After a third consecutive All-Star season, Adrian Beltre‘s Hall of Fame path is becoming clear. Over those three All-Star campaigns, Beltre has added 96 home runs, 309 RBI and 1,820 plate appearances of an astounding .314/.353/.558 (138 wRC+) line. His 19.0 WAR over those three seasons pushed his career total up to 62.5; he’s already a borderline Hall of Famer purely by WAR (or JAWS, which already rates him the 12th-best third baseman of all time).
But I don’t think Beltre is in quite yet — it is the Hall of Fame, after all, and perception matters. His entire career in Seattle was a dud at the plate — he hit just .266/.317/.442 in his five years as a Mariner, and they came in what should have been peak seasons (ages 26 through 30). Overall, he only has four truly standout offensive seasons — his last three and his Bonds-esque 48 home run campaign in his walk year as a Dodger in 2004. Beltre’s consistently exceptional defense is what pushes him into the Hall of Fame conversation, so he would need the Brooks Robinson (just a 105 wRC+ but the unassailable glove) treatment to gain entry if his career were already finished.
His defense is appreciated by most writers (and fans), it seems, but is the appreciation at such a lofty level? If not, Beltre might not even be close to in today — his Black Ink, Gray Ink, Hall of Fame Monitor and Hall of Fame Standards scores from Baseball-Reference are all less than two-thirds of the average Hall of Famer’s scores.
But Beltre is one of those players who consistently makes you double-take when you hear his age. It’s difficult to remember baseball without Adrian Beltre, and yet he is entering just his age 34 season next year, his 16th in the majors.
Beltre’s age transforms an uninspiring list of similar hitters — headlined by Carlos Lee, also including Aramis Ramirez, Ken Boyer, Gary Gaetti, Ruben Sierra, Torii Hunter — into one rife with Hall of Famers — Ron Santo, Orlando Cepeda, Al Kaline, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, and Carl Yastrzemski make up Beltre’s top seven similar hitters through age 33, with Santo the only repeat from the age-neutral list.
Beltre is under contract for Texas through 2015 and a vesting option could keep him a Ranger through 2016. Given the relatively small class of third basemen currently in the Hall — just 11, discounting Negro Leaguers and players like Paul Molitor and Cal Ripken who largely played other positions — three or four more years like Beltre’s last three should get him in with room to spare. He would push 450 home runs (behind just Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews among third basemen) and 1500 RBI (behind just George Brett and Schmidt) for the voter who prefers traditional stats; his WAR would likely land between 75 (conservatively) and 85 WAR, putting him very near the “lock” category.
He’s in the right place to keep it up. Beltre’s skillset at the plate is mostly one dimensional — huge pull power. It’s a fantastic dimension.
When Beltre’s power is unleashed like this — when he gets to watch it fly from his back knee — it’s one of the greatest spectacles in the game. Although it wouldn’t be surprising to see a bit of a power decline at age 34 — 15 of his 36 home runs were labeled “Just Enough” by ESPN Hit Tracker last year, an abnormally high amount — he can fall plenty far and still produce at a high level. He has posted ISOs of at least .233 each year since leaving Seattle and her righty-suppressing fences. Even a 30-to-40 point dropoff would still leave Beltre as one of the most powerful third basemen in the league, and likely somewhere around 20-25 home runs. Texas’s 114 park factor for right-handed home runs — fifth highest in the league — will help slow the decline as well.
There’s still work to do, but Adrian Beltre’s last three seasons have blasted open a clear path to the Hall of Fame. With his huge power, brilliant glove and a great situation in Texas all behind him, he should have no trouble walking it.