Adrian Beltre sealed his Hall of Fame case Sunday night with a hustle double into left field against the Orioles. It’s an amazing accomplishment for many reasons, and I have thoughts about five of them.
MLB’s first Dominican 3000-hit man
Beltre was the 31st person to reach 3000 hits in MLB history and the first (of many likely to come) born in the Dominican Republic. All but five of the others were born in the US. For me this brings up a larger question: Who are the current leaders among countries that regularly produce major leaguers today? In fact, I wanted to know the same things about a few other figures, such as homeruns, wins, strikeouts, and WAR for hitters and pitchers. Hello, BBREF! [PS: I’m going to count Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as separate from the US for this purpose.]
BATTERS COUNTRY H HR WAR ======================================================================= Aruba X Bogaerts ( 634) X Bogaerts ( 47) X Boagaerts ( 10) Australia J Quinn (1804) D Nilsson (105) D Nilsson ( 11) Brazil Y Gomes ( 418) Y Gomes ( 63) Y Gomes ( 9) Canada L Walker (2160) L Walker (383) L Walker ( 73) Columbia E Renteria (2327) E Renteria (140) E Renteria ( 32) Cuba R Palmero (3020) R Palmeiro (569) R Palmeiro ( 72) Curacao An Jones (1933) An Jones (434) An Jones ( 63) Dominican Rep A Beltre (3001) S Sosa (609) A Pujols (100) Japan I Suzuki (3060) H Matsui (175) I Suzuki ( 60) Mexico V Castilla (1884) V Castilla (320) B Avila ( 28) Nicaragua M Benard ( 714) M Benard ( 54) M Benard ( 9) Panama R Carew (3053) C Lee (358) R Carew ( 81) Puerto Rico R Clemente (3000) C Delgado (473) R Clemente ( 95) S Korea S Choo (1292) S Choo (160) S Choo ( 30) Taiwan C Hu ( 34) C Hu (2) T Lin ( 1) USA P Rose (4256) Ba Bonds (762) B Ruth (163) USVI H Clarke (1230) E Hendricks (62) H Clarke ( 16) Venezuela O Vizquel (2877) Mi Cabrera (459) Mi Cabrera ( 70) PITCHERS COUNTRY W K pWAR =========================================================================== Aruba S Ponson ( 91) S Ponson (1031) S Ponson ( 11) Australia t-G Balfour/ ( 30) G Balfour ( 571) G Balfour ( 9) t-G Lloyd Brazil A Rienzo ( 6) A Rienzo ( 104) A Rienzo ( -1) Canada F Jenkins (284) F Jenkins (3192) F Jenkins ( 83) Columbia J Tehran ( 54) J Quintana ( 915) J Quintana ( 23) Cuba L Tiant (229) L Tiant (2416) L Tiant ( 66) Curacao J Jurrjens ( 53) K Jansen ( 701) K Jansen ( 14) Dominican Rep J Marichal (243) P Martinez (3154) P Martinez ( 86) Japan H Nomo (123) H Nomo (1918) H Nomo ( 22) Mexico F Valenzuela (173) F Valenzuela (2074) F Valenzuela ( 37) Nicaragua D Martinez (245) D Martinez (2149) D Martinez ( 50) Panama t-M Rivera/ ( 82) M Rivera (1173) M Rivera ( 57) t-B Chen Puerto Rico J Vazquez (165) J Vazquez (2536) J Vazquez ( 43) S Korea C Park (124) C Park (1715) C Park ( 20) Taiwan C Wang ( 68) C Wang ( 394) C Wang ( 13) USA C Young (511) N Ryan (5714) C Young (170) USVI A McBean ( 67) A McBean ( 575) A McBean ( 15) Venezuela F Hernandez (159) F Hernandez (2328) F Hernandez ( 52)
Hey, that’s some pretty snappy company that Beltre is keeping. He must be amazed to be on a list with Marvin Benard and Andre Rienzo! In all seriousness, however, when players reach milestones with round numbers or lists like these that I’ve just drafted, it means big things about their careers. After a while, it’s no longer about the specific number but the weight of that number. No one cares how many hits over 3,000 you get. Once you reach that mark, it’s all gravy.
Soon to be MLB’s foreign-born hit king?
It’s possible that by year’s end Beltre could be the all-time leader in hits by a foreign-born person. If not this summer then next because he’s only sixty knocks away from the current leader, Ichiro. The Japanese star doesn’t play all that often, has only thirty hits this year, and is hitting .234. It sure seems like this is Ichiro’s last season or his penultimate. It will be far more shocking if Beltre fails to capture this distinction.
Albert Pujols will not pass Adrian Beltre in career hits. You heard it here first. Pujols currently trails by about 85, and looks old at the plate. But Adrian Beltre might pass King Albert in career WAR. That would make Beltre the foreign-born player with the most career WAR. (He is currently behind Pujols and Robert Clemente—since we’re counting Puerto Rico as “foreign” for this purpose.)
As of this writing, Pujols has earned 99.9 career WAR. Pujols’ horrible season has caused him to dip back below 100 WAR. He’s hitting .233/.280/.386 for a 79 OPS+—straight out of the Bobby Crosby/Danny Espinoza Collection. The horror of 2017 adds up to -14 batting runs and -1.2 WAR. Now as recently as May, Albert’s bat looked OK: .281/.340/.483. It’s not exactly, well, Pujolsian, but it was in line with his recent batting performances. Unfortunately, that’s his only good month this year, and unless he closes well, he’ll be looking fork-tender in October.
Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre checks in at 92.4 WAR. Just 7.5 WAR separate them. Now, for players nearing 40, that’s a lot to ask, but despite missing a big chunk of the first half, and despite being one baseball year older than Albert, Adrian does not look done. He’s hitting .307/.385/.531, with a performance on par with his recent, excellent seasons. Let’s say he finishes with two more WAR through the end of the year. There’s 94.4. So if he ages out gracefully, say declining half a win per year, he passes Pujols in two or three years. If he has another typical late-career Beltre season, he passes him next year.
Now that all assumes that Albert is done. Maybe, maybe not. He’s still got a big contract attached to him, and surely he wants to reach 3,000 hits. Will the Halos give him the rope to do it? I hope so. But it sure looks like he’s going to cost them wins as he does it. He could make things easier for Beltre to catch up. But I suspect he won’t make it much if any harder.
One of the weirdest career paths ever
Entering his age-30 season, Adrian Beltre had managed six seasons with an OPS+ of 100 or more. In just one of those seasons, his famous 2004 walk year, did he manage an OPS+ above 116. Here was his career line after the 83 OPS+ that led the Mariners to let him go as a free agent after 2009:
12 years, 6877 PA, 1700 hits, 250 homers, .270/.325/.453, 105 OPS+, 44.5 WAR.
Now, that WAR figure is a little unbalanced. His bat accounted for 60 runs above average, and his glove for 142. Those totals looked superficially like the totals at that age of a few marquee from the very low octane 1960s: Santo, Yaz, and Staub. But they played in a time when Yaz won the batting crown by hitting .301. His comps at BBREF also included Ruben Sierra and Aramis Ramirez as well as Travis Fryman. To the good, Cal Ripken made his comp list. But overall, his list is filled with fellows who debuted at an early age and didn’t miss a lot of time, just like Beltre.
Then all hell broke loose inside Adrian Beltre’s bat.
Who knows what caused the explosion, but in the past eight years, in 4604 PA, Beltre has 1301 hits, 204 HR, a .310/.360/.522 line for a 134 OPS+, and 47.9 WAR. This time around, he’s got 193 batting runs above average and 85 fielding runs. Yeah, that’s really frickin’ weird. There are very few players in history whose careers we can consider to be like Beltre’s. Miller and I kicked a few names back and forth, and here’s the before and after lists, including Beltre for comparison.
BEFORE/AFTER PA H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+ WAR ================================================ ADRIAN BELTRE BEFORE 6877 1700 250 270/325/453 105 44.5 AFTER 4604 1301 204 310/360/522 134 47.9 BRIAN DOWNING BEFORE 3080 686 56 264/364/374 109 17.9 AFTER 6229 1413 219 269/374/451 128 33.4 LUIS GONZALEZ BEFORE 4372 1036 107 268/341/432 109 22.0 AFTER 6159 1555 247 294/385/513 125 29.5 CHILI DAVIS BEFORE 5337 1262 156 267/340/422 114 20.2 AFTER 4660 1188 194 283/382/486 128 17.9 TONY PHILLIPS BEFORE 3007 649 33 251/338/350 95 14.0 AFTER 6103 1374 127 273/392/409 115 36.8
There’s probably a few more than we missed, but these guys help make the point. Beltre’s offensive transformation is astounding and perhaps unprecedented in its scope. It’s enabling him to produce value at a rate about 40% higher per plate appearance than he did in his twenties. One big difference between these guys and Beltre is that Adrian had significantly more playing time by age 30 than any of them and more than he has had in his 30s. In other words, it took him longer to become amazing than those guys, and he’s been more amazing than any of them in general and in his 30s. If you spot any other similarly strange career paths among hitters, drop it in the comments!
The end game
This is the big question, right? How long can Beltre keep it up, and how far will he go up the various leaderboards? The answer is I don’t know. How do you forecast a player whose career has been so unusual? The best we can do is look for guidance from the past. Or as I prefer to call “the past,” the BBREF Play Index.
I queried it for all players since 1961 with at least 3500 plate appearances from age 31–38 (and who played in their age 38 season) who weren’t pitchers or catchers, and who an OPS+ between 125 and 145. I then found the stats for those in the group from age 39 onward who accumulated at least 300 plate appearances. Of the 49 my original query returned, 26 hung on for at least another half season or so. These players averaged a 134 OPS+ from age 31–38 and a 109 OPS+ afterward. The longest survivor was Pete Rose, but his circumstances were unique. After him, Rickey Henderson lasted longest at 621 games and 2030 plate appearances. The 26 players in the group averaged 291 games after age 39, 1116 PAs, 264 hits, and 30 homers.
Let’s say instead that we believe that Beltre is in better shape than most of these guys and will keep his skills longer. We’ll take the top ½ of the group by OPS+ to represent this scenario. These guys hit for a 120 OPS+. They averaged 284 games and 1097 PAs. They picked up another 263 hits and 40 homers. Yeah, you can see the influence of Pete Rose here…he skews the overall average toward him.
Before we make any projections, let’s also assume that Beltre simply continues at his current pace for the 2017 season and plays another 50 games. He’ll have another 213 PAs, another 57 hits, and another 9 homers, putting his career totals at 3057 hits and 463 roundtrippers.
So in our first scenario, where we took the group’s average, Beltre would end up with 3322 hits and 493 homers. In our more aggressive scenario, Beltre ends up at 3321 hits and 503 homers. Under both scenarios, Beltre ends up barely edging out Paul Molitor to enter the top ten list in hits. In our less aggressive scenario, his 493 homers tied Fred McGriff and someone named Gehrig for 28th all-time. In our aggressive scenario, those 503 dingers gives him sole possession of 28th place as well as the distinction of being the 28th player to push past the 500 line.
But if history is a guide, then Adrian’s got another year or two in him, and he’s going to make a run at 500 homers. But history may not be a guide, and he might keep on truckin’ for four more years, pick up another 500 hits, another 5 or 100 homers, and maybe cap it off with 120 doubles to move from 13th all time to 3rd all-time as only the fifth hitter to reach 700 two-baggers. The best part? The sky’s the limit because, hey, it’s Beltre!!!