There has been a lot of talk as of late of Adrian Beltre and his chances of making the Hall of Fame. As his very good 18-year career begins its final stages, I simply don’t get it.
Anthony Castrovince wrote a great article over at MLB.com making a pretty compelling case for Beltre’s Hall of Fame candidacy. My problem with it is that much of it is based on WAR, both offensive and defensive. I like WAR as a comparison tool, but I don’t like it as an end all to determining one player’s greatness. I’m on the short end of the stick, as I know many experts and writers love WAR (to those still not SABR-savvy, Wins Above Replacement), but I think there needs to be more to be a Hall of Famer.
Even FanGraphs states:
WAR is not meant to be a perfectly precise indicator of a player’s contribution, but rather an estimate of their value to date. Given the imperfections of some of the available data and the assumptions made to calculate other components, WAR works best as an approximation.
That’s one reason that WAR doesn’t do the trick for me. Another reason is that — as Mr. Castrovince points out — Derek Jeter has a career WAR of 71.8, while Beltre has a career WAR of 82.9. I don’t have to write an article about whether or not Jeter is a Hall of Famer, do I?
A Hall of Famer in my opinion (who else’s would it be?) is a Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. Someone who from the second he stepped on the field, you said to yourself, “this kid is someone special.” Ken Griffey, Jr., Jeter, and Chipper Jones — some of the soon-to-be Hall of Famers — were all like that.
It is also someone that not just blows you away right out of the gate, but sustains that success his entire career. Case in point, Don Mattingly. Donnie Baseball was the best first baseman in baseball — quite possibly the best offensive player in baseball — for his first six seasons. He set records, won an MVP, threatened to win the Triple Crown, but then because of that back, he fell off a cliff. To no fault of his own, Donnie Baseball’s seemingly easy induction into Cooperstown disappeared.
You know how I remember Beltre’s early career? I remember one of baseball’s best prospects (he was a top 30 prospect in 1997 and No. 3 overall in 1998) struggling to meet expectations. Now grant it, plenty of Hall of Famers struggled to start their career, heck, Mickey Mantle was sent down. But Beltre had a tough time finding any consistency for the bulk of his first five years, not just his first call-up.
I then remember an elite prospect finally figuring it out in his contract year. Seemingly out of nowhere, Beltre put up a 2004 season he hasn’t come close to replicating in his 11 seasons since. He led baseball in home runs with 48 (the closest he ever came to 40 home runs agains was 36 in 2012) and posted a career high slash line across the board.
It lead to a huge payday with the Seattle Mariners. The following season, Beltre returned to earth, and while he began to solidify himself as a defensive superstar, he stunk up the joint. He went from .334/.388/.629 and 48 home runs to .255/.303/.413 with 19 home runs in the same amount of games. Hall of Famers don’t suffer falloffs like that in their mid-20s. They hit their prime in their mid-20s and reel off some of the best years of their career.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Plenty of players put up very admirable careers with excellent numbers who take a bit longer to mature and come into their own, but those players aren’t necessarily Hall of Famers.
Beltre became one of the best third basemen in baseball when he went to Boston for a year and finally landed in Texas. He played extremely well in his lone World Series appearance, but he didn’t win. While Beltre’s numbers are very close to those “automatic” Hall of Fame numbers, they aren’t there quite yet. And unfortunately there is no denying that his health and natural ability are clearly in the decline.
Beltre is 36 years young. He needs 242 hits to reach 3,000 which — if it made Craig Biggio a Hall of Famer — will make Beltre one as well. But I am not so sure he reaches 3,000, and if you take that number away from Biggio, he’s no Hall of Famer either, despite the fact that I loved to watch him play.
When you don’t reach those instant entry numbers (3,000 hits, 5oo home runs, 300 wins), you need to have what I like to call the he was the best… conversation. Take Chipper Jones for example. Larry finished his career with 2,726 hits and 468 home runs. But while he played he was quite possibly the most feared switch hitter in baseball. When it comes to legendary switch hitters, his name is spoken with The Mick and Eddie Murray and that is some lofty company. He was the offensive leader for a team that won it’s division a billion times in a row. And at the end of the day, unlike Beltre, he has a World Series ring and MVP Award in his trophy case. And just to be a stinker, his career WAR is 85.0 (according to Baseball Reference).
Like Mr. Castrovince pointed out, it doesn’t matter about the numbers, and it doesn’t matter at all about our opinions. At the end of the day, the way into the Hall of Fame is a vote by the BWAA. There is a lot of old school in those voters, and that means a lot of guys who still use the sight test and throw stats and numbers by the wayside.
Ask yourself this. 20 years from now, when you remember the greatest third basemen, when Bleacher Report puts out one of their fun Top 10 third basemen of all time slide shows, will Beltre make that list? I don’t think so. I think he will be on the cusp, and hang around the nomination board for a few years, but unless he gets that elusive 3,000 hit, I think the only way Beltre makes into Cooperstown is like you and I… by paying for an entry ticket.