A Eulogy for Adrian
Yesterday, Adrian Beltre played his final game of the season, as he’s having surgery on both his thumb and his shoulder on Thursday. Because the Mariners seem resigned to a several year rebuilding process and Beltre’s a free agent at the end of next season, it seems likely that the M’s will trade him this winter, meaning Beltre has probably played his last game as a Mariner.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at what he’s given us since signing here four years ago.
2005-2008: 2,370 at-bats, 632 hits, 145 2B, 8 3B, 95 HR, 173 BB, 420 K, 36 SB, 10 CS
As a Mariner, Beltre has hit .267/.320/.455, which works out to about five percent better than a league average hitter would perform playing half his games in Safeco. Five percent may not sound like much, but a sustained advantage over four years adds up, and Beltre’s been worth about a total of 1.5 wins above an average hitter while wearing a Mariner jersey.
Of course, we all know that Beltre isn’t just a hitter – he’s also one of the best defensive third baseman alive, and he’s been a tremendous asset with the glove as well. According to the Fielding Bible’s +/- system, Beltre was 24 plays better than an average third baseman in ’06, 7 players better than average in ’07, and 28 plays better than average in ’08. We don’t have +/- available for 2005, but MGL’s UZR system is built similarly (they just use different datasets but the same basic idea), and he has Beltre at four runs above average (or about +6 plays to get it on the same scale as +/-) during the ’05 season.
So, if we just do some basic approximations, we could say that Beltre was something like +5 runs with the glove in ’05, +15 runs in ’06, +5 runs in ’07, and +20 runs in 2008, give or take a few runs each season. Overall, we’re estimating that Beltre saved about 40 runs with his defense during his time as a Mariner – 40 runs is about four wins.
So, we add Beltre’s +4 wins defensively to his +1.5 wins offensively, and we can say that Beltre’s been about 5.5 wins better than an average player over his four years as a Mariner. Comparisons to average are fairly easy, but there’s a problem – league average players aren’t just laying around, so we have to give Beltre credit for the gap between league average and replacement level as well. In general, a replacement level player is about two wins below average per season. Over four years, the difference between a replacement level player and a league average player would be about eight wins.
So, we add 8 wins to the 5.5 we’ve already credited to Beltre for being above average, and we can say that he’s been worth something like 13.5 wins above a replacement level third baseman during his four years as a Mariner.
The Mariners have paid Adrian Beltre about $50 million over the last four years, including annual salaries and a prorated portion of his signing bonus. $50 million for 13.5 wins works out to about $3.7 million per win – the going rate for a free agent the last few years has been between $4 and $5 million per win.
No matter how you slice it, Adrian Beltre has been a relative bargain for the Mariners – a high quality player signed to a below market contract. Often maligned for his contract by those who don’t understand how valuable he’s been, Beltre has been one of the shining lights in a stretch of dark seasons.
If we really have seen the last of Adrian Beltre, it’ll be a shame. The Mariners need more players like Beltre, not less. I’m afraid that Beltre is doomed, however, to be the next Mike Cameron – wildly underrated during his time here and highly valuable to the teams that employ him after the M’s cut him loose. The Mariners have never been able to replace Cameron in the outfield, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to replace Beltre at third anytime soon.
If this was it, Adrian, thanks for four great seasons. We’re sorry that some people don’t understand how good you are, and we hope to see you next spring. But if we don’t, it was fun having you here, and we’ll be worse off without you.