Position Roundtable: Starting Third Base
I’m convinced most Mariner fans suffer from 3TSD: third-base traumatic stress disorder. Scads of at-bats by Jeff Cirillo and Scott Spiezio sent observers into such a funk that we’re convinced the team will never have a hot bat at the hot corner.
How else to explain the widespread pessimism about Adrian Beltre? It’s true that the monster patrolling Chavez Ravine in 2004 didn’t show up in Safeco Field last year, and it’s further true that a $64 million contract brings the weight of expectation.
But we’re talking about a player that will turn 27 just as the season starts, is durable barring freakish medical problems and plays terrific defense. Beltre is entering his prime, and there are serious grounds for anticipating a rebound.
Theories abound about the disparity between his 2004 and 2005. Was 2004 a contract-year fluke? Did those bone spurs in his ankle force him to keep his weight back? Did last year’s hamstring problems hinder him more than anyone let on?
Time will tell whether any of these hold water. In the meantime, if Beltre can bounce back to his career averages (a .327 OBP and .455 SLG, for a .782 OPS), he’ll be a help. If he can split the difference between those and his MVP year (.388/.629/1.017), he’ll be an All-Star.
And if he can be the monster again, he’ll cure us all of 3TSD.
Beltre, for whatever reason, would not stop swinging at the low-and-out pitch for any reasonable length of time. That’s the bad part, and if he can’t fix that, it’s going to be real hard for him to be a solid contributor. I hope the new hitting coach can work with him, but if we could know for sure that it was the bone spur that caused him to lay off that pitch, wouldn’t you seriously consider having an artificial one implanted? Sure, it’s painful. But isn’t the difference between 04 and 05 Beltre worth some discomfort?
Sorry, I got a little silly there. Here’s the good thing: for all the complaints about that huge problem in his approach, that’s really the only complaint. He spread the ball around well (look at his hit chart, for instance, it’s a great distribution). The fly outs, if anything, were a little more to right. Except for frequency of hits, it’s only slightly less pull-hitting compared to his 2004 chart — whereas if you look at his 2002/2003 years, they’re much more pull-centric.
So when he’s making good swings, he’s putting the ball all over.
The approach is the start and the end of Beltre. If he lays off that pitch, he’ll be great. But can he? He’s done it before in his career.
Whether he has to be injured to do it will likely determine whether or not Pentland finds a nice, heavy ball peen hammer made of high-quality steal with a non-slip grip and Beltre has an accident in the clubhouse.
Watching him wave at that slider was painful. But, for me, the more enduring memory is him fouling off the hit-me fastball. He missed a ton of hittable pitches during the season. His batting average plus slugging on fastballs dropped 300 points from 2004 to last year. Whatever caused him to not be to get around on a fastball was, in my opinion, the same thing that caused him to chase that crazy slider; pitch recognition. His timing was off the whole year. He’d wave at pitches as they were bouncing in the dirt and stare at 88 MPH meatballs that floated across the plate.
I can only hope that his pitch recognition improves with experience, because Derek’s right, if his approach doesn’t change, he’s screwed.
So, what do I expect from Beltre? Well, honestly, I don’t really know what to expect. The guy has a great package of physical skills; bat speed, quick wrists, huge power, and a swing without many holes. His problems are basically all mental, and our ability to project performance based on a player’s mindset is nil. All we can really do is acknowledge a wide range of potential outcomes; he could hit .300 with power and be an all-star, or, just as easily, he could hit .240 and be a drag on the line-up.
Beltre typifies the Mariner roster. There’s potential for greatness, but there’s very little performance certainty. On upside alone, Beltre’s probably the best third baseman in the game. When you factor in the risks, he falls quite a bit. The M’s roster is full of Adrian Beltre types. If everything clicks, look out world. But rarely does everything click.