Adrian Beltre's 3,000th Hit Highlights an Amazing Late-Career Surge
With a hard-hit double down the left field line, Adrian Beltre made history.
Yesterday, the revered veteran became the 31st member of baseball's 3,000-hit club, making him the first Dominican-born player to reach the vaunted milestone. He joins Hall of Famers George Brett and Wade Boggs as the only players to reach 3,000 hits while playing most of their games at third base. At 38-years-old, he's one of the 10 youngest players to hit the 3,000 mark.
He's had a great career, and one of the most interesting things about it is that the end has been infinitely more impressive than the beginning.
A Tale of Two Beltres
When Beltre debuted with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998, the 19-year-old was far from an atrocious hitter, but the best part of his game was his defense. He posted a sub-100 wRC+ four times in the first six years of his career, but he managed to earn a 16.6 fWAR during that time, due to his strong defensive play.
In 2005, he had his breakout offensive campaign, still the best season of his career to date by a wide margin. He slashed .334/.338/.629 in 2005, with 48 home runs (12 more than his second-highest home run total) and 9.7 fWAR. His 1.017 OPS that year is the only time Beltre has amassed an OPS over 1.000. He turned that into a big 5-year contract with the Seattle Mariners, but he regressed into his glove-only habits with the M's.
In 2010, he inked a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox, and he had one of the best seasons in Boston, which he parlayed that into a long-term deal with the Texas Rangers. It was in those cities where the then-31-year-old evolved into the probable Hall of Famer we all know and love.
The chart below shows his splits between his four MLB teams. (Note: OPS+ is read the same way as wRC+; 100 is the average, higher the better. This chart uses Baseball Reference's WAR numbers.)
|Team||Games Played||Hits||Home Runs||OPS+||bWAR|
Outside of 2015, when he had a 109 wRC+, he's been a stud in Texas, with wRC+ totals ranging from 135 to 142. Over one-third of his hits have come with the Rangers, and he is within striking distance of hitting 200 home runs in a Texas uniform. His 454 dingers leave him with an outside chance at 500, and with the way he has aged, he just might get there.
In four of his seven seasons with the Rangers, he compiled a strikeout rate between 10.1% and 10.6%, nearly 4% lower than his career average. Despite missing the early part of 2017 due to a leg injury, he's been stellar since coming back, racking up a 138 wRC+ with a 1.8 fWAR.
Hall of Fame Credentials
Due to his offensive display (or lack thereof) early in his career, he only has a 116 wRC+ over his 20 seasons, which hardly seems Hall of Fame caliber. But, thanks to his last eight seasons, he certainly stacks up to his (likely) future peers in Cooperstown.
Banging out 3,000 hits makes a player a near-lock for the Hall of Fame -- assuming, of course, that said player didn't bet on baseball or do steroids. Beltre sits only 10 hits behind Boggs, and 154 behind Brett, so it is certainly possible (likely, even) that he ends up with the most hits out of the three.
Boggs and Brett have 465 combined home runs, so Beltre may pass that this year. He is only 9 home runs behind surefire Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones, and while that's not a Mike Schmidt or an Eddie Murray number, it's still an impressive feat.
Beltre would be one of the best third baseman in Cooperstown, according to JAWS, a system created to determine how worthy, or unworthy, a player is for Cooperstown, based on their bWAR and their 7-year peak for bWAR. JAWS is a combination of bWAR and bWAR7, as you will see in the chart below):
|Average HOF 3B||67.5||42.8||55.2|
He's also been a picture of durability, playing in at least 111 games in 19 of his 20 MLB seasons, and the one season he did not hit that mark was his rookie year, when he debuted in late June.
Taking the numbers into account, he'll likely wear a Rangers cap if/when he's inducted into the Hall. He has more hits, more home runs, and basically more of everything else as a Texas Ranger. Most will define him by his Rangers career, and rightfully so.
The majority of major leaguers don't deliver star-level seasons late into their late-30s, but the majority of major leaguers don't enjoy the best years of their careers in their early- and mid-30s. Adrian Beltre is the exception that proved the rule, delivering a numbers that blossomed right around the time the average player begins to fade -- and it doesn't look like he'll be slowing down anytime soon.