Can We Please Stop Undervaluing Adrian Beltre?

We’re encroaching on the start of a new season, which means an annual column on the worst baseball contracts of all-time has been published. Naturally names like Mike Hampton, Mo Vaughn, Darren Dreifort, and Chan Ho Park pop up, but in this Page 2 column, names like Alex Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre are listed, although not ranked amongst the “10 worst”. Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing has already blown the Alex Rodriguez mention to shreds with this post, but I’m still confused how Adrian Beltre deserves inclusion. Here’s what they say about him:

Adrian Beltre, 2005: 5 years, $64 million. Beltre hasn’t been a bad player with the Mariners, and while he’s been durable and provides a good glove, he’s also never posted an on-base percentage above .328 or driven in a hundred runs.

Beltre has been durable, and we’ll touch on the glove in a moment, but let’s focus on the offensive production. Belte’s career on-base percentage is .327 with a career walk rate of 7.3%. During his time in Seattle Beltre has posted OBPs and walk rates of: .303, .328, .319, .327, and 5.9%, 7%, 6%, and 8.3%. Average those out however you like and you’re essentially getting Beltre’s career totals.

That suggests the Mariners are getting what they paid for in terms of walks and on-base skills and while they aren’t great, Beltre was never going to replicate a .388 OBP without some balls-in-play luck. During that same time Beltre has slugged .413, .465, .482, and .457. That’s valuable. Of course, one should also point out Safeco Field’s conditions and dimensions depress right-handed power numbers, hurting Beltre’s raw offensive numbers. Using our park-adjusted batting runs metric, we see that Beltre has been worth about 17 runs offensively over his time in Seattle. That’s not too bad for a defensive virtuoso.

Defense is the part of Beltre’s game that people widely ignore or undervalue. Over the last four years Beltre has been worth an average of roughly 9 runs per season defensively. Add in those four runs of offense, a positional adjustment and 20 or so runs for replacement level and you have a 3.5-4 win player worth around 16 million on this market, but instead will only make 12 million next year. Ultimately, Beltre’s contract has paid him ~51 million to date and yet Beltre’s performances are valued at ~57 million, suggesting that Beltre has actually earned the Mariners a profit on a pretty good free agent deal.

Some may call Beltre’s contract a result of Bill Bavasi being Bill Bavasi and that’s simply untrue. Whether lucky or not, Bavasi signed Beltre to a very fair deal and ended up paying one of the league’s more underappreciated talents right what the market would dictate.

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18 Responses to “Can We Please Stop Undervaluing Adrian Beltre?”

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  1. Xeifrank says:

    Year #1 looks like the only significant overpay.
    vr, Xei

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  2. mkd says:

    That’s funny, I was just thinking about Adrian Beltre as I drove to work this morning. That first season really locked in a perception that he was a baaad deal for the Ms (I personally accused him of being Al Martin on more than one occasion during his maiden year). I’ve come to love him, but it took awhile and I think some people will just never get there- they’re not looking at the contract and asking “Does his impact equal his contract?” They’re looking at the contract and saying “He did not turn out to be Manny Ramirez at the plate so this MUST have been a bad deal.”

    In fairness to the Page 2 guys, they pretty much nailed the rest of Bill Bavasi’s awful career, so I can understand why they assumed the Beltre deal must have been bad, too.

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  3. Matt B. says:

    Fangraphs certainly doesn’t undervalue him!

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  4. James says:

    This brings up something that’s been bothering me for a while. It’s well known that the market undervalues defense. Beltre is a 3.5-4 win player, but much of that value comes from his defense. Shouldn’t the Mariners be paying less for each of his defensive wins than they do for his offensive wins provided?

    To illustrate my question, I’ll use two SS that provided similar value to their teams last year. Jhonny Peralta and Orlando Cabrera. Both were worth about 3.5 wins. Peralta achieved his value from his offensive production, while Cabrera’s came from his defense. If given a choice between those two players on the FA market, shouldn’t we pay less for Cabrera, since the market values him less?

    The market normally pays more for offensive quality than defense, but the Mariners paid the offensive price for defensive quality. Isn’t rating a defensive whiz’s value on the same scale as an offensive powerhouse like comparing apples and oranges?

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    • Teams are paying for total runs produced, not just offensive or defensive.

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      • Evan says:

        That’s how we measure it, but if defense is undervalued then teams in fact aren’t paying the same rate for defense as they are for offense.

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    • philosofool says:

      The most efficient way to win right now is buying defense. If the manager of your favorite team went and paid Corey Patterson $3M for next year, you’d be annoyed, because even if you read Dave Cameron’s stuff on replacement level players and know that Patterson is actually +1 WAR, you also know that his skill set sells for about $500k.

      However, if you want to consider a contract a disaster, you’d better be able to say more than “This contract paid the player what he was worth but he could have been signed for less.” In a fair world, all baseball players would be paid their worth, and I don’t think we want to call a fair world a disaster.

      Also, coming of his last season with the Dodgers, it’s not clear that Beltre would have signed for less in Seattle. The M’s might have offered a little more than his minimum to get the deal done (mostly, I would imagine, in the form of an extra year), but probably not much.

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      • James says:

        I wasn’t specifically trying to make the point that Beltre’s contract was a disaster for the Ms. In fact, I think his contract is probably a poor example for this discussion, as he had just come off his monster 2004. Plenty of people felt that was indicative of his true offensive talent level.

        I think there is a case to be made, though, that the Beltre deal wasn’t quite as rosy as RJ shows it to be. Let’s say the market pays half as much for defensive skills compared to batting skills. (I really don’t know. I’m trying to guess conservatively.) So, for example, a 1 win defender is normally paid 2m by the market whereas a 1 win batter is paid 4m.

        With 9 runs of his 31 run value coming specifically from his defense, shouldn’t we base his true worth to the team on the value of each of his skills?
        Off. -> .4 wins x $4m = 1.6m
        Def. -> .9 wins x $2m = 1.8m
        Pos. Adj. -> 2 wins x $4m = 8m
        In that scenario, that’s a $1.6 million swing in his worth. $8 million over the life of the contract. That’s not insignificant, and would turn the contract into a slight loss for the Ms.

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      • James says:

        I’m a novice and probably got part of the equation wrong. Let me know if that’s the case. I don’t want my argument based on flawed figures.

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      • James says:

        Oops, I did get one number wrong. In my example, it’s actually a $1.8 million swing, which comes out to $9 million over the life of the contract.

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  5. Josh says:

    I completely agree with you James. If he came off the market at age 26 again with the stats he has produced the last 3 years, he wouldn’t get nearly the amount he got before, because his value comes from his D not his O. So maybe when computing a players worth relative to market we should come up with something to give a dollar scale to O and D separately.

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  6. alskor says:

    Im still saying Bavasi just got lucky.

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  7. Nathan says:

    Another fallacy from that article was the criticism of Kevin Millwood’s 5 year, $60 million contract. In his first three years, Millwood has averaged +3.7 wins good for an average value of $15.1 million. This outpaces the average value of the contract, $12 million a year, quite easily.

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  8. Joe says:

    Fangraphs: Where love of Adrian Beltre, Ichiro, Carl Crawford, and other defensive monsters with decent bats happens.

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