Adrian Beltre made headlines for his on-field antics once again last night by getting ejected in the midst of a 22-10 blowout loss to the Miami Marlins.
The lightheartedness Beltre brings to the game of baseball is something we’ve all been accustomed to over the years. From his hatred of having his head touched to the cat and mouse game he plays with SS Elvis Andrus on infield pop-ups, Beltre has distinguished himself as one of the most entertaining stars in recent memory.
At the same time, however, Beltre has been the most underrated stars of this generation – and it’s not even close.
Somewhat overshadowed by his hilarious ejection, Beltre went 3-3 with a BB, 2 2B, and a HR and is now 7-10 in his last three games as he sits at 2,996 career hits, just four shy of the landmark 3,000. Beltre will become just the No. 31 player in MLB history with 3,000 hits and will be the only active player beside Ichiro with 3,000 hits.
In a generation of baseball that has been lacking stars, Beltre has been one but hasn’t been treated or appreciated like the likes of Ichiro, Albert Pujols, or Miguel Cabrera. Beltre has been to only four All-Star games (all after the age of 30) and has been top 5 in the MVP voting only twice, and never won the award. He has racked up some pretty nice hardware in his 19 seasons, collecting four Silver Sluggers and five Gold Glove awards at the 3B position.
Beltre’s career has been a model of consistency and durability that is hard to come by in today’s MLB. It’s a big reason why he currently ranks as the No. 7 best 3B of All-Time with a career 83.1 WAR and will likely be in the top 5 assuming he’s able to pass Hall of Famer George Brett and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones who amassed 84.6 Wins Above Replacement over their careers.
At the age of 38, Beltre started his 2017 campaign on the DL dealing with a calf injury and since his return he’s shown no signs of slowing down and is following up his 2016 season very nicely, in which he posted a .300/.358/.521 slash line to go along with 32 HR and 104 RBI.
What’s been remarkable about his production is, unlike recent aging stars, his production has remained consistently great in his 30s. In the past six seasons with the Texas Rangers, Beltre has been good for 33.7 WAR, an average of 5.6 per season. When considering 2 WAR is the standard for an average MLB player, Beltre has consistently been well above average in the years of his career in which his production should be experiencing a sharp decline.
Compare Beltre to Albert Pujols, the man many consider to be the best player of the mid 2000s, who in the past six seasons (age 31-36 years) has accrued 13.8 WAR, which translates to an average of 2.3 WAR per season. That 2.3 WAR means Pujols has been just above average recently, and it is not to take anything away from Pujols who put up incredible numbers through his 20s, but goes to show just how rare and incredible Beltre’s recent performance has been. Pujols still remains the active career WAR leader at 90.1 but there’s a chance Beltre could make up the 7 WAR difference that separates the top-two over the next few years.
His refusal to decline is a sign that he might be in line to become just the No. 6 MLB player to ever reach 500 HR and 3,000 hits, a group headlined by Hall of Fame greats Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. He currently has 454 HR in his career so it’s no guarantee he’ll reach the 500 mark, but to doubt him at this point would be a mistake.
Beltre’s most unnoticed aspect of his game is his defense. While offense is what makes headlines and wins MVP trophies, Beltre’s career defensive performance, in which he’s accounted for 227.3 defensive runs at 3B is just second All-Time to Brooks Robinson at the position.
He has consistently been one of the best defenders in the league and, this should come as no shock to you at this point in the article, has been incredible defensively even in his 30s. But because defense is so hard to value, a large portion of Beltre’s success has gone underappreciated and undervalued.
The craziest part of Beltre’s climb to 3,000 hits has been the lack of coverage in mainstream media.
Once again, as many people have complained and will continue to complain, the MLB has done a poor job of marketing their stars, but here’s to hoping we can all enjoy the final few years of Beltre’s career and celebrate his greatness as he reaches 3,000 hits and chases the next milestone of 500 HR.