The most negative byproduct of the PED era in Major League Baseball is that it obscured some great careers. While there were many Herculean bashers who swatted home runs at epic rates and distances, there were many excellent players who put up elite level numbers in relative obscurity. Sure, we appreciated these players somewhat, but our full attention was really on those who bludgeoned baseballs.
That focus still has an impact on how we view the game today. When we compare numbers from that era, those who didn’t hit 50-plus home runs are viewed as good players, but not elite players. While we all wanted the game to re-calibrate as it has today, there is still that impression left on us. As much as we look at defensive metrics, on base percentage, and all of the other advancements in statistical analysis, we still have the notion of the elite player that really doesn’t exist. One of the players who is victim of this perception is Carlos Beltran, the 39 year old outfielder/designated hitter of the New York Yankees. The perception of Beltran is that he was a very good player, but he was never one of the elite. In all likelihood, Beltran will not be voted into the Hall of Fame. Yet, his statistics and all around game say otherwise. It’s unfortunate that Beltran played in the wrong era.
On Sunday, Carlos Beltran hit his 400th career home run. The number itself is big, but it is even more significant considering Beltran is a switch hitter. He joins Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray, and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones as the only switch hitters in Major League Baseball history to hit 400 home runs. Only Mickey Mantle can lay claim to the title of “Best Switch Hitter in Baseball”, but Carlos Beltran has a strong case as being the second best of all-time. That seems crazy considering Beltran has never won a Most Valuable Player Award nor has he ever finished in the top three in the voting.
Here’s even more rarefied air: Beltran is just the fifth player in Major League Baseball history to have 500 doubles, 400 home runs, and 300 stolen bases in his career. The four others, Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez, are either in the Hall of Fame or should be in the Hall (Bonds and Rodriguez likely won’t because of their connection to PED’s). And, consider Beltran’s career line of .280/.354/.490 with 1,468 runs scored, 521 doubles, 78 triples, 400 home runs, 1,461 RBI, and 311 stolen bases. Despite a reputation of being unreliable and injury prone, Beltran has averaged 135 games played per season with an OPS+ of 121.
That doesn’t even include his defensive work. While Yankees fans see a 19 year veteran lumbering around in right field, Beltran was one of the better defensive players of his generation. While his Defensive Runs Saved rates don’t go back to his rookie season of 1998, he was acclaimed as one of the better defensive center fielders in the sport. DRS data begins in 2002 and showed Beltran, at the ages of 25 through 31 as an elite defender. During those seven seasons, he posted a DRS of 45, which was the second best mark in the sport, trailing only Andruw Jones.
In terms of his career ranks, his 68.4 WAR value is 109th all-time. His .354 on base percentage is 33rd. The 510 doubles rank 53rd, while the home runs rank 54th. His 988 extra base hits rank 41st. His 86 percent stolen base success rate is 4th all-time.
Alright, enough with the numbers. You should get it. The numbers say that Carlos Beltran is one of the best all around players to ever step foot on a baseball field. His combination of power and speed, along with good on base skills, and defensive value is quite rare. That alone should get him into the Hall. It should’ve gotten him a couple of MVP awards. It should lead him to Cooperstown when he decides he no longer wants to play. In truth, Beltran could probably play a couple of more seasons as a designated hitter. While his body has betrayed his once former elite defensive abilities, he still has value as a hitter. Over the past two complete seasons, Beltran has averaged .254/.320/.439 with 28 doubles, 17 home runs, and 58 RBI. Those numbers are likely impacted by the fact that he still has to man the outfield for the Yankees. As a full time designated hitter, Beltran could still contribute.
Yet, there is a feeling that Beltran won’t be enshrined in Cooperstown. There’s that feeling of “good, not great” when many analysts talk about his career. Part of that has to do with the era he played in. His overall excellence is like that of Barry Bonds during his Pittsburgh days. It was overshadowed by the inflated numbers of others.
Beltran also suffers from not really laying roots in one particular place. He started in Kansas City and was there for seven years. He spent seven years with the Mets, two years with the Cardinals, and the last three with the Yankees. Add in brief stops due to mid year trades in Houston and San Francisco and you get a player who will never be a franchise icon in retirement. He isn’t a part of any magical team–other than Houston, but they fell short of the ultimate goal–and isn’t a player who dominates a franchise record book. Because of that, there won’t be a fan base campaigning for his enshrinement. That definitely hurts his case.
Regardless, Beltran’s 400th home run is symbolic in a couple of ways. It helped give the Yankees a lead. It also wasn’t all that celebrated. That’s more about us. 400 is no longer a big number to celebrate despite the fact that only 54 players have ever accomplished that feat. Considering he wasn’t just a home run hitter, 400 really is a big number. But, we don’t celebrate overall excellence. Shame on us.
Major League Baseball is more than just mammoth home runs. It is a game that is played with skill, grace, and discipline. Everyday players must contribute in the three phases of the game: hitting, defense, and base running. Carlos Beltran was elite at all three phases. Few players can lay claim to that. Hopefully, voters will do the right thing and recognize the all around, elite level career of Carlos Beltran.