- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Beltre’s Fantastic Season

As Dave, Joe, and I discussed on the most recent edition of FanGraphs Audio, Josh Hamilton is probably the MVP of the American League, but the lack of attention paid to Adrian Beltre‘s season has been criminal. Let’s take a look at exactly what the superb Red Sox third baseman has done in 2010.

People around baseball certainly took notice of Beltre’s bat in 2004, when he posted a .334/.388/.629 en route to a 10.8 WAR season and his only Silver Slugger award. Although his 2010 isn’t quite living up to that lofty standard, it will probably be good enough for a second Slugger. After a move from spacious Safeco Field to friendly Fenway Park, Beltre’s bat has exploded once again. This season, Beltre is slashing .325/.371/.564, good for a .396 wOBA and a 148 wRC+.

That’s great, for sure – he’s a top 10 hitter in the AL this season – but it can’t quite match up with players like Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, or Paul Konerko. Instead, those numbers compare very favorably to players like Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, and Luke Scott – excellent hitters, no doubt, but they don’t really figure into the MVP discussion. However, Beltre brings one thing to the table that these players don’t, and neither do the players in front of him: elite defense.

Another topic of interest that we addressed on the podcast was whether or not analysts, as individuals, would completely factor in high UZR scores when discussing a player’s MVP worthiness. Some people, for example, weren’t convinced when they saw Ben Zobrist posting a UZR above +20, as there was little prior evidence of his elite fielding – they could believe that he was +10, maybe, but not quite at the level suggested by the statistic, and therefore, by WAR. Adrian Beltre, then, would be subject to this same question, as he is rated as a +12 fielder this year by UZR, and those 12 runs are the difference between his current 2nd place ranking by WAR and a tie for sixth place with Miguel Cabrera.

Personally, having seen Adrian Beltre’s defensive wizardry, as well as the consistency with which advanced metrics rate his defense as above average, along with the views of other fans, scouts, and other baseball people around the league, I have no trouble believing that number. Beltre typically adds in about 15 runs above the average defensive player, where as other candidates like Josh Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera are merely average or even 15 runs below.

I still think Josh Hamilton is deserving of the MVP award despite the fact that he will end up missing so much time, particularly because the regular season time that he’s about to miss is really of no value to the Rangers, who have been up by a wide margin in the AL West for months now. However, if, for some reason, you were to disqualify Hamilton due to his playing time, Adrian Beltre should be the next choice. Between his offense and his defense, you can’t find an American League player who has been more complete this year, and even though the value he’s added to the Red Sox won’t bring them to the playoffs, they maintained 50% playoff odds through the All-Star Break and 20% playoff odds through August. There’s no question that Beltre has been extremely valuable by any definition of the word, and he most certainly deserves consideration for the MVP award and praise for his accomplishments this season.