The fifth in a non-alphabetical and irregularly updated series of review pieces for each of the players we predicted last winter. (All entries are linked in the left-hand sidebar, below the Rotoworld stuff and the interviews.)
LL/USSM Community: 604 AB's, .283/.347/.511 (n=144)
Actual Line: 595 AB's, .276/.319/.482
Closest Projection: jake.mailhot, .275/.327/.485
A high projection, leading one to theorize that perhaps players who have good second halves, like Beltre did in 2006, will be viewed more optimistically going into the next year. But then, Richie Sexson had an awesome second half in 2006 and his projection was completely normal, which kind of blows that whole theory out of the water. Sometimes the scientific method can be really fast.
For Adrian Beltre, 2007 was another strong and underrated campaign, the second he's put up in a row on the heels of his colossally disappointing AL debut. However, unlike in 2006, this time around Beltre didn't wait a few months to start hitting, instead batting .308 with six homers between April 26th and the beginning of June, when a sprained left thumb temporarily knocked him out of action and interfered with his swing for the better part of three weeks. After healing up he was quickly able to get back on track, though, stinging the ball in July and carrying it all the way into September, when a late-season fade forced his slugging percentage down from .500. Of all people, it actually felt like Adrian flipping Beltre was one of the most consistent players on the team.
As good as he is, and as thankful as we are that he's a Mariner, Beltre remains an easy target for people who like to make fun of bad contracts. They look at the year he had in 2004, then they look at the ensuing free agent contract, and they declare that he was a massive fluke and a total bust. He couldn't even reach .280/30/100 this season, after all.
These people are wrong. All of them. Not only because we didn't give Beltre his contract to repeat 2004 five times over, but also because he's a highly valuable player who arguably deserves more than he's getting. Other than drawing walks, there isn't a single facet of the game at which Beltre doesn't succeed. He hits for a reasonable average and good power despite playing half his games in a brutal environment. He runs well. He stays pretty healthy. He makes decent contact. And, of course, he plays a mean third base.
Defense. National analysts never think about defense (or, perhaps better, they never think about it accurately), but if they actually had a clue, they'd realize that a not insignificant portion of Beltre's value comes from what he contributes in the field. Forget the Gold Glove; you'll notice I didn't talk about those today, because they're completely retarded. Beltre's been doing the same thing in the field for as long as he's been in the Major Leagues. Here's a Beltre UZR history for as far back as I can go:
2000: +20 runs per 162 games
2004: +24 runs per 150 games (different spreadsheet for '04-'07)
Defense tends to start declining pretty quick, so Beltre probably isn't the +20 guy he used to be, but at +5 to +15, he's among the league's elite at third base. He may not quite be at the same level as Brandon Inge or Pedro Feliz, but few people are, and that's hardly a criticism. Adrian Beltre is money in the field.
He's not one of those really good, really boring defenders like Orlando Cabrera or Matt Holliday, either. Adrian Beltre is exciting. He's like Yuniesky Betancourt with 25% better hands and 75% more dives. And that doesn't even take into account the play that might as well bear his namesake - those swinging bunts down the third base line that force Beltre to charge in, barehand the ball, and throw an off-balance strike to first, all while momentum carries his body to home. No other player in baseball can make that happen with such frequency and such ease. It's like Beltre expects it to happen on every swing. There's no other explanation for why he's able to react so quickly every single time. When you get to the point where you see one of those high, shallow infield choppers, and you get disappointed when your third baseman doesn't turn what for pretty much anyone else would be an impossible play, you know you're spoiled.
Adrian Beltre is a durable third baseman who plays great defense and hits somewhere around a park-adjusted .280/.330/.520. That's an All Star-caliber player who, under the right circumstances, would get a handful of votes for AL MVP. Bust? Not on your life. Because of the difficulty a lot of people have with understanding park effects and individual defense, Beltre's actually become one of the more underrated everyday players in the game. He's a great talent who's completely deserving his King Awesome nickname. Yeah, he doesn't walk, he's streaky, and he's prone to having games where he looks like Helen Keller hitting a piñata. But nobody's holding him up to be perfect. We merely find him to be very good, and if you don't understand why we call him King Awesome, then you haven't spent enough time watching him play.
I'd be remiss, of course, if I didn't also mention that, were it not for Adrian Beltre, we wouldn't have Red. Or, at least, we wouldn't have the Red with which we've all become familiar. And I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Red made nearly all of our seasons that much more enjoyable. If watching Red flip a tizzy on television after Beltre gave him a bat in the middle of a game wasn't one of your top ten moments of the year, then you have a black, black soul.
Adrian Beltre is what he is, and nothing more. He's not going to suddenly re-discover whatever it was that made him go crazy in 2004 and hit 40 home runs. If you're a new fan and you're looking for an obvious superstar, you should look somewhere else. But if you're looking for a damn fine player who's always focused, who's always enthusiastic, and who loses six or seven longballs on the center field warning track, then Beltre's your man. Maybe it's just something about how he's always either smiling or appearing perplexed, but even when we yell at him for chasing an outside slider, we do so out of love. Beltre just rocks, and I think his flaws only serve to endear him to us further. It'll be a sad day when Adrian Beltre's time in Seattle eventually comes to an end.