average, 15 percent in on base percentage, and 23
percent in slugging percentage. It was an improvement of historic
proportions, and the few players in the history of the game who have
made leaps of even remotely similar proportions have a portion of
those back in future years. Thinking he’s going to be that good again
is unrealistic.

But, as I’ve argued before, Beltre’s a weird case, a super talent who
was something of a minor star by age 22 and had shown all the signs of
future greatness. The apendectomy that nearly took his life and
robbed him of needed development isn’t something that any statistical
based projection can account for. He’s got a pretty severe case of
extenuating circumstances. In his case, I don’t believe his offensive
performance from 2001-2003 accurately reflects the skills Beltre has,
and they carry less weight than they would in a normal circumstance.
But they do carry some weight, and we’d be remiss to not admit that
Beltre’s got some downside, a risk of falling back to levels where
he’s not a great hitter.

He’s also a right-handed pull hitter in Safeco Field. He has enough
power to drive it out to right field, but historically, about 75
percent of his bombs have been hit to left or left center. Safeco’s
probably not going to be his favorite place to hit, as it has been
tough on hitters with his profile through the years.

What am I expecting from Beltre in 2005? Probably something in the
.290/.350/.530 range, which may look like a disappointment on the
surface. But in Safeco, that’s a pretty strong offensive performance,
and added with his defense, he’ll be a legitimate all-star. I think a
realistic expectation is that he’ll be worth 6-7 wins above
replacement and be the best player on the team. And, as we saw last
year, there is a chance that he exceeds our expectation and
establishes himself as one of the best few players in the game.

Jeff: If you Google “Adrian Beltre” and “disappointment,” you’ll get
over 600 results. That’s a lesson in patience and in perspective: because he’s been
around forever, it’s difficult to remember that Beltre won’t turn 26 until April.

Since his breakout year was 2004, I’ll be interested to see the changes to his
PECOTA card when the comparable players section is updated. I think you will see less
Aurelio Rodriguez, more Mike Schmidt. Who, by the way, hit .249/.367/.523 and
.262/.376/.524 is his age 25 and age 26 seasons.

Dave’s crystal ball is more predicto-riffic than mine, and think his reasoning is solid, so
let’s assume Beltre finishes with a line in the neighborhood he suggests (290/.350/.530).

If Adrian Beltre had put up those numbers in 2004, he would still have been fifth in
baseball in OPS among third basemen. All of the others that would have been ahead
of him — Scott Rolen, Aramis Ramirez, Melvin Mora and Alex Rodriguez — play in
home parks that are at least marginally more favorable to hitters than either Dodger
Stadium or Safeco.

Beltre is a pull hitter (hitting chart here, but it’s important to note that he also had success
as a right-handed power bat in spacious Dodger Stadium. This bodes well for the
transition to Safeco. That’s not to say his home park didn’t depress Beltre’s numbers a bit —
his road OPS is .60-.100 points higher over the past three years — but to point out that he
was able to be productive despite a pitcher-friendly environment. I think we’d all be thrilled
if he put up his Dodger Stadium line last year (.326/.371/.611) for the whole season.

This is an excellent signing because, even if he doesn’t deliver another season like last year,
Beltre is likely to be among the very best at his position. Welcome to Seattle.

Derek: Well, if you put “Jeff Shaw Funkadelic” into Google, you get about 700
references, so I don’t take that as any particular sign.

I fight over PECOTA all the time, and I want to make this point one more
time: PECOTA forecasts, by themselves, mean nothing. Players don’t
struggle against them. They don’t over-achieve because they do better
than the weighted mean forecast, or struggle because they do worse.
PECOTA attempts, using limited criteria, to make a guess at a player’s
performance the next year. Because it only uses statistical lines from
the last three years, it wears blinders that we do not. We can look at
Beltre and see the early stardom, know about the surgery. We don’t know
that that’s the cause of the two down years, but we see a wider picture
than PECOTA can. If a projection system sees two down years and a fluke
MVP-caliber performance, of course it’s going to be down on next year’s

Anyway. Beltre’s an encouraging sign for a couple of reasons. Not only
because he’s young, and he’s awesome, and whatever else, but because
it’s a departure from the modest-cost stop-gap measure. He’s a huge
expensive risk with potentially huge returns for the team, instead of
the kind of Gillick-era modest-cost filler we got for 2004. Guys like
Ibanez, Spiezio… we saw the upside, and now the team’s trying to
figure out what they do with these guys.

Beltre… man. He’s going to be a huge boon to this team, and good for
them for taking the chance.

Jason: When was the last time the M’s signed someone and you said “Wow, I have no
complaints about this signing”? And I mean a real signing, not something
like giving Dan Reichert a minor league contract. It’s always something —
the contract’s too long, they gave him too much money, he’s too old, he
hasn’t been good in three years, his arm is about to fall off, and so on.
Adrian Beltre? I have no complaints.

The biggest knock on Beltre is that he only hit well last season, his free
agent year. But that’s being unkind to his 1999 and 2000 seasons, when he
hit .275/.352/.428 and .290/.360/.475… as a 20- and 21-year old in
pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium
. You don’t do that without having
legitimate skills.

His 2004 season was an absolute monster, one he isn’t likely to repeat next
season (or over the course of his contract, for that matter). Still, though,
even a step back from that will place him among the best in the game at his
position and earning his considerable paycheck. That he plays good defense
is simply icing on the cake.

Best of all, he won’t turn 26 until the first week of the season. This isn’t
quite up there with a 25-year old Alex Rodriguez becoming a free agent after
the 2000 season, but Beltre remains one of the youngest (and best) free
agents ever to hit the open market. And now he’s in a Seattle Mariners
uniform. Again, no complaints.

Peter: All I want to know is why I can STILL buy a Kaz
jersey from MLB.com but no Beltre.

I want my Beltre jersey.


36 Responses to “Position Roundtables: Starting Third Base”

  1. Brent Overman on February 21st, 2005 9:36 am

    My biggest question with regards to Beltre is, how do you guys see his future plate discipline?

    He had a phenominal 2004, with a 334 BA/388 OBP. Is there any concern that his plate discipline may hinder him, bringing it down to 330-350 range? That’s still not too shabby, but if a guy like him has a .334 BA, shouldn’t his OBA be above 400?

  2. Russ on February 21st, 2005 9:36 am

    Thanks for the article guys. Having this caliber of analysis/writing about the Mariners is a true gift to baseball fans. I enjoy the interaction between the writers and the ability of the readership to share their thoughts with open debate.

    I’m just glad the name Beltre doesn’t lend itself well to the Vallesque style of ending. I don’t think I want to hear Sexie either! I’m cringing just knowing that it’s going to slip out one day as I can hear in my head “Beltre scoops one off the grass and fires to Sexie at first”.

    God, please don’t let it happen.

  3. Evan on February 21st, 2005 9:50 am

    Discussing Beltre’s downside is all well and good, but isn’t the upside absolutely sick? Let’s be honest, here. If he’s simply returning to his previous development curve, then we should continue to see numbers like his 2004 season. If the worst-case is that 2004 was a total fluke, then the best-case is that he’ll do it for three more seasons.

    Beltre gives us a fairly broad range of possible outcomes that are all reasonably likely. There’s a lot of both downside and upside risk.

    I’m hopefully optimistic.

  4. Brent Overman on February 21st, 2005 9:52 am

    I am too, Evan. It’s scary to see him as only 25. Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit, but I thought it was worth mentioning…

  5. bilbo on February 21st, 2005 9:53 am

    I haven’t looked at the numbers, but I gotta believe that the M’s were below replacement at 3B last year. If that is the case, then what is the “net gain” at putting Beltre at 3B over what we had last year (Spiezio/Leone/Willie)?

    While we are at it, who would you rather have at 3B right now, Beltre and his contract or ARod and his?

  6. Rob Salkowitz on February 21st, 2005 10:00 am

    Jason wrote:
    “When was the last time the M’s signed someone and you said “Wow, I have no complaints about this signing”?”

    Jeff Cirillo, IIRC. Not that I have any complaints whatsoever about Beltre. Just sayin’…

  7. Dave on February 21st, 2005 10:13 am

    If Alex Rodriguez was a Mariner, he’d be playing shortstop, not third base, so the question isn’t really fair. And, considering the Yankees are “only” paying Alex about $18 million per season with the Rangers picking up the rest, I’d probably take Alex.

    And, sorry Rob, but the M’s traded for Cirillo, and there were all kinds of complaints at the time. I was in favor of the deal, but there were huge warning signs; his home/road splits and age being the two obvious ones.

  8. Nate on February 21st, 2005 10:31 am

    Dodger stadium might generally be a pitcher’s park, but it actually is a better-than-average stadium for right-handed home run hitters, the mirror image of Safeco. So we would expect Beltre to have success as a power-hitting right-handed batter in Dodger Stadium, Jeff. Switching to Safeco will be an uphill battle, not a lateral move. If Beltre doesn’t try to pull everything, he might be fine, but there’s a risk that he’ll have a really hard time hitting it out at home.

    Only because I think this is relevant to the discussion here, I’m going to refer you to my lenthier post on the subject at my blog here.

    Thanks for the good roundtable and discussion.

  9. Matt Staples on February 21st, 2005 10:48 am

    Nate, I’m glad someone finally posted about the park factors issue. If I have to read one more time that “Beltre did well in Dodger Stadium, a pitcher’s park, so we shouldn’t expect a dropoff in power numbers with his move to Safeco,” I’ll go nuts.

    The ’05 Bill James Handbook puts the RHB-HR score for Dodger Stadium at 104, while the same number for Safeco is 96. In the past, I’ve read more extreme splits, such as something in the low 80s for Safeco and about 108-112 for Dodger Stadium.

    Dodger Stadium *boosts* home runs for right-handed batters (and cuts it only slightly for left-handed batters). It is not a bad power park at all, and while the numbers aren’t in front of me, to my knowledge this has remained constant for at least the last five years (and likely longer).

    What Dodger Stadium DOES do, however, is curtail scoring across the board, and hurt batting average, particularly for right-handed batters. It is much like Safeco in these respects.

    (As an aside, the BJH puts the left-handed home run park factor for Safeco at 146, which, for perspective, is more significant than the same number for Coors Field (145). Delgado, anyone?)

  10. DMZ on February 21st, 2005 10:53 am

    Beltre did well in Dodger Stadium, a pitcher’s park, so we shouldn’t expect a dropoff in power numbers with his move to Safeco.


  11. Ryan Carson on February 21st, 2005 11:16 am

    Jason, M’s team store has Beltre jerseys. Just an FYI

  12. Dan on February 21st, 2005 11:29 am

    Cirillo was bad news from the start, he could hit at Coors with ease but was mediocre everywhere else. I was actually working for the club when he was signed and realized quickly that he was a jerk. I don’t blame Piniella for disliking him.

  13. Jon Helfgott on February 21st, 2005 11:34 am

    I’ll give DMZ what I think he’s waiting for…isn’t Dodger Stadium known for depressing doubles and triples but not home runs?

  14. DMZ on February 21st, 2005 11:35 am

    No no, I’m waiting for Matt there to go insane like he promised.

  15. Scraps on February 21st, 2005 12:36 pm

    Cirillo was bad news from the start, he could hit at Coors with ease but was mediocre everywhere else.

    That’s just not true. He was a career .307 hitter in five-plus years at Milwaukee before going to Colorado. He’d had three full seasons hitting over .320. He topped .400 in onbase twice, and had decent extra-base power, slugging .504 in his best year. He was a legitimately excellent hitter. That’s why his collapse was so dismaying: there was good reason to think he’d be better, not just Colorado numbers.

  16. troy on February 21st, 2005 12:55 pm

    #15, but when he was a Rockie his numbers were mediocre outside of Coors. Either his skills were defining or Coors threw off his game, but he was clearly not the same hitter he had been with the Brew Crew.

  17. hedgie on February 21st, 2005 2:00 pm

    hey Peter – you can go over to your neighborhood mariners team store and buy a Beltre jersey. i saw em at the Bellevue store. too bad my Beltre Dodgers Jersey is retro now.

  18. chaney on February 21st, 2005 2:10 pm

    Looking at Beltre’s hitting chart… If you look at “all years” and hit home runs, it looks like he’s a major pull hitter, with a thick cloud of H’s on the left side and a light peppering on the right. However, if you look at 2004, the homers are much more evenly distributed. He still tends to pull the ball slightly, but it’s not nearly as pronounced. While he’s *historically* been a pull hitter, Beltre is only 25 and still developing as a player. Much of his ’04 success has been attributed to a new focus on hitting to all fields (as well as health, plate discipline, etc). I would think he has just as good a chance to succeed in Safeco as any other right-handed hitter.

  19. Marty Lighthizer on February 21st, 2005 5:37 pm

    Actually, Jeff Shaw Funkadelic is up to about 870 results now, just ahead of Jeff Shaw Gangsta Rap at 514. The current leader, however, is Jeff Shaw Easy Listening at 103,000.

    BTW, “Adrian Beltre 5-time MVP” had 101 results. (Google prescience?)

  20. Matt on February 21st, 2005 5:54 pm

    Apparently the M’s online store is funky about the jerseys right now. If you go to “Customizable Jerseys” on the online store there is a drop down box with a list of players names and numbers. You can pick Beltre and number 5 this way to create your own “customized” Adrian Beltre jersey. Oddly enough you can also get a John Olerud, Allan Simpson, Rich Aurillia, Carlos Guillen or Ryan Anderson jersey in the same manner.

  21. Matt Staples on February 21st, 2005 6:12 pm

    Derek — finally, hours later, I have returned to sanity. Thanks for putting me over the edge.

    By the way, I really like the round-table format of these previews.

    Does anyone have any insight as to what’s going on with Madritsch in camp? I have heard that he’s come into camp out of shape, unwilling to take suggestions of the M’s staff. Apparently they’re thinking about sticking him in the pen and having Sele in the rotation. This, if true, will REALLY make me go nuts.

  22. Dave on February 21st, 2005 6:26 pm

    Nothing we hear from camp right now matters, unless its “Felix… sore arm… James Andrews” or something of the sort. Decisions aren’t being made this early. I wouldn’t give those rumors much credit.

  23. Marty Lighthizer on February 21st, 2005 6:30 pm

    Re: #20
    Finnigan had this report on Madritsch the other day:


  24. bilbo on February 21st, 2005 6:59 pm

    OT on Madritsch-
    FWIW, I just heard Price on the radio and he was very complimentary about Madritsch and spoke of him as a power-arm lefty in the rotation to compliment Moyer (lefty, not power-arm!). He didn’t mention anything about him being out of shape or having work to do, etc.

  25. peter on February 21st, 2005 7:38 pm

    yeah so, if anybody knows of a local mariners team store in central kentucky that i’m not aware of, please give me the tip.

    otherwise, bellevue is a bit of a drive for me.

  26. Noel on February 21st, 2005 9:04 pm

    Google “Adrian Beltre disappointment”: 646 hits.

    Google “Jeff Shaw disappointment”: 39,400 hits.

    Jeff, I’m confident that you’re not a disappointment, so maybe it’s time to find a different analysis method. 😀

  27. eponymous coward on February 21st, 2005 9:23 pm

    On the “Gee, would 2004 be Beltre’s career year at such a young age?”- you can argue that A-Rod’s best offensive years were his 1996, 2000 and 2001 years- all at age 25 or earlier.

    Using Bill James’ Similarity Scores, you get Ron Santo as Adrian Beltre’s best comp… who also took a bit of a slide backwards after coming up at a young age (not as much of one as Beltre, though). Santo peaked at around 25, but had a number of good years after that (and his raw numbers were hit hard by the dearth of runs in the 1960’s)

  28. James on February 21st, 2005 10:07 pm

    Peter… on the Cubs.MLB.COM site, where you can customize a jersey with any name or number on it and it costs the same as ordering a stock Kerry Wood jersey. It even spits out a cool graphic of what it would like with your name on the back that you can save to your desktop. I don’t know if they have that option for the Mariners, but they should, if they don’t.

    Also… I don’t remember which guy made the comment comparing Beltre to Mike Schmidt… but I’ve found giving that kind of historical perspective (i.e. relating a current player’s performance at a certain age to a Hall of Famer’s performance at the same age) doesn’t mean much to the kind of fans who aren’t smart enough to realize that young players need time. I’m not sure it means much to compare players such as this, but it’s better than screaming “You suck!” just because a young player has a bad month or a bad year.

    I’ve tried to do this in comparing Corey Patterson going into his age-25 year with Andre Dawson (the year he would finish in the top-10 in MVP voting for the first of four times and win his first of eight gold gloves). I agree Corey Patterson regressed last year, but so did Dawson following his 1977 NL ROY season.

    But try to explain this to Cubs fans, or even cheer him on from the centerfield bleachers, and you’re likely to get something thrown at you or tossed out onto Waveland Avenue the hard way.

    I don’t know what the future holds for Patterson in Chicago, but I don’t like his chances of getting to Dawson’s level (or a good night’s sleep) if the Bleacher Bums keep booing him after every strikeout.

    Remind you of a centerfielder you know, M’s fans?

  29. James on February 21st, 2005 10:12 pm

    btw… Dave. Just to show that I pick on everybody evenly. In today’s Chicago Tribune, they have Felix Hernandez listed as a left-handed pitcher.

    Which isn’t nearly as bad as having the NBA All-Star rosters completely fubarred in the Tribune on Saturday! They had the heights and weights mixed up for both teams. They had Steve Nash, Allen Iverson and LeBron James listed as 7-footers and Yao Ming at 6’3″ or something. I had a great chuckle over that.

  30. JC on February 22nd, 2005 2:08 am

    1 real question why didnt the dogers make a run at this guy?Any answers?I got ideas but that is a guy who saw a guy dbl his hr total in his free agent year and is a boris subject not client…..

  31. ray on February 22nd, 2005 3:00 am

    Speaking of listings: one newspaper (don’t remember which) had Beltre listed at 5’11” 220 lbs. That is rediculously huge — steriods huge — so that must be a mistake because Bucky is listed at 220 and he is like 6’2″ right?

  32. Jim on February 22nd, 2005 4:15 am

    Re: #15, Cirillo never had the profile of the sort of great player who is very good into his thirties. He arrived at Milwaukee and played part time at ages 24 and 25, then started there and was an All-Star-type regular at ages 26 through 29. He had his peak right on schedule for the sort of major league player who is only a good regular for about 4 years, from age 26 or so until about 30. The bulk of the regulars in the majors are that type of player, so they’re not hard to recognize when we see them. Now, if the Mariners had been trying to get him before his age 30 season, that might have been an interesting evaluation challenge. Instead the Mariners had the age 30 and 31 years in Colorado to look at as well, and that screamed “Age decline in progress!!!” Cirillo’s raws stats held steady while he moved to an amazingly advantageous home park, which made it fairly clear that he had started to lose his offensive skills. I remember the day of the trade well, because I was arguing with my friends that it was probably a terrible move given Cirillo’s age and salary. I didn’t think he would collapse as badly as he did, but I did predict that he would never be worth even close to the amount they were committing to him. I based that prediction on the obvious career arc visible in his statistical record.


  33. Evan on February 22nd, 2005 9:29 am

    I’m 5’11” 205 lb.

    But I’m just fat.

  34. hedgie on February 22nd, 2005 10:35 am

    Hey Peter – KENTUCKY ?! at least you dont have to cross the 520 to get to Bellevue. although, it might take you as long. Good luck on the Quest for Beltre Jersey !

  35. Devo on February 22nd, 2005 12:08 pm

    Hey Jeff, Eric Chavez posted a .898 ops as a third baseman last year. He’s a nice guy, don’t forget about him.

  36. Jeff on February 22nd, 2005 3:00 pm

    My bad, Devo. You’re right.