Great Moments in Straw Man Arguments: Jon Heyman

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SI’s Jon Heyman was the first major national writer to weigh in on the Ryan Howard contract the other day, tweeting his strong approval of the pact. Today he has a lengthy column up elaborating on his support for the deal.

There are some passable, though ultimately unconvincing (in my view) arguments in the piece, but there was also one ridiculous passage, the sort of which causes so many people to want to lay into Heyman they way we so often do:

Everyone agrees that home runs are an important stat, but to those who
believe RBIs are only a reflection of one’s teammates, and thus pure
luck, here are the top five RBI leaders since 1900: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. Five very
lucky fellows.

Heyman knows full well that no one argues that RBI are “only” a reflection on one’s teammates or that they’re “pure luck.”  The argument is that RBI are dependent upon one’s teammates and a function of opportunity, thus they do not isolate a player’s individual value, thereby allowing you to do things that are dependent upon knowing one’s individual value like, say, figuring out what you should pay a guy or voting for him as the MVP.

Put differently: you still have to be able to hit the ball to get the RBIs, but even if you rake with the best of them, you’re not going to get a ton of RBIs if your teammates don’t get on base. Ask Mickey Mantle, who drove in 100 runs only four times and stands at a mere 50th on the all-time RBI list, right behind Carlos Delgado at 49.

Surely Heyman doesn’t believe that Delgado was better than Mantle, does he? Of course he doesn’t, because he’s not a dumb guy. He’s just a guy who can’t resist taking a shot at modern statistical analysis whenever the opportunity arises, and that’s what he’s doing here.

Adrián Beltré is a slam dunk Hall of Famer

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Rangers third baseman Adrián Beltré officially announced his retirement on Tuesday, ending months of speculation about his future. The 39-year-old put together one of the greatest careers we have ever seen, spending time with the Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox, and Rangers across 21 seasons.

Beltré will be eligible for the Hall of Fame five years from now. Given how much more analytically-literate the electorate has become in recent years, Beltré will very likely get the requisite 75 percent of the vote to earn enshrinement in Cooperstown. In a just world, he would get 100 percent of the vote, but no player has ever gone into the Hall of Fame unanimously.

Beltré retires having hit .286/.339/.480 with 477 home runs, 1,707 RBI, 1,524 runs scored, and 121 stolen bases in 12,130 plate appearances. Beltré hit for the cycle three times: in 2008 with the Mariners, and in 2012 and 2015 with the Rangers. He won four Silver Sluggers and made the All-Star team four times, both of which seem criminally low. He also won five Gold Gloves and two Platinum Gloves. For the bulk of his career, he was arguably the best defensive third baseman if not just in his league then in all of baseball. Injuries slowed Beltré in his 30’s, particularly in the last two seasons, but despite that, he showed when he was healthy that he could still hang with the young guns in his old age. No one would have been surprised if he hung around for one more season. Despite health issues, Beltré still hit around the league average with above-average defense.

Among Hall of Famers who played at least 50 percent of their career games at third base, Beltré’s career 95.7 WAR ranks behind only Mike Schmidt (106.8) and Eddie Mathews (96.6), per Baseball Reference. He’s ahead of Wade Boggs (91.4), George Brett (88.7), and Chipper Jones (85.2). Those six are the only third basemen in the 80’s when it comes to WAR.

As Jon Morosi points out, Beltré is the only third baseman in baseball history with 3,000-plus hits and 400-plus home runs. Individually, the 3,000-hit club boasts only 32 members while the 400-homer club has 55 members. Beltré’s 3,166 hits and 477 homes rank 16th and 30th, respectively.

Beltré’s numbers are absurdly good, but beyond that, he was a character. He took the game quite seriously, but he was still able to have fun. He became one of the most .gif-able players in the game. Beltré didn’t like his head being touched, so when he approached or went through the dugout collecting high-fives after hitting home runs, his teammates would oftentimes playfully pat him or rub his head. Beltré would pretend to go after them in revenge.

Beltré once borrowed groundskeeping equipment in order to avoid Gatorade baths.

Beltré wasn’t afraid to drop to one knee to hit a homer, either.

Beltré played games with his opponents after successfully swiping a base.

Beltré got into standoffs with opposing players, further proving he’s anything but an easy out.

Beltré made relevant cultural references.

Beltré once trolled the umpire, who asked him to get back into the on-deck circle, by moving the on-deck circle.

Happy trails to not only one of the best players of his generation, but to one of the most entertaining as well. Baseball will be poorer without Adrián Beltré. His Hall of Fame induction ceremony should be tremendous, though.