Carlos Beltran and the Inhibitors of Glory

Confession: while I enjoy no-hitters as much as most baseball fans, part of me wanted Johan Santana‘s no-hitter to get broken up. That impulse did not stem from a particular animus against Santana or the Mets. It most certainly did not stem from a liking for the Cardinals. In fact, the desire only reared its head when Carlos Beltran faced Santana. I thought it would be cool if Beltran rocked one out of the park in the midst of a dominating display. What can I say: I like watching Carlos Beltran, and I feel like he “deserves” to have some more memorable moments on the positive side of the ledger. I believe Beltran has a Hall-worthy resume already, but he also shares a few characteristics of the sort of players who get overlooked, which makes me wonder if he will be left out in the cold.

There is no sabermetrically-established hard-and-fast line for deserving induction into the Hall of Fame. To avoid repeating myself at length, I will refer you to some of my own past posts in which I discuss particular cases, such as those of Omar Vizquel (no) and the two halves of Rickey Henderson (yes, yes, and yes). A rough summary might be something like this: around at least 60 total career Wins Above Replacement, with at least three seasons of around seven or more wins, and several more excellent seasons. Along those lines, outfielder Andre Dawson‘s career provides a particularly good “baseline” for a Hall of Fame-worthy career:


I have used Dawson as a baseline before, for example, in discussing why I think that Johnny Damon‘s case for the Hall is pretty hilarious (no matter how much he openly campaigns for it). Indeed, it was looking at Damon in comparison with Dawson that made me wonder if Damon’s own fame (due to being a good player on some memorable championship teams) might end up getting him more votes than a much-more-qualified former teammate of his:


These graphs and WAR are not meant to be used here as a conversation stopper about the Hall. There are various uncertainties and limitations in such usage in his case and others (e.g., the uncertainty in defensive metrics relative to offensive metrics) that we could go into if that was the focus of this post (it is not). I do think that we can clearly see that one would need a lot of “fudging” to see Damon as being Dawson’s equal. More germane to this particular post, while Beltran has not had as many seasons, or as many “average” seasons as Dawson, his peak was both longer and superior.

My point in not so much to argue Beltran’s case. I think that Dawson was a fine (if not a slam dunk) admission into the Hall, and if he is a Hall of Famer, Beltran should be, too. However, I wonder if the shape of Beltran’s career might make his election more problematic than it should be. In this, I am loosely inspired by some of Bill James‘ comments in the New Historical Abstract.

Beltran does not have all of the characteristics James notes for classic underrated players, but he does have some of them. While most people think of Beltran as an excellent player in his prime, there is not one aspect of his game that stands out as incredible, at least not ones generally considered by voters. A .283 career batting average (so far) is good, but not mind-blowing. Beltran has had very good power (.215 ISO) so far, but he probably will need some luck with aging to reach 400 home runs (he is at .317 right now), and even then 400 home runs ain’t what they used to be. Beltran hit 30 home runs in three different seasons, including 41 in 2006 in power-unfriendly Shea, but voters have not paid that much attention to park effects. He stole a lot of bases in his younger days with a remarkable rate of success, but again, he was not a “specialist.”

Before age and injuries sapped his range, Beltran was generally thought of as a good center fielder, and he won three Gold Gloves, but he was never considered otherworldly in the field on the level of, say, Andruw Jones. Beltran is probably also hurt a bit by having to move off of center field the last few seasons because of age and injury, which makes it harder to remember just how good he was in center field. While players like Beltran can become great by being “only” very good at a lot of things rather than awesome at one, it also tends to make them less memorable to the voters.

Beltran is also held back by having some of his best years on some terrible (other than the wonderfully mediocre 2003 team, I guess) Royals teams. He did have a memorable and massive 2004 postseason run (.435/.536/1.022, 310 wRC+) after being traded to the Astros at the 2004 deadline, but they did not win the World Series, and so not many people remember that Astros team.

Of course, Beltran had a great run in the bright lights of New York with Mets. He probably had the best overall season of his career in 2006, but his series-ending strikeout in the NLCS against Adam Wainwright seems to have soured the memory of many about his generally great time in New York (yes, despite the injuries). Sure, the Mets might not have made it to Game Seven without Beltran’s .278/.422/.556 (162 wRC+) line in the playoffs that year, but that memory sticks.

[Just to hammer a point home, here is Carlos Beltran's career postseason line: .366/.485/.817, .547 wOBA, 239 wRC+. He's no David Eckstein, I guess.]

Going through that list of teams also points to another thing Beltran shares with players undervalued by the Hall voters: he has moved around a fair bit, being on his fifth team. This is generally not punishment for being a “hired gun” (indeed, Beltran has only signed two free agent contract; he has been traded twice), but makes associating a player with a particular place in the memory more difficult. It is not necessarily malicious, but it also is not really fair.

Perhaps if, like Johnny Damon or (to point to a Hall-worthy player) Curt Schilling, Beltran had been more glib, clever, and quotable, he would stick in the mind better. Maybe he should start a gaming company, but since he is not really associated with a particular franchise, I am not sure what pool of suckers investors or legislators would get behind him.

All of this is not to say that Beltran definitely will not get elected to the Hall of Fame. After all, his career is not over, and he is currently crushing the ball. Perhaps if he is part of another Cardinals’ run in the playoffs (which would be ironic given his past), he will garner more attention. Moreover, he has been an excellent player, and despite the oft-discussed exceptions, a big chunk (if not always sufficiently big) of voters tend to recognize that. Carlos Beltran has had a Hall of Fame career. Still, there are reasons to be concerned that not enough voters will have noticed it when his time comes.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


44 Responses to “Carlos Beltran and the Inhibitors of Glory”

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  1. rubesandbabes says:

    Thanks article.

    “There is no sabermetrically-established hard-and-fast line for deserving induction into the Hall of Fame.” -MK

    You are certainly right about that.

    Beltran with less than 2000 hits, 317 home runs, and very little MVP consideration throughout his career isn’t a viable HOF candidate at the moment.

    He needs just one stolen base to reach 300, so that’s nice.

    ==

    The thing with the HOF voting the last 20 years or so, is that it has been kinda stingy: Gossage, Blyleven, and also uneven with borderline selections like Jim Rice and Tony Perez. The veterans committee has quite a few major sins during this time as well: Ron Santo, Buck O’Neill, more.

    Jim Rice’s career is either the new entry standard for the HOF, or something to be ignored…and Beltran does not measure up to Rice.

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    • Calvin says:

      Beltran kills Rice. Slightly higher OBP and OPS even though Rice played his whole career in much friendlier hitters’ parks. Better defense, more speed (250 extra SBs) more career WAR by almost 10 already in 1000 fewer PAs. If Beltran got beaned in the head when he comes up in the 9th here and never set foot on a field again, he’d have Rice’s career solidly beaten. If he finishes out a normal career, he’ll have it utterly demolished.

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      • rubesandbabes says:

        Calvin,

        You are using selective criteria – it is not sufficient to claim Beltran played in pitcher’s parks vs. Rice, and then just pretend the additional offensive numbers for all the players didn’t exist during Beltran’s era.

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      • Calvin says:

        So look at woba and Rice has nothing. Beltran’s defense and baserunning are obviously on a completely different level.. and that’s when Rice was actually playing defense and not spending his 3+ seasons as a DH. In what universe is Rice better at baseball, even in aggregate?

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      • rubesandbabes says:

        Calvin,

        The woba stat has nothing to do with the HOF. However, Rice does have Beltran beat in woba, so not sure what you are trying to do here??

        The Beltran problem is that he receives almost no MVP consideration throughout his career. Trying to say he deserves more credit because of the known PED use of the guys who won those awards during his peak doesn’t work, and opens up a whole big can of worms, ending any discussion about guys like Beltran.

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  2. Jeffrey says:

    Beltran doesn’t measure up to rice? What?

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  3. DD says:

    He’s Fred Lynn with better baserunning and defense.

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  4. db says:

    Two very comparable players to look at are Jim Edmonds, who has an outside shot, and Reggie Smith, who never came close. If Edmonds gets in, its hard to argue against Carlos. If not, it is hard to jusfity Beltran, who was very similar in value. I hope Beltran gets in, but he really is borderline.

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  5. tz says:

    I like to look at how a player is doing graphed against Ron Santo, Sal Bando, and Joe Randa, as HOF, borderline, and average careers respectively.

    Beltran is hugging up against the Bando line so far in his career. The key for him is staying healthy and productive in his mid and late 30′s, like Chipper Jones and Derek Jeter, who were both on the Bando line in their mid-30′s.

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  6. Steve says:

    Considering Beltran DID break up the “no hitter” only to have the umpire blow the call, the intro seems odd not to mention that…

    http://sports.cbsimg.net/images//visual/whatshot/Beltran060112.gif

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    • Montessaurus says:

      I understand your frustration, and it’s true that one day we will have less fallable umpiring (umpirage?) that will make correct calls in these instances, but to state as fact that Carlos Beltran “DID” break up the no-hitter just sounds like sour grapes. I thought this was a very well-written rebuttal (albeit from a Mets’ fan’s perspective, no less biased perhaps than yours):
      http://www.amazinavenue.com/2012/6/2/3060036/no-hitter

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      • Steve says:

        Just to clarify, I have no dog in this fight, I really don’t care either way. I just thought it was a really wierd thing to go unsaid. You specifically talk about rooting for Beltran to break up a no-hitter, but you don’t mention the play in question? Just struck me as an 800 lb gorilla in the room.

        /shrugs

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  7. Brian says:

    It’s kind of an assholish thing to do to wish that Beltran broke up a historical moment that Mets fans have been pining from, IMO.

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    • Brian says:

      Pining for, that is.

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    • Nats Fan says:

      I disagree. The ball was very clearly a hit. Not debatable once you see the mark it made.

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      • Bill says:

        The rules of the game that all the players have to abide by clearly indicate that whether a hit is fair or foul is determined by the umpire. So, by the rules of the game, the ball was foul. Even when the umpire is incompetent or biased, as in the case of Yankee’s season ticket holder Rich Garcia who believes that a fly ball pulled over the fence by a fan is a homerun if said ball is hit by Jeter, PBUH.

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    • Mr. Met says:

      And I’m sure if the Cubs reach a World Series, it’ll be an “assholish” thing for anyone to root against them. After all, the Cubs winning a championship would be a historic event that Cubs fans have been pining for (far more so than Mets fans have been “pining” for a no-hitter).

      One day in the future, sports will have a competitive fandom aspect, where people root for the teams and players they like, rather than “history,” without being assholes. Someday. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…but someday.

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  8. A lot of writers/HOF voters feel that Beltran sandbagged Willie Randolph when he was fired as Mets manager. If that’s true, then Beltran, already marginal in many folks minds, will have a bumpy trip down HOF lane.

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  9. Brian says:

    Regarding the main point of the article, I would have to say that if the sabermetric defensive stats are anything close to an accurate reflection of reality, then Carlos had an excellent career.

    Is it Hall of Fame? Eh… probably borderline. I think 60 WAR is kind of a lowish standard for the hall, although I admit I am a fan of a very small hall reserved for only the best of the best of the best. If he gets to 70 WAR, he has more of a slam dunk case to me.

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  10. vivaelpujols says:

    I think the fact that Beltran is finishing up his career really strong might be enough to get him into the HOF. Especially if he wins another WS in the next couple of years.

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  11. PhillR says:

    500HR isn’t totally out of the question for Beltran, and 400 seems like a nearly sure thing.

    I would bet on HOF.

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  12. tcnjsteve says:

    Funny, I was hoping the nohitter would end a on a Beltran strikeout-looking…just to sort of bring things full circle

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  13. tyke says:

    can the guy get into the twilight of his career before he start arguing HOF or not? he’s having a great season and will likely have a few more solid years, as well. can we just see what he does with the next few seasons before we crown him HOF-worthy or decidedly not?

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  14. Nats Fan says:

    I am 100% behind Beltran for the Hall, and I was against Dawson and Rice. I have played years and years of baseball card games (close to 30 seasons), such as Pursue the Pennant, and Beltran has been a super stud in those. Top 5 all round player most seasons he was healthy. Saw him drafted over Pujols because of his skills in CF, speed, power, baserunning and hitting combo one season.

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    • Brian says:

      “Top 5 all round player most seasons he was healthy.”

      Well no, that seems pretty untrue. I count 2 – 2006, 2008, where Carlos was top 5 in WAR. 2 isn’t most.

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  15. shoewizard says:

    No way Rice was beter than Beltran

    No way Beltran should already be considered a hall of famer.

    If he finishes off his career like Dave Winfield, i.e. 135 OPS+ from ag 36-40 with another 100 homers tacked and no big hits to his BA and OBP….Then he is a no doubter hall of famer.

    But he’s not there yet. He’s only had 4 seasons over 6 WAR (3 if you go by BB-Ref.)

    Sorry…I want my Hall of Famers to have a higher peak than that……..and since Beltran doesn’t have a high enough/long enough peak, he has to get there with longevity and counting stats….so he’s going to have to hang around at least 3-4 more years at a pretty high level.

    But Jim Rice….? Seriously ? I want to barf.

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  16. LTG says:

    Beltran is certainly a borderline candidate and it will be interesting to see how long into his late 30s he can maintain all-star level production.

    But there is a no doubt HOFer currently in the league who is likely to get nary a sniff at the Hall: Chase Utley. (For the longevity Utley just needs to stand on the field for a season to make his eligibility official.)

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    • Richard says:

      Utley was certainly good enough during his peak, but too much of his value was/is wrapped up in defense and base-running, two factors not so well understood, it seems, by HOF voters (hell, as I’m sure you know, in Philly, where he’s been basically a god, he’s popularly seen as a merely adequate-to-poor defender). Given that, his peak will likely not be seen as either long enough or high enough.

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      • Brian says:

        At only 50 WAR, I would think even for a “big hall” guy that’s not quite there yet. Klaasen is a much “bigger hall” guy than me and even he recommends something like 60 WAR as an approximate baseline.

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      • LTG says:

        Richard,

        I’m not in Philly so I have no idea what the media say. But having grown up in Philly I remember thinking they are mostly blinded by tradition. I really only know the current saber-crowd in Philly, and they rightly adore him for all of his virtues (namely all of the ones baseball players can have qua baseball players).

        Brian,

        WAR is a counting stat. If a player plays 10 seasons and accumulates 50 WAR (where Utley would be if he is merely replacement this year), his WAR/season would be higher than Rice’s, Dawson’s, Roberto Alomar’s, Sandberg’s… I could keep going but I’m sure you get the point. Why should we just look at the net WAR? If a player qualifies for the Hall, the question is the quality of the seasons played not the sheer number. Utley has 5 seasons above 7 WAR (2 above 8) to Beltran’s, Rice’s, Dawson’s and Alomar’s 1, and Sandberg’s 2. I’d much rather have Utley at 50 WAR in the Hall than any of those guys with their 60 WAR (except Rice because he doesn’t have 60).

        Utley is the best 2B since Morgan. He probably won’t get into the HOF. That’s crazy.

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      • LTG says:

        Richard,

        Utley has the highest career wOBA of any 2B since 1982 by 17 points. That tells me that his hitting was HOF worthy at his position, regardless of his also excellent fielding and baserunning. It’s not that his other skills make up too much of his value; it’s that the writers wrongly think he’s bad at the other skills so they deduct “points” from his formidable hitting.

        And his peak is 5 straight years of over 7 WAR. Plenty of HOFers don’t even sniff a peak like that. A-Rod (a no-doubter) has more seasons over 7 WAR, but even he doesn’t have 5 consecutive seasons over 7 WAR. Utley’s peak is both high and long.

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  17. Matt K says:

    Beltran’s career is far from over, as long as his body holds up (knock on wood).
    It’s too early to start talking hall, simply because Damon’s raising up a PR storm about his hof entry.
    He could very possibly play through his age 40, even moving to DH if the body demanded. he’s at 63 war now, and even with safe projections, could pass 70. he was great with the mets. He was one of the best players in the game from 06-08. unfortunately, he had that aforementioned K is the biggest memory from those seasons.

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  18. Jonathan says:

    He isn’t a borderline candidate to me. I think he should get in.

    Between the years 1993 and 2012 (a 20-year period) only 4 OFers put up more fWAR than Beltran: Bonds, Jones, Ramirez, Edmonds. If you limit to guys who were CF when they wracked up most of their WAR, it’s only Jones and Edmonds. To me, Jones, Edmonds, and Beltran are very comparable players. They were the premier CFers of a generation. By the time this season is over it will be very hard to justify letting one in and not the others based on their body of work and the scarcity of other talent at their position in the relevant period.

    This is the argument I hear a lot: Beltran didn’t have a great peak. I don’t agree. From 2003-2008 (6 seasons, 140+ games each year) Beltran wracked up 37 WAR and hit 181 HRs mostly as a CF in Shea. That’s a hall-worthy peak for a guy who has demonstrated some pretty good longevity and played a position where that kind of output was extremely scarce. In fact, during that 6-year stretch, Beltran put up more fWAR than any other ML Ofer, and it isn’t really close. if you restrict it to true CFers the gulf is 8+ WAR during those seasons. There is simply no disputing that Carlos Beltran was, by far, the best CFer and probably the best OFer in baseball measured over a period of 6 consecutive seasons. I think that’s a damn good peak.

    There is other stuff to write, but this will go on too long. I hope Carlos gets in. He deserves it.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Just fo fun, I very unscientifically went back and pulled up some random 6-season stretches to see the names of people who lead MLB in OF WAR over stretches that long. Here’s what I came up with: 1950-55 — Stan Musial; 1953-58 — Mickey Mantle; 1960-65 — Willie Mays; 1964-69 — Hank Aaron; 1970-75 — Pete Rose; 1977-82 — Andre Dawson; 1983-88 Rickey Henderson; 1993-1998 Barry Bonds; 1999-2004 Barry Bonds (then Andruw Jones).

      I think it’s fair to say that Beltran faced lighter competition than some of these players. It’s also fair to say that all of them had equal or much better careers than Beltran. My point is merely that the list of players who were the top producing OFer for a 6-season stretch is rather prestigious. Beltran’s peak should not be sold short.

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  19. SenorGato says:

    Beltran is probably my favorite player of the 00′s. Ridiculously underrated…I probably would not put him in the real HOF, but he’s a prototype for me. Damn near the perfect player.

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