Adrian Beltre Is Not Movitated by Contract Years

It has long been assumed that Adrian Beltre was going to cash in on his big year in Boston and head back to the AL West, though most speculation had him landing in Anaheim. The guesses proved partially true – right division, wrong team. While it is not yet official, it appears that Beltre will be competing directly against the Angels as the new starting third baseman for the Texas Rangers, signing a five- or six-year contract for around $15 million per season.

In a piece for ESPN three weeks ago, I suggested the Rangers make exactly this move, so it’s not surprising that I think this is a pretty good move for Texas. However, Beltre’s a pretty polarizing player, and you will surely read a good number of skeptics listing off reasons as to why the Rangers are crazy to give him this kind of long-term deal. I figure that it might be worthwhile to confront the most common criticism of his value ahead of time, so let’s tackle the most frequently repeated complaint about Beltre.

“Beltre only hits well in contract years.”

This is one of the most popular knocks against him, since his career includes two monster seasons – 2004 and 2010 – which came in years where he was eligible for free agency after the season. Clearly, any correlation that happens twice is proof of causation, right?

Err, no. The theory that Beltre is motivated by the chance to make significant money and uses that to perform better is riddled with problems. The largest of those problems is selective use of data, by only focusing on 2004 and 2010. In reality, Beltre has had five seasons in which he was playing under an expiring contract. More often than not, he’s performed worse, not better.

In 2002, Beltre was entering the final year of a three-year contract he had signed after his second big-league season. He would end the year as an arbitration-eligible player with four years of service time, and a big year would represent a significant raise. He hit .257/.303/.426, and had to settle for just $3.7 million as his arbitration reward.

In 2003, he had another chance to impress the arbitration panel with a big year. Instead, he hit .240/.290/.424, performing even worse than the year before, and had to settle for a very modest 35 percent raise, far less than what everyday players generally get in their final arbitration year.

In 2004, he had one of the great seasons of all time, and then became a free agent. This, you hear about.

In 2009 – the last year of his contract with Seattle – Beltre hit just .265/.304/.379, which was one of the main reasons he had to settle for a one-year deal with Boston to begin with. Instead of landing a long-term contract, Beltre had to take a deal that would put him under pressure to have a big year to earn his money, something he only had a 25 percent success rate at up to this point.

In 2010, he had a great year, and again will land a big contract as a result. For the second time in five chances to earn himself significant money through good performance, Beltre delivered.

If Beltre had the ability to become an offensive monster whenever it suited his desire to land a big raise, why did he not flip that switch in 2002, 2003, or 2009? Or, there’s this question: if Beltre is really interested in just landing huge contracts, why doesn’t he just have a great year in his last two seasons before free agency? After all, guys who put together back to back monster seasons earn far more than guys whose resume of greatness only extends back one year – just ask Jayson Werth.

The idea that Beltre can hit well when he wants to, but chooses not to in years where he’s not playing for a contract, just falls apart once you actually look at the facts. Beyond the fact that he’s only had big years in 40 percent of the seasons where his contract was expiring, there are more compelling alternative explanations that far more easily explain the drastic shifts in offensive production – most obviously, changes in playing environments.

The 2004 and 2010 seasons have one thing in common besides being years in which Beltre was playing under the final year of his contract: they are the last two seasons in which he was not spending half of his games hitting in Safeco Field. Besides perhaps San Diego, there is no place in baseball more difficult for a right-handed pull power hitter than Seattle.

From 2005 to 2009, when Beltre had to hit in an extremely hostile environment, he had the sixth worst offensive performance at home of any regular position player in baseball, posting a .314 wOBA. Notably, one of the five players with a worse line was Jose Lopez, another right-handed pull-power Mariner. His road wOBA over that same time frame was a much more reasonable .341, which puts him in the same general range as Ryan Zimmerman, Torii Hunter, and humorously enough, Michael Young.

Given that there is a demonstrated advantage to playing at home for most players, Beltre’s 27-point drop in wOBA somewhat understates the effect that Safeco had on his offense. In reality, the harm was more likely in the 30- to 35-point range. Over 300 plate appearances, 30 points of wOBA is worth 10 runs per season. Safeco essentially took one full win off his raw numbers each year. Since the park adjustments included in metrics like wRC+ or WAR are not hand-specific, they actually underestimate his performance during his time in Seattle, and yet, even still, he was worth the money the Mariners paid him during his contract.

Rather than looking for speculative motivational issues that don’t stand up to an actual examination of the facts, applying Occam’s Razor to Beltre’s performance suggests that one should conclude that basic park effects – and not a greedy cash-grab – are mostly responsible for the timing of Beltre’s big years.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

95 Responses to “Adrian Beltre Is Not Movitated by Contract Years”

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  1. Josh says:

    It is not the motivation behind the two seasons, it is the fact that there are only two! And if we are looking only at “favorable hitting conditions” to explain those seasons, consider this: Beltre hit MORE homers (15-13) and for a higher average (.327 – .314) on the road last year than at home. Same is true of his monster 2004 season, (25 vs. 23 and .342 vs. .326). So that argument can’t be the reason for the good seasons, can it?

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    • Dustin says:

      You understand how small sample sizes work, right? If numbers are close, like they are in your examples, you need a big sample size for those differences to be statistically significant, something that Dave provides in his analysis by looking over five years of data.

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      • Josh says:

        Samples sizes tell me he is a .275 hitter who will hit 20-25 homers and $15mil is too much to pay for that. Bottom line for me? Two great seasons and he is 32. Seems like a bad deal to me.

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      • Ari Collins says:

        Hitting slightly better on the road in his two monster seasons doesn’t disprove that he was helped by his home park. Sample size aside, that’s just not good logic.

        He’s been a better hitter on the road through his entire career. His two best years have come in the last two years he didn’t spend in one of the worst parks for a hitter in baseball. These two facts are not in any way contradictory.

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      • Josh says:

        Ari, I can’t agree with that statement since one of the two career years came in Chavez Ravine, a known pitcher’s park. My initial point was, if it is the home park that is to blame for his many average seasons, why did he not perform at “career year” levels on the road every season? Sort of the “anti-Coors Field” argument if you will.

        Obviously, the road numbers are going to be better for someone who has played all his seasons save one in either Seattle or LA. But are the road numbers over that substantial sample size not better indicators of the level of player he is than the inflated stats of 2004 and 2010? I am not saying the “motivation” is the issue – I am saying he has had two great seasons, but the overall sample shows he is a .275/25/89 RBI guy and $15 mil is too much to pay for that. Do we think Vlad will hit .275/25/89 in 2011? Probably. Why isn’t anyone offering him $15mil?

        (I do understand that all of this ignores defense, where at 3B Beltre will be an upgrade over Young. But no one gets paid eight figures for their defense.)

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      • spaldingballs says:

        But, Josh, you have to realize he is not only helped by his home park, but not hurt by it. In Safeco, he was brutalized by spacious outfields and lack of ball carry. In Boston, he didn’t have to deal with that, so he hit like he normally hits. Thus, he played at his deserved performance. Not to mention his great defense, which is worth over one win per season according to this site (worth in excess of 5 million)

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      • saint says:

        lol .275 hitter who will hit 20-25 hrs is all the information we need! who cares about position, or defense, or obp, or any other piece of relevant info. nope, just look at ba and hr and you can figure you how much a player should make.

        glad to see that fangraphs has had such a positive impact on the people who read the site

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      • saint says:

        but apparently being a .275 hitter who will hit 25-30 hrs a year is worth 7 years/126 mil and being a .296 hitter who will hit 10-20 hrs a year is worth 7 years/142 mil.

        i bet the nats and red sox completely ignored defense when they drew those contracts up too

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    • wobatus says:

      I think Josh is right that his overall career line on the road is worse than his 2 huge seasons substantially, and that that makes the contract more questionable given his age. He’s a great fielder, no doubt, so it isn’t an awful deal, and i think he fits in well for the Rangers at 3rd. He’s still going to be in a pretty good line-up, and while I don’t expect 2010 again, i think he’ll still do better than his Seattle years and most of his LA years. At least for the next couple of years.

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      • wobatus says:

        Beltre has averaged “earning” $16.4 million over the last 9 years. Includes his injury season, and all his Seattle years (does that effct his ‘earnings” or is that adjusted for home park). Assuming inflation, a 6 year $96 million deal sounds about right, but he’ll be declining, and he’ll be a bit of an albatross by the time he is 37-38, presumably, unless he stays in great shape. His career wOBA on the road is a tad better than I relized, .357 wOBA on the road. I guess he really was hidden in plain sight in Seattle.

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  2. bowie says:

    “Beltre only hits well in contract years.”

    this is the argument that the article seeks to invalidate. Could we have an example of someone actually making this argument?

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    • PADMY says:

      Go to the comments section of just about any baseball blog and you’ll see idiots spouting this as fact.

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      • bowie says:

        I wouldn’t know. I never read the comments or post on baseball blogs. Those are for dorks!

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      • Ari Collins says:

        Haha, fair enough. Most fans think that of Beltre, though. And a quick google search for “beltre walk year” results in plenty of walk year conspiracy theorists.

        And now you can never again say you don’t read the comments or post on baseball blogs. Cong… congrats?

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    • Joe says:

      Dave likes to toss out a hyperbole so he can disprove it… while I’m sure it’s been said in the ESPN comments section, I agree, a couple of sources (baseball analysts, reputable publications, websites) would make this a better piece.

      Otherwise, might as well dig into a bunch of fan comments and write articles disproving them.

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    • CanMan says:

      Why 2002, 2003 and 2009 were different? Beltre was 23 and 24 yo in ’02 and ’03 and if I remember coreectly in ’03 he had an apendectomy during ST. The “he only plays for contract years” stigma was placed on him by the Dodgers fans. Beltre could always put together a half of season prior to 2004. It was 2004 when he finally put together a good full season, albeit far and away better than what his expected career year was. Fan disappointment of his departure thus creating another long void at 3B has created the “Walk Year Stigma”. Seattle is a miserable offensive park and he had no protection. Sexton was the real BUST. Beltre will do fine in the hitter’s haven inTexas with that lineup.

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      • frightwig says:

        Also, in 2009 he was injured and had shut down midseason. His body didn’t really give him the chance to prove or disprove the notion that he can elevate his game when money is on the line.

        I don’t know whether he really does give better effort in a contract year, but the fact is that, prior to last season, Beltre had put up just one monster year. Seattle placed a 5-year bet that he could repeat that performance, and he never really did it for them. Now, in his early 30’s, he’s just put up one more big year. Would I make a similar bet on him doing it again in the next 6 years, let’s say more than once? It doesn’t seem wise.

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  3. DIVISION says:

    I agree.

    The data supports the article.

    I don’t think the Rangers are crazy for talking years with Beltre IF the dollars make sense (no more than 15mill per), but I have a feeling that Beltre won’t produce anywhere near the kind of offensive year he had for Boston in the Texas heat.

    Just an intuitive feeling here.

    He won’t hit Safeco bad, but not close to Fenway good either.

    A happy compromise in-between.

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    • Evan Kirkwood says:

      “I have a feeling that Beltre won’t produce anywhere near the kind of offensive year he had for Boston in the Texas heat.”

      Yes, cause higher temperatures don’t make it easier to drive the ball or anything…not to mention there’s no reason to believe he can’t perform as well in the heat. I suppose that’s why you said “feeling,” but still…where is that “feeling” coming from?

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  4. Ari Collins says:

    Thanks for the great post, Dave. I’ve seen people point out 2009 to those who think he can somehow magically turn it on in contract years, but not 2002 or 2003. Nice addition to the conversation.

    Halos Heaven had a good post about Beltre’s park factors and the walk year conspiracy theory earlier this offseason, when they were arguing for the Angels to get Beltre:

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  5. Darrylzero says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said here, but don’t you think 6 years is still pretty risky for a guy with Beltre’s somewhat erratic track record? I mean, Safeco is surely a major culprit, but it can’t really explain the whole problem, can it? And if his defense starts to erode…

    I don’t know. I’m happy for him, and I hope he has at least 1-2 more excellent years to silence the critics a bit, but it’s still pret-ty easy to feel pret-ty comfortable with this deal as a Mariners fan — apart from the nausea at seeing him in a Rangers uniform, that is, but better that than the Angels.

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    • Chris Miller says:

      I’d argue Beltre has consistently been a 4 win player for years, which is about where I’d put him going into 2011.

      6 years is risky for any player, but 6/90 is the going rate for 4 win players right now.

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  6. DickAlmighty says:

    The headline of this article is probably wrong. Adrian Beltre likely is motivated by contract years; but, there’s a difference between being motivated by contract years and actually performing better in contract years. Your article suggests he’s unable to perform better, not that he doesn’t have the motivation to perform better. It’s nitpicking, but it’s probably more accurate.

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  7. ek_wins says:

    Isn’t including the arbitration eligible years kind of cheating? The potential difference in contract value is so much less than when he was a free agent. A lot less motivation in those scenarios.

    2 out of 3 times having a monster better reflects reality – still doesn’t prove anything but I don’t think that including arb years makes any sense.

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    • Jolly Roger says:

      Good point.

      Even with the 2 monster seasons, his career averages is something like
      .275/ 25 hrs/ 90 rbis.

      Furthermore he is on the wrong side of 30.

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      • BrettJMiller says:

        Because these are numbers that are clearly predictive and meaningful. I don’t get it. We’re on FanGraphs, advanced statistical baseball blog, right?

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    • Jimbo says:

      Not cheating at all IMO. In fact, I would argue he should have been MORE motivated in 2002/2003. He was ‘only’ making ~$1 mln/yr at that point. Not chump change, but not going to set you and your family up for life either.

      He had made over $5 mln in 5 years of baseball, through 2002. Saw a $900k raise in ’03, then a $1.3mln raise in ’04. To me, the difference (at that point in his career) of another $million in arbitration should have been just as motivating as the ‘big contract’ if not moreso.

      Only way this argument would hold water is IF there was some advantage to him sandbagging a bit in his arbitration years. Unless someone can explain that…Dave’s article wins.

      **curious why the year before his 3-year contract wasn’t considered. Because they had control? Obviously, his play on the field pushed them toward the initial signing…so going from a $220,000 salary to a $5,000,000 contract was certainly under his influence; meaning if he were lazy he wouldn’t have gotten that first one even. Seems more similar than different to other ‘contract years.’

      Interesting to note that he had a 3.7 WAR in 1999–his first full season–then a 4.1 WAR in 2000, the first year he was supposedly dogging it (14 fewer games too). Oddly, that’s that same WAR he put up in the last year of that 3 year contract. So we at the very least should ammend his labeling:

      Adrian Beltre only hits well in the first and last years of his contracts.

      After all, his year in Boston–second best WAR of his life–served as both first AND last year, eh? ;-)

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  8. Tom says:

    Adrian Beltre is motivated by being touched on the head.

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  9. DL80 says:

    The real problem is that Beltre’s 2004 is so suspicious in the steroid era. Yes, he had just turned 25, but his OPS increased 300-400 points over any of his previous years, his ISO improved by over 100, and while his BB/K rate improved somewhat and he had a slightly higher BABIP, it was his HR/Flyball rate that really shot through the roof. It went from the low teens to over 23%. That is both unsustainable and highly suspicious, given that his rate since or before has never been above 13.8%.

    I think it is much more likely that Beltre “discovered” something in 2004 for the first tiime, was hurt (physically or by his home park) in 2009, and either “rediscovered” something in 2010 or was just helped by his home park. That makes it 2 out of 3 of his walk years since 2004, not 2 out of 5 overall.

    Texas may help his numbers somewhat, but unless his defense holds up, I think the Rangers are going to rue this contract pretty quickly.

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    • DIVISION says:

      Even if his defense holds firm, I don’t see him earning this contract if it’s for what is reported.

      Now………..if he performed to his 2010 slash, I’d say it’s a bargain for the Rangers.

      That won’t happen, though.

      His year in Boston was just the sequel to his walk year in L.A. years earlier…….

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    • todmod says:

      So the hypothesis here is that Beltre did steroids in 2004, stopped, then resumed it (switching to a different undetectable option) 6 years later (but decided it was just too risky in his 2009 walk year). Also, he got a great boost from a ballpark despite having better production on the road. Then he will quit these steroids again with Texas.

      Got it.

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      • DIVISION says:

        I never intimated anabolic steroids or anything of the sort, Todster.

        I basically said that his year in Boston was just a repeat of what he did in L.A. years earlier in his walk year.

        I’m not every saying his success was ballpark-related, as L.A. isn’t a hitter’s park like Fenway.

        Anabolic steroids alone won’t make a hitter better.

        They may make some of those flyballs travel a bit further, but they won’t help hand/eye coordination.

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      • v-Skippy says:

        Maybe anabolic steroids specifically won’t make a better hitter but PEDs can and do make better hitters. PEDs can improve bat speed allowing hitters to delay the start of their swing. Olympic target shooters, biathalon and archery competitors have rampant PED problems that allow them to improve focus. PEDs can improve recovery time from aches and strains allowing batters to swing with having to compensate for a body issue.

        Yes, muscle mass can make fly balls go further but virtually every aspect of hitting can be improved via the use of PEDs. Name a sport and there will be a targeted drug that can help the competitors and it often does not involve increasing muscle mass.

        Note: This comment has nothing to do with Beltre as I have zero knowledge or suspicion regarding PED use by him.

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      • DL80 says:

        We’ll never know for sure, but Beltre’s 2004 just screams PEDs to me. It’s not just an outlier. Every other year of his career is incredibly consistent except for 2004. Walk rates, K rates, LD%, IFFB%. Everything except for HR/FB. Now, he either got extremely lucky in only one facet of the game that year (getting flyballs to become home runs) despite being in the same park he’d been in for year, or there’s more going on there.

        I don’t know about 2009 or 2010, but I don’t think 2004 was some random magical year based on trying harder or somehow his flyballs randomly going farther on their own. Sorry. That’s just not logical.

        Now, if the Rangers are happy with his career numbers excluding 2004, they will probably be happy with the deal, at least for the first few years. But I just can’t help but think everyone somehow thinks there is a greater than zero chance that 2004 could happen again. I just don’t see it.

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      • Nick Smith says:

        If Beltre was doing steroids in 2004 then it’s something he was able to get past the testers. Why would he stop doing it? There are plenty of reasonable explanations for his monster year. First, baseball history is full of crazy out-of-nowhere years. Was Davey Johnson on steroids when he hit 43 home runs? After all, it was 25 more than he’d ever hit before. He MUST have been roiding! Second, Beltre was 25 and incredibly talented but had underperformed expectations up to that point. Third, he was recovering from a botched appendectomy that had required a follow-up surgery and severely sapped his strength. Lastly, the career numbers being compared to need to be given context considering he was playing regularly from 19 on.

        No doubt Beltre’s had a weird career and there’s a decent chance any top level athlete is using PEDs. But even under the armchair perusal of stat-lines method, his there’s way too much noise to be screaming “steroid cheat.”

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  10. diderot says:

    I seem to remember than Beltre hobbled around on a bad ankle his last season in LA…and still turned in a monster year. If he were ‘on’ something, it certainly didn’t seem to erase his aches and pains.

    To a larger point, has anyone ever put together numbers to show if players overall perform better in ‘contract years’? I just wonder about the ability of players to ‘turn it on’ in baseball. Seems so much easier in football or basketball, where the actual exertion of effort can make so more of a difference.

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    • BrettJMiller says:

      A lot of Dodgers fans said at the time that he was laying off the low and outside breaking ball that he always used to chase, because he physically couldn’t do it because of the bone spurs in his ankle. Thus, he got into better hitters counts and swung at better pitches. In the offseason, he had his spurs removed, and was back to chasing that pitch a year later in Seattle.

      Speculating for speculation’s sake about PED use is irresponsible, and I’m glad to see you give him the benefit of the doubt.

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  11. Xeifrank says:

    How much of Beltre’s value can the Rangers be expected to garner in 2011 as he is not replacing anything close to a replacement level player and MY’s (bat) doesn’t carry the same positional value as a 1B/DH as he does a 3B.
    vr, Xei

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    • rotofan says:

      (1) Beltre is replacing Vlad in the lineup, not MY, assuming MY isn’t traded.

      (2) Beltre in 2011 isn’t likely to greatly exceed Vlad in 2010 — but that isn’t the important measure; the measure, from the Rangers’ perspective, is how Beltre’s 2011 would compare to Vlad’s 2011. And given Vlad’s age, injury history prior to 2010 and poor second-half performance in 2010, the bet in Texas is that Vlad will drop off steeply and Beltre will not. Beltre carries some downside risks too, but Texas is betting it’s less than the downside risk of Vlad.

      (3) Beltre is replacing MY in the field and is a much better fielder.

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    • BIP says:

      The difference between their gloves is insane, so I’d say a lot.

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  12. TheBishop says:

    Its pretty simple for me. He’s likely to regress from his 2010 numbers, but this reported deal is still a slight bargain to me. Using a method Dave has used in the past with back of the envelope calculations . . . I’ll project him for 4.5 WAR next year with the likely regression. (The fans have him at 5 so far, but humor me) Subtract .5 WAR a year for the life of the deal and you get 17.5 WAR total for the 5 year contract. Multiply by $5mm per win and we get $87.5mm as the fair market value for this guy. He’s getting what – 5yr/$75mm? Slight bargain with the caveat that a lot of his value depends on defensive stats which I believe to be less than reliable, but still useful. Dave could have wrote this piece instead, but that wouldn’t be as much fun and part of his job is to write things that draw people to the site. His piece will do that more than would the standard contract evaluation piece. How many times have I heard Neyer say that he aims to say brash absolute things because that’s his job. Same thing here and Dave is correct in his conclusions.

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  13. To believe a player can elevate his ability in a walk year is absurd. Why not play at the elevated level all the time and get an even bigger contract?

    It is odd, and most likely a coincidence, that he has only two seasons above 5 fWAR and they were walk years. And in both years he hit better away than at home so please don’t use the park effect theory. If Dodger Stadium was a hitter’s haven in 2004 why didn’t he hit in 2003? 2002? 2001?

    I found it interesting that he only has two seasons with K rates lower than 15% and they were 2004 and 2010 and funny enough his two highest BABIP seasons. It’s more Beltre putting the ball in play than a walk year.

    On a different tangent, Beltre has a career .306/.336/.521 slash line in 229 PAs at Arlington.

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    • Bigmouth says:

      Jonathan, there’s nothing absurd about the notion that players (or workers generally) perform better in contract years. It’s a perfectly rational response to certain incentives. The reason players don’t perform well every year is (a) they don’t have to because of imperfect information, and (b) doing so risks injury that may compromise future contracts.

      The contract-year effect has been documented and studied in basketball. But I don’t believe it’s been observed baseball or football(??) probably because of structural differences between those sports and basketball.

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      • BrettJMiller says:

        If you are a professional athlete, the championship and the hall of fame are pretty much your only goals. Not performing at your best at any point in time would simply be retarded.

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      • hairball says:

        How would playing at less than a 100% level make a player less likely to be injured? They are trained to operate at a level that makes efficient use of their body. If they “dog it”, I would imagine that if anything, that could make them MORE likely to injure themselves.

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      • Bigmouth says:

        Brett, that’s absurd. There is no rational reason to exert extra effort if you can get the same payoff without doing so.

        Hairball, you seriously can’t see how the marginal exertion of, say, diving for that extra rebound, etc., might increase your risk of injury?

        Regardless, this is a well-documented phenomenon in MANY contexts, including the NBA.

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      • Bigmouth says:

        PS: Brett, you think players are motivated primarily by championships and the hall of fame?! Only a tiny fraction of all players will achieve one of those goals, let alone both. I’d say most players’ primary motivation is to get paid, just like the rest of us.

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      • Bigmouth says:

        PS: Hairball, just to clarify, the evidence doesn’t show that players “dog it” so much as they exert themselves more than normal in contract years.

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      • Nick Smith says:

        “If you are a professional athlete, the championship and the hall of fame are pretty much your only goals.”

        Now this is just silly. OF COURSE players care about making money. What do you think all those decades of labor war were about?

        “How would playing at less than a 100% level make a player less likely to be injured? They are trained to operate at a level that makes efficient use of their body. If they “dog it”, I would imagine that if anything, that could make them MORE likely to injure themselves.”

        This is also silly. If your theory were true players would be more likely to get injured in practice and warmups than they are in the game, which is clearly not true.

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      • B N says:

        “If your theory were true players would be more likely to get injured in practice and warmups than they are in the game, which is clearly not true.”

        Unless you’re a pitcher, that is…

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  14. WY says:

    Of course he is motivated by contract years. The question is (a) whether he is more motivated in contract years than in non-contract years and (b) whether that difference in motivation (if any) is reflected in his performance. Of course, that’s what this post is about, but the title of the post doesn’t reflect that.

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    Even if it “were” true.

    How many “walk years” would Adrian Beltre need in order to statistically validate it? 100? 500?

    Beltre has had five seasons in which he was playing under an expiring contract. More often than not, he’s performed worse, not better.

    You’d think evidence like that would carry some weight.

    Truth is, athletes playing better in contract years makes for a far more interesting story … one that every writer, fans, radio show host, etc has an extended opinion on.

    Players that turn it on when they want more money is a good financial generator for media.

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    • Bigmouth says:

      You do realize the contract-year effect has been documented and studied in many contexts, including the NBA?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I am only aware of the “contract year” studies presented in Baseball Between the Numbers.

        My comments stem mostly from the importance of BABIP on “career years”.

        Beltre’s BABIP
        Career: .275
        2004: .325
        2010: 331

        His 2004 HR/FB rate is darn near double any other year.

        I agree with the idea that is simply natural to assume that people will perform better when they know their contract is on the line.

        But, not all of us are performing at the highest level of an elite profession.

        A study on Beltre’s 2004 and 2010 seasons noting exactly what the differences between those 2 years and the rest of his career could be very interesting (even in a SSS).

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      • Bigmouth says:

        Circle Change, as I mentioned above, there’s no evidence in baseball or football — probably because of structural differences between those sports and basketball. Regardless, there IS good evidence of such a phenomenon in the NBA, as well as other professional (non-sport) contexts. Here’s a link to one widely-cited study by Stiroh on the subject:

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  16. phoenix says:

    i think that the real question for this contract is his defense. i mean he can go from a .260 AVG and 20HR, 30 2Bs guy to a .320 30HR 50 2Bs guy. basically, offensively you are getting good to great, with great more likely at the beginning of the contract and good more likely at the end. but the defense has always been great and it has to figure into the rangers’ thinking. michael young has bounced around positions and is not much on defense, so beltre represents a major upgrade over young on defense. but what about the last few years when beltre loses a step and his defense is on par with the younger michael young (no pun)? then his offense AND defense will probably look a lot like michael young’s, meaning you basically have 2 of the same guy and probably not room for both of them. i’m fine with the dollars, but the years don’t work. i’m pretty sure he is worth 15mil now, but he won’t be anywhere near it at the end of the contract.

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    • CJ says:

      I like Beltre’s skill set, but I think 6 years is too long. So much of Beltre’s value is linked to his defense that I don’t see him holding up as a positive defensive value at age 37 or 38. A 3d baseman who loses his defensive skill generally can only be shifted to 1st base; but Beltre isn’t likely to have the offensive production to justify the move. Third base seems like a position where defensive declines can become rather rapid when a player is in his mid-30’s.

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  17. Drew says:

    I don’t have proof that Beltre plays for a contract and I don’t really care either way. But a couple things:

    1) Treating a Free Agent year the same as an Arb-eligible year is silly. The upside for putting up a career year in ’02 or ’03 was a couple million. His ’04 season netted $65 million. His ’10 just got him almost $100mm. Apples and oranges, and slightly dishonest to argue.

    2) He had multi-year offers on the table last offseason, but settled for a one-year deal in a hitter-friendly environment. Common sense dictates that a person who chooses that route does so for a reason. It doesn’t have to be a cynical “playing for the contract” — it’s just heavy incentive to play better. We would all do the same.

    3) And while park factors explain much of his struggles in Seattle, he did steal 13 bases in 111 games during his disappointing (and costly) ’09 season. He ran roughly twice as often as he did in ’08. Circumstantial? Of course. But it does suggest someone conscious of grabbing some numbers. His park (and lineup) just didn’t play along.

    Personally, I think it’s pretty clear that Beltre took his game to another level with the opportunity of a massive payday on the horizon. What exactly that looks like–more gym, more reps, more tape study, a better mental approach–I don’t know. But it’s odd that Cameron dismisses it out of hand, and stranger still that he’d use arb years as a means of comparison.

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    • WY says:

      I agree with Drew that grouping in the arbitration years with the free-agent years is pretty misleading. But that’s S.O.P. for a bunch of writers on this site: make a controversial claim, then tilt the scales or cherry-pick numbers to support the point being argued.

      I’m not saying that there IS a measurable effect of motivation, but even so, there is some sophistry involved in a lot of the more contentious arguments made my writers here, Mr. Cameron included. They probably realize it and are just doing it for effect; I hope that’s the case.

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  18. says:

    CircleChange: Dave’s statement you cited is incorrect. He didn’t perform worse more often that not. He performed better more often than not. His 2002 season, according to Fangraphs, was worth 4.1 wins, his 2001 worth 1.2. Not to mention, those weren’t free agency walk years, they were merely arbitration years. And in 2009, he was injured.

    There’s more here than Dave’s willing to admit. Though there’s clearly also no proof he only performs for contracts, either.

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    • CircleChange11 says:


      To me, that’s giving a player A LOT of credit for being able to turn it on or off, based on whether it’s a contract year.

      I do buy into the idea that player’s possibly work harder in the off-season or are in better shape coming into a season of a contract year. I also think they are possibly more willing to play through minor injuries, etc.

      But, the idea that they can just decide “Contract Year: Time to kick ass” is just too much. It’s possible though. It’s just hard for me to believe that a player of All-Star ability would rather just struggle and get heckled as long as they pick up a paycheck … but then just turn it on when it’s time to “get paid”.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        “But, the idea that they can just decide “Contract Year: Time to kick ass” is just too much. It’s possible though.”

        I think it’s possible, if you assume that extra work will correlate (to some extent) to better production.

        Let’s say that someone is extremely motivated to do well: In the off-season, they work out 2 hours a day, every day. During the season, they get to the ballpark an hour early for weights, stretching, video tape, and extra BP. After the game they study their at bats. I’d think that would have an impact on their performance, to some extent.

        The problem is, it’s incredibly hard to stay that focused, day in and day out, for a decade. To pull it off for one off-season and one contract-year is a lot easier.

        I’m not saying that’s what Beltre did – and I have no idea whether he was actually in better shape in 2004, and if he put in any extra time – but I wouldn’t discredit the concept of someone putting in the extra effort during a contract year but not doing it once they’ve signed a huge contract. I’d like to think that pride would get in the way of that, but then you see someone like Jamarcus Russell and realize that not everybody has that drive.

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      • DL80 says:

        That is my whole point about PEDs. Irresponsible or not, I don’t understand how people can just ignore the possibility.

        It’s 2003. You’re Beltre. Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire just got huge paydays for hitting home runs. Everyone in baseball knows PEDs are rampant (whether or not they know who specifically is taking them). Yet steroids and other PEDs are pretty well known to be very dangerous to take long term.

        It’s about to be your walk year. You can use for one year, get a huge payday, and then stop using and go back to your above average health with the least risk of medical health vs. financial gain.

        There’s no way to prove it, but there’s also no way to disprove it. Just dismissing the possibility out of hand seems pretty illogical to me.

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      • Bigmouth says:

        >>I do buy into the idea that player’s possibly work harder in the off-season or are in better shape coming into a season of a contract year. I also think they are possibly more willing to play through minor injuries, etc.<<

        Exactly. That's believed to be the main source of the phenomenon, to the extent it's been observed in basketball.

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  19. NEPP says:

    It should be noted that he was injured for much of 2009 and that 02/03 weren’t technically contract years like 2010 or 2004. Granted, its still likely coincidental but its not as black and white as you are painting it.

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  20. misc says:

    If I arbitrarily define “hitting well” as OPS+ > 120, then the statement “Beltre only hits well in contract years” is factually true, at least so far.

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  21. Anthony says:

    I wouldn’t trust Beltre to perform anywhere near what he did last year ever again. He’ll certainly provide great defense, but he’s a lot closer to a .330-.340 wOBA bat, than a .390 that he posted last year. He’s always been better on the road too, even last year when he played in friendly Fenway, so it kind of makes some of these points moot. To me he’s worth 14mil at around 4 years, but he’s going to get 6 years/96mil which is a bit ridiculous for my liking, but Texas should get some good value for a lot of the contract just based on defense alone, but I wouldn’t expect him to have another year like last year again.

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  22. Filton Mriedman says:

    I think the mistake here is that you are disproving a different theory than people are claiming exists. People are not saying that Beltre will play well in all his contract years, but rather they are saying all the years he has played exceptionally well have been contract years.

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  23. Scout Finch says:

    I like how the subject title is truncated to “Adrian Beltre is Not Motivated”.

    We shall see…

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  24. Powder Blues says:

    Bottom line to me is that Beltre’s production fluctuates more than about anybody else in the game today.

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  25. RQ says:

    Dont forget, the Rangers are paying for his GLOVE probably more than his bat. His bat will be better than any other option for DH that was available. Also Young as DH/super sub will keep the entire team fresher for the whole year.

    To bring up a different way to look at it, I dont have time to do all the research, but what kind of line up was he in those years. Last year he was not the primary threat on a good offensive team. In Seattle, he was one of the primary threats on not very good teams.

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  26. Max says:

    Beltre has been one of the best defenders throughout his career but offensively he’s ranged from merely good to great. Over the next 6 years I’d bet that no more than two of those years will be great- for arguments sake let’s use everybody’s favorite stat and say that by great I mean more than 5 war. 6 years and 96 mill, if thats what it turns out to be, will probably end up being an over pay. I’m glad my team didn’t make this deal.

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  27. Scout Finch says:

    Does Adrian Beltre wear a cup to protect his gonads ? I just wanted to revisit that rumor I heard years ago.

    At any rate, he’ll be much better defensively @ 3rd than Michael Young. Young is a great ballplayer and well respected throughout the league, but good lord his glove reaction time looked sluggish in the World Series.

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  28. DM says:

    5 years, $80m guaranteed (+6th option year) for Adrian Beltre? My first thought is that it probably will turn out better than Albert Haynesworth’s Redskins deal, but my question is, does this turn out better than Mo Vaughn’s 6-year $80m deal with the Angels?

    A guy who couldn’t transcend “park effects” for a complete 5 years at Safeco (Vlad’s RH power career numbers there are impressive) and has a .328 career OBP even with those 2 MONSTER seasons (I mean in 12+ years the guy had time to switch up his approach a bit, or *golly* mutually agree to disolve his contract with the Mariners because he’d do better elsewhere, right?) is being paid that much?

    The real question here to me is: Will Beltre surpass the offensive production of Mo Vaughn’s 1999, 2000, and 2002 seasons over the length of this 5-year guaranteed contract?

    I’m saying NO. I’d love to read anything saying differently.

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  29. shthar says:

    Yet another example of how ‘Real’ baseball people are just as dumb as anyone else.

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  30. pft says:

    “f Beltre had the ability to become an offensive monster whenever it suited his desire to land a big raise, why did he not flip that switch in 2002, 2003, or 2009?”

    Arbitration is not the same as being in a FA year. If you go to arbitration, it is a 1 year deal not even guaranteed, and still well below market value.

    As others have pointed out in 2009, Beltre had multiple injuries. How do you ignore this.

    Contract years imply PED use to some people. Most athletes are aware of the health affects, and now the risk of getting caught.. Designer PED’s that evade detection are expensive. So some athletes may use PED’s sparingly and at optimum times to maximize their results in terms of pay days. Not saying Beltre uses PED’s, but you can’t be sure one way or another.

    We can judge Beltre a bit better after a few years.

    Do we even know Beltres age with any certainty? He was signed at a time when age fraud in the DR was rampant and hard to detect even when investigated (his signing was investigated by MLB only to ensure he was not younger than he claimed, but most age fraud was about being older than claimed). If he got his green card or US citizenship before 2001 the new regulations may not have affected him. He broke in to MLB at 19 and did not progress as expected except for his exceptional years at 25 and 31. He did not play like a 34-35 yo so I guess he really is 31.

    That said, I enjoyed watching Beltre play this year for the Red Sox. The guy hustles and plays hard. Wish there were more guys like him, and if he plays the same way for the Rangers he will be worth the money. Big if though.

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  31. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    excellent article! I completely agree

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  32. Eric says:

    Some of you are missing the point. Yes he’s had two “monster” seasons, but if you look at his road numbers for most of his years in Seattle, he has had two monster season and 4 very good seasons that looked like mediocre seasons because of his numbers being horrible in Safeco. BTW, he was better on the road in both of his big years, too.

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  33. Brian says:

    I guess he’s just wildly inconsistent, a good reason to be wary of giving him a long term deal for big $$$$

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  34. Eric says:

    He’s not wildly inconsistent. He was bad in 2008 due to several injuries. Other than that Safeco has killed his numebrs.

    His Road OPS over the last 3 years is .855, home is .752

    Road OPS by year (backwards from 2010):
    .717 (injured)

    Two bad seasons, Two great seasons, and 3 good/very good seasons

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  35. Kevin says:

    It needs to be pointed out that just because he didn’t flip the switch during other contract years isn’t proof that he isn’t motivated by the contract year any more than the opposite is.

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  36. Brian says:

    Eric, The years before he hit 48 hr’s in LA look similar to his Seattle years. I’m sure he’ll be productive wherever he winds up, I just don’t think he’ll approach his Boston #’s much less his 48 hr LA campaign.

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  37. Jim Lahey says:

    Only read through about half of the comments but… Beltre fractured a testicle in 2009. That might be part of the reason he didn’t perform up to the contract year expectations.

    I think he also had some other injury, but not to the same degree… just thinking about that injury makes me whimper.

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  38. Eric says:


    His early LA days are all but meaningless to me. He was soooo young and was rushed. I doubt he will ever hit 48 HRs again, but his numbers in Boston were no fluke. If healthy, he will be a MONSTER at home in TX. This is the first time he’s ever played his home games in a park that was favorable to RH power hitters.

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  39. CircleChange11 says:

    I think Beltre is another one of those guys who was so talented at a young age, that expectations were so high, that he gets the label of underperforming.

    He also seems to have a bit of a goofy personality that it makes him more of a mystery.

    If I am not mistaken, the trend for young talented players is to peak earlier, at around 25 than the usual 27-29 or whatever the exact number is.

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  40. Nightrider says:

    Don’t give me bull about hitting in Safeco Park. A good hitter should be one in any park, whether in average or in homeruns. This guy is/was on steroids, came up as a skinny shortstop from the Dominican, and became a muscled guy in 2004 with that monster year. Like Palmeiro hitting about 15 homeruns for the Cubs, then went over to Texas and hit 40 year in and year out, on steroids. Same thing with Tejada, a little shortstop for the A’s, found steriods, had a great season his last year with the A’s, and got the Orioles to come up with a big contract and nothing to show for 6 years. That’s what steroids can do for you. Look for Bagwell. Look at Pujols, despite his denials but his physique sure shows steroids. Look at Juan Gonzalez – I thought he was Atlas the Giant and envied his physique before I found out this guy was on steroids.

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  41. Eric says:

    So Nightrider, are you saying he was on steroids last year in Boston, too?

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  42. jason says:

    man, didn’t know that he had total 5 contract years.
    to think he failed to produce 3 out of 5 times while highly motivated.
    i hate to see the success rate when he is NOT motivated……

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