Position Roundtables: Starting Third Base
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
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
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
Sasaki jersey from MLB.com but no Beltre.
I want my Beltre jersey.