Let’s get this out of the way early: Adrian Beltre is a magician with the glove at 3B. Looking all-time by the Fangraphs leaderboards by 3B, Beltre is 2nd all-time in defensive value to only Brooks Robinson. His absurdly great defense alone would give him an outside shot at the Hall of Fame even if he was a below average hitter. But Adrian Beltre is not a below average hitter. Adrian Beltre is an above average hitting 3B playing in his 20th season sitting just four hits shy of 3,000 hits for his career at 2,996.
3,000 Hit Club
Once Beltre gets the four hits he needs, he will become the 31st member of the 3,000 hit club. Based on current members of the 3,000 hit club, this will effectively punch Beltre’s ticket into the Hall of Fame. Of the 30 members currently with 3,000 or more hits, 25 are Hall of Famers. Below are the five members currently not enshrined:
- Pete Rose (4,256)
- Derek Jeter (3,465)
- Alex Rodriguez (3,115)
- Ichiro Suzuki (3,059)
- Rafael Palmiero (3,020)
As nearly all fans of the MLB already know, Pete Rose has been banned from the HOF. Derek Jeter is just counting down the days until he is eligible, and is a mortal lock to be a first ballot HOFer. Alex Rodriguez has a clear HOF resume but will have to overcome the shroud of P.E.D.s. Ichiro is still active and playing for the Marlins, but should likely be a HOFer the first year eligible. Rafael Palmiero is stuck in HOF purgatory with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGwire due to the steroids scandal of the 2000s.
Outside of two players in two of the biggest MLB scandals in the league’s history, two players not yet eligible, and a still active player, 3,000 hits will get you into the Hall of Fame every time.
Beltre and Other 3B
Outside of 3,000 hits, Beltre has been building quite the case for the Hall of Fame. Currently, he is at 83.1 fWAR, a win and a half behind HOFers Chipper Jones and George Brett. He has hit .286/.339/.481 in his career with 468 HR, 1623 RBI, and of course 2,996 hits. When comparing him to other qualified 3B, here is how Beltre ranks in many significant categories (*Some of the players on the leaderboard, such as Alex Rodriguez, Paul Molitor, and others have played other positions outside of 3B. However, the leaderboards take their stats from all positions played)
As the chart shows, Beltre ranks top 10 in hits, fWAR, Defensive Runs, HR, 2B, RBI, R, PA, and games played for qualified 3B. This is quite the accomplishment having racked up such impressive stats.
The Case For and Against Beltre
However, one of the things detractors may say about Beltre is that despite being so high in many of these categories, that they are counting stats and not rate stats. When going by batting average, Beltre’s .286 ranks 61st. With his .339 on base percentage, Beltre ranks 176th. By slugging percentage, Beltre is 25th with a .481 SLG. With his 116 wRC+, Beltre is 62nd.
In fact, when looking at the fWAR leaderboard, most 3B are in the top 30 based on their bat and not their glove. Beltre and Robinson are the only 3B in the top 13 with a wRC+ lower than 122. Beltre’s 116 wRC+ is tied 5th lowest in the top 30 with Ken Boyer. Like most positions in the MLB, 3B usually make the HOF with their bat rather than their glove.
But here is the thing: Value is value. Beltre may not have the offensive prowess of Miguel Cabrera, Harmon Killebrew, or Dick Allen, but overall he is worth far more in fWAR over these players. A big part of that, outside of his immaculate defense, is Beltre’s consistency in health. Aside from an injury-shortened 2009 season with 111 games played and 477 plate appearances, Beltre has never played less than 124 games or had less than 500 PA in a season since his rookie season.
The ability for Adrian Beltre to be able to play that much is an extremely valuable skill, and it is what separates him from other 3B who might be deemed similarly as great, such as Scott Rolen or David Wright. In an age where the longest consecutive games played streak of the last decade was somewhere in the 400s, the ability to play around 150 games a season with over 600 PA is a huge accomplishment, and to do it almost every year for two decades should be better appreciated.
People might also point out how Beltre has never won an MVP. This is the type of argument against someone like Jim Edmonds for the HOF, where they were a good to great player for a long time, and was near or at the top for their position, but was never a top of the league player. Outside of a second place finish behind yet another crazy season for Barry Bonds in 2004, and a distant third place finish behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout in 2012, Beltre has never finished better than 7th in MVP voting in any season.
Then again, the type of skills that Beltre has are often overlooked by awards voters. Adrian Beltre has been one of the more unappreciated players of this generation, and the race for that title may not even be close. He has never been the best player in the league, but since his debut in 1998, Beltre sits third in fWAR at 83.1 behind just Alex Rodriguez (100.1) and Albert Pujols (90). No one else in that time has more than 75 fWAR. Beltre is the type of player that is constantly one of the the better players in the league, just never the very best.
If you were to compare Beltre to Miguel Cabrera, you would see Cabrera with his two MVPs and five other top five MVP vote finishes, compared to just the two top five MVP vote finishes for himself. However, since Cabrera’s debut in 2003, Beltre has been worth 70.8 fWAR to Cabrera’s 68.5. The big difference here is that Cabrera has had all of his value come from his bat, while Beltre has had about half the value with the bat, but far, far more value with the glove. As far as the trends we see with MVP voters, they care much more about the former than the latter.
Despite Beltre getting such little love from MVP voters, this is not something that should be held against him when Beltre becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Not Done Yet
Even as Beltre plays his age 38 season, he does not appear close to finished. In 48 games this season, Beltre is hitting .307/.387/.545 and a 142 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR. Last season in 153 games, he hit .300/.358/.521 with a 130 wRC+ and 6.1 fWAR. Even at such an advanced age, his defense has been holding up seemingly as great as ever the last few seasons.
He is signed through 2018, but if he keeps on playing above average or better baseball, we could see Beltre play into his 40s and keep adding to his resume. It is unclear if he can keep up what he’s doing right now going into his 40s, but based on his age 31-38 seasons with Boston and then Texas, hitting .310/.360/.522 in that time, I will not be better against him.
Also, Beltre is one of the most awesome players in the MLB. He was just ejected earlier this week for being told to swing in the batters circle, and decided to do this:
Not only is Beltre about to get his 3,000 hit soon, and is one of the most underrated players of this generation, but is just a joy to watch play this game we love.