The 2014 Rangers season was flat-out brutal. Foreshadowing an injury plague of immense proportions, Jurickson Profar was lost before the season began. Then, their brand new first baseman (Prince Fielder), who was previously indestructible (missing just ten games from 2006-2013), fell to season ending surgery. Eventually, the Rangers would spend a record 2,116 days on the disabled list. As their season spun further and further out of control, things got worse as they lost their two-time AL Championship manager, Ron Washington. They limped to the finish line with a record of 67-95, a humiliating result for a team that had been to two consecutive World Series just two years prior.
2015 looked much more promising, but the Rangers were dealt early blows with the news that Profar (again) and Yu Darvish were lost for the season. Baseball is a game of constant adaption to a new reality. Whether that reality is the ever-increasing use of the shift, creating the next super bullpen, or something else entirely, teams must "adapt or die". Unfortunately for the Rangers, their new reality is that they are not a contender in 2015, and they must adapt accordingly. That means trading their All-Star, and potential Hall of Famer, Adrian Beltre.
Late last February, the Rangers announced that they had pre-emptively picked up the 2016 option on Adrian Beltre, which guarantees him $18 million. Jon Daniels said, "We would like Adrian to finish his career as a Ranger". While that would certainly be nice, it doesn’t help the franchise in any meaningful way. That sentiment fits an alternate reality where the Rangers are in playoff contention and Beltre leads the charge toward October baseball. With their contention window passed, it’s essential for the Rangers to adapt by planning for a different future; in the best interest of that future, Beltre must be traded now. He’s been worth at least 5.0 wins each of the past 5 seasons according to fWAR, but he’s entering his age 36 season and will likely begin to decline in a general sense in the near future.
For the most part, Beltre has been a pillar of stability since 2010. His wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR have all been remarkably consistent and at the upper echelon of all MLB (the number in parentheses represents his rank during that season).
|2010||641||6.2%||12.8%||.233||.331||.391 (12th)||140 (15th)||6.4 (8th)|
|2011||525||4.8%||10.1%||.265||.273||.381 (22nd)||135 (25th)||5.5 (17th)|
|2012||654||5.5%||12.5%||.240||.319||.388 (9th)||142 (10th)||6.5 (8th)|
|2013||690||7.2%||11.3%||.193||.322||.379 (19th)||135 (22nd)||5.0 (22nd)|
|2014||614||9.3%||12.1%||.168||.345||.380 (11th)||141 (14th)||5.7 (11th)|
Beltre has never ranked lower than 25th (since 2010) in MLB in terms of wOBA, wRC+, or fWAR, but a careful look at the listed metrics leads to a startling realization; his ISO is plummeting. In 2010, Beltre had a spectacular ISO of .233, and in 2011 somehow raised that performance by .032 points, making him the 4th most powerful slugger by ISO. But since that incredible peak, Beltre has experienced three consecutive years of ISO decline, finishing with a value of .168 in 2014, which ranked him 54th overall between Hunter Pence and Brett Gardner. Fangraphs considers an ISO of .170 to be the beginning mark of above average, meaning that Beltre was barely considered a power threat. Helping to validate that judgment is the fact that he hit just 19 home runs during the 2014 season, his lowest total since 2009, an injury-plagued season in which he played just 111 games.
Adverse changes in Beltre’s batted ball ratios are likely key factors driving his plummeting ISO. In 2014, his FB% fell by 11%, while his GB% increased by 10.73%.
Those trends are not good for anyone, let alone a former power hitting third baseman. Never before had Beltre experienced such drastic changes in both his GB% and FB% in a single season. Fangraphs tells us the following about batted ball ratios.
This makes perfect sense when looked at in conjunction with Beltre’s ISO. Ground balls lead to an anemic ISO of .020, while fly balls produce a robust value of .378. With Beltre hitting fewer fly balls and more groundballs, his ISO has decreased drastically, just as the Fangraphs' data suggests.
Contrasting his declining ISO values however is the fact that he's cut down on his infield popups while also raising his walk rate and LD%. Just two seasons ago, Beltre had an IFFB% of 10.4%, but in 2014 he cut that figure by 77.88% to come to a value of just 2.3% overall. Similarly impressive is that as his IFFB% cratered, Beltre increased his BB% by 66.09% since the 2012 season. Fangraphs considers a BB% of 8.0% to be average, meaning that since 2010, his walk rate had actually been fairly mediocre and bordering on poor in 2012. However in 2014 he produced his best BB% since his 2000 season when he still played with the Dodgers. While his LD% is just a tick over MLB average (21%), he's managed to raise that figure by 22.09% since 2011. If Beltre can sustain these changes, it may be enough to offset the decline in his ISO, but it remains to be seen whether or not he'll be able to.
While his power days are behind him, it’s foolish to argue against Beltre’s overall value. Power is just one aspect of his game, and while it’s certainly in a steep decline, he has much more to offer. Since 2010, Beltre has posted double-digit figures in RE24, finishing 20th overall in 2014.
RE24 helps measure how successful a player was in all situations based off the run expectancy of the 24 base-out states. League average is set to zero, meaning that any positive values are good, while negative values represent a hitter who generally does not succeed in situations where runs are expected. Beltre has been consistently above average since 2010, and in 2014 produced his best season since 2004 when his RE24 was 50.12.
Inarguably, Beltre is still a fantastic asset for any team to have, but it simply doesn’t make sense to keep that asset on a losing team. It’s true that the Rangers would clearly be in a worse position without Beltre, but that isn’t the point. The Rangers must adapt to the reality that as a losing team, keeping him in Texas is not in the best interest of their future. Every year we see All-Star caliber players traded, whether early in the season or at one of the two major deadlines, and 2015 will be no different. Teams that are out of contention or know that they simply can’t afford to retain their superstars must face those realities and adapt by flipping them to playoff bound teams in exchange for restocking their farm system. Fortunately for the Rangers, as the season begins, there are multiple teams eyeing the postseason that desperately need a valuable third baseman.
The 2014 offseason was memorable for various reasons, one of which was the bottom dwellers who made surprising additions to help raise their profile. The Padres, White Sox, and Marlins all made moves to bolster their rosters and put themselves in a position to compete. In 2014, both the Padres and Marlins finished with records of 77-85, while the White Sox were a few games worse at 73-89. Yet even with those moves, all three are without a true third base threat.
In San Diego, they’re expected to throw out some combination of Yangervis Solarte and Will Middlebrooks at 3rd; on the South Side of Chicago, Conor Gillaspie is currently slotted to fill that role; and in Miami, the honor goes to Martin Prado. Needless to say, Beltre is projected to finish with a higher fWAR than all the aforementioned third basemen and would provide an immediate boost to any of those teams.
Having an elite third baseman in Beltre is not going to change the Rangers’ present, but trading him could dramatically impact their future. Baseball America has them ranked as the 11th best farm system in MLB, a ranking which could be improved by bringing back impact prospects through a trade of Beltre. It’s imperative for Texas to get back as much as they possibly can from Beltre. With his rapidly declining ISO and age 36 season already here, time is of the essence. However, it remains to be seen if the Rangers can recognize the reality that they currently occupy and understand the changes that need to be made.
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Matt Goldman is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.