I was doing my daily scouring of the leaderboards, and I was immediately struck by the fact that Adrian Beltre is still batting .340 on the year, despite coming into the season at .270 for his career. Now, I don't want to focus on his 2010 performance too much, he has a high line drive rate and a .376 BABIP, so his exploits this season are somewhat explainable from a guy with world-class athletic talent.
But what caught my eye even more than his 2010 numbers was the astonishing consistency with which he's put up quality numbers over the past decade. And frankly, it's got me begging the question, "Will this guy end up getting some serious Cooperstown recognition?"
Obviously, if you look at just his bat, he's certainly not a Hall of Famer. He's got a career batting line of .274/.327/.458, good for a slightly above average .338 wOBA. But here's a friendly reminder that Beltre hasn't just been good with the glove at third base in his career. He's been special. Since the creation of UZR in 2002, he's put up an average defensive mark of +15.5 per 150 games, with a total defensive mark of +135 since the beginning of the 1998 season.
Not to mention that Beltre should probably get some extra credit as the only player in the FanGraphs era (2002-present) to put up a double-digit season season WAR other than Barry Bonds, his monster 2004 was the last time that we've seen a player cross the 10.0 WAR threshold. For a second, actually, let's just reflect on that season, which landed him a five-year, $65M deal with the Mariners the following offseason. Coming off of a two-season span where he emerged as the game's premier defensive third baseman but showed a consistently below average bat, Beltre absolutely blew up. He put up a .334/.388/.629 line (.424 wOBA), as he saw significant improvement in his K/BB and his HR/FB. The increased power led to 48 homers, 32 doubles, 200 hits and 121 RBI, some pretty crazy counting numbers. Add in some elite defensive work (+24.4 UZR) and you have a 10.1 WAR season. And the best part it, maybe? At the time he was a 25-year-old entering free agency. This would be like if Evan Longoria hit free agency this offseason.
Alas, I think that people often focus on their disappointment with Beltre, though. He's been a pretty consistently high quality player, but his 2004 performance has just left everyone drooling, because it was a combination of hitting and defensive prowess that we've rarely seen before. But even though Beltre has had some serious trouble replicating his offensive magic (which you can somewhat blame on Safeco Field; he picked like pretty much the worst place for his bat to play when he signed with the M's), I think he's closing in on that point where we have to acknowledge that this might be a Hall-of-Fame career.
Put together everything that Beltre has done on the field, and FanGraphs has Beltre's value at +47.1 wins coming into today, which puts him at the same level as luminaries such as Fred Lynn and Bernie Williams. Certainly an impressive group, but most people would probably be in agreement that they aren't quite Hall-of-Famers.
The key here, though, is that Beltre is showing no signs of slowing down. As I noted before, he's killing the ball in Boston right now, and the glove has shown few signs of decline (+13 UZR/150). But most importantly, despite the fact that he's seemingly been around forever, Beltre is only 31-years-old. He's on pace for a 6.5-7.0 WAR season right now, which he probably won't maintain all season, but something around 5.0-5.5 wins seems pretty reasonable.
Add in a few more seasons at 3-4 WAR, which isn't reasonable considering he averaged about 4 WAR per year over the course of his 11-season career, and Beltre should be somewhere around 60 or so wins before everything is said and done. That's the range of guys like Bob Feller, Ryne Sandberg and Yogi Berra. Factor in that he has that signature monster season and he's endearing himself to a lot of Red Sox fans right now, and his case looks like it could end up being pretty strong.
You know what? I think that Adrian Beltre might be a Hall-of-Famer.