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Adrian Beltre strengthens already-strong Hall of Fame case with 3,000th hit

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Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre just notched his 3,000th hit, which puts him in rarefied air. He’s the 31st player in baseball history to join the 3,000-hit club and only the second third baseman (having played at least 75 percent of his career games at the position) to do so along with Wade Boggs. This didn’t exactly sneak up on us; coming into the season, Beltre’s milestone was bound to happen as long as he stayed relatively healthy, entering the year with 2,942 hits. He got there despite missing the first two months of the season with a strained right calf.

Though achieving 3,000 hits garners a tremendous amount of respect, it still seems like he’s underrated. It’s not just the hits that make him good, it’s the power. He has 454 homers and 605 doubles in his career. The only other players with at least 400 homers and 600 doubles are Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, and Cal Ripken, Jr. All Hall of Famers, or should-be Hall of Famers.

Defense still isn’t nearly as easily quantified as offense, which may help explain why Beltre flies under the radar much of the time. He’s a five-time Gold Glove Award winner and that seems light. He won one last year at the age of 37, becoming the oldest player to win the award since Brooks Robinson in 1975. In doing so, Beltre had to beat out arguably the best defensive third baseman in baseball in Manny Machado.

How much has defense added to Beltre’s value? According to Baseball Reference, he’s saved 227 runs above average over his career, adding about 28 wins. As a result, Beltre has 92.4 career Wins Above Replacement. He’s one of 28 players in baseball history with at least 90 WAR. Only four of those 28 are third basemen: Mike Schmidt (106.6), Eddie Mathews (96.2), Beltre, and Boggs (91.1).

What also makes Beltre stand out is how productive he’s been while aging. Everyone remembers his 48-homer season back in 2004 as a 25-year-old with the Dodgers. While he never quite matched that season, he has overall been more productive in his 30’s than when he was younger. From age 19 to 29, he hit .271/.327/.459 with 242 home runs and 862 RBI in 6,400 plate appearances (HR every 26.4 PA and an RBI every 7.42 PA). From age 30 to 38, he hit .305/.355/.507 with 211 home runs and 740 RBI in 5,055 plate appearances (HR every 24 PA and an RBI every 6.8 PA). Beltre accrued 41.2 WAR through age 29 and 51.2 WAR since.

Last season, at 37, Beltre hit 32 homers and knocked in 104 runs. There are only 21 other player-seasons since 1901 in which a player hit at least 30 homers and drove in at least 100 runs at age 37 or older. The list includes Alfonso Soriano, Andres Galarraga, Babe Ruth (twice), Barry Bonds (twice), Carlton Fisk, David Ortiz (four times), Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas, Fred McGriff (twice), Hank Aaron, Hank Sauer, Mike Schmidt, Moises Alou, and Rafael Palmeiro (twice). If we add another constraint, 30 doubles (Beltre had 31 last season), the list shrinks to nine. Of those nine, only five also hit .300 or better and Beltre was one of those five.

Beltre is having yet another strong season. Entering today’s action, he was hitting .310/.387/.538. He doesn’t and won’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, it’s still impressive. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, there are only 18 player-seasons in which a player 38 years old or older hit .300 or better with enough PA to qualify for the batting title. Barry Bonds, David Ortiz, Edgar Martinez, Eddie Murray, and Jeff Kent are the only players to slash .300/.375/.500 or better at the age of 38 or older.

In Hall of Fame discussions, players are often referred to as having been compilers, meaning that they played a lot of seasons, giving them more opportunities to add to their counting stats. Beltre played 20 seasons, which is longer than most players, even All-Star-caliber players. But Beltre wasn’t just a compiler. In 10 of those 20 seasons, he accrued at least five WAR which is typically an All-Star-caliber season and often enough to propel one into MVP discussions. Beltre racked up at least seven WAR in four seasons as well. He had both peak and longevity, which is typical of inner circle Hall of Famers.

Savor witnessing Beltre’s 3,000th hit, folks. You are witnessing not just one of the best third basemen of all time, but one of the best players, period. He’ll be properly enshrined in Cooperstown soon enough.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.