Beltré and Brooksie
A lengthy musing about Adrian Beltre and a certain legendary third sacker….
Given Beltre’s strong hitting since 2010 (combined 137 OPS+) plus two more Gold Gloves, the Hall of Fame speculation is no longer idle stathead talk. He’s already #11 on B-R’s career WAR list among third basemen, and could move up to #7 as soon as this year. (WAR values herein are from Baseball-Reference unless noted.) Even by conventional measures, his counting stats — among 3Bs, he’s already 13th in hits, 9th in total bases, 7th in extra-base hits — plus his 4 Gold Gloves puts him within sight of HOF range, before his 34th birthday.
Which HOF-caliber third baseman’s career most resembles Beltre’s? It has to be Brooks Robinson.
And not just because a famous Oriole said so. Check out these leader boards:
WAR Defensive Runs (Rfield) by 3Bs through age 33:
(Fangraphs has Robinson 204, Bell 187, Beltre 164, Nettles and C.Boyer 158, through age 33. Career leaders, Robinson 294, Bell 176, Beltre 163.)
Games Played at 3B through age 33:
Now for a look at the hitting side:
OPS+ and its components
Through age 33, their OPS+ are similar — 112 Beltre, 109 Robinson — and they’re built in similar ways. Here are their slash rates compared to league rates (park-adjusted, pitchers excluded):
- Beltre …….. BA .280 vs. .264, 106% / OBP .331 vs. .333, 99% / SLG .476 vs. .422, 113%
- Robinson … BA .274 vs. .253, 108% / OBP .326 vs. .324, 101% / SLG .422 vs. .387, 109%
Both are virtually average in reaching base, and derive their positive OPS+ from slugging.
Various seasonal groupings of their WAR are very close:
- Age 24-33 combined: Beltre 52.0, Robinson 50.4
– per 162 games: Robinson 5.3, Beltre 5.2
- 3 best seasons: Beltre 23.4, Robinson 23.0
- 5 best seasons: Robinson 34.6, Beltre 34.3
- 7 best seasons: tied at 43.0
- Best 7-year run: Robinson 39.9, Beltre 36.5 (but that span does not include Beltre’s best year)
Their WAR through age 31 was very close — 48.8 to 48.1 for Beltre, but Brooks ahead per 162 games (4.9 to 4.7). Beltre had better years at 32-33, giving him an edge of 61.1-55.3 through age 33. But Robinson had a big year at 34 — 5.8 WAR (6th among AL hitters), 4th in MVP vote. If we gave Robinson that extra year in the comparison — which would give Brooks the same edge in G and PA that Beltre enjoys in the comparison through 33 — they’d come out exactly even at 61.1 WAR, and both would have 11 seasons of 3+ WAR.
(Through age 33, Fangraphs has Robinson well ahead, 73.0 to 62.8. Few players are seen more differently by the two WAR methods than Robinson: FG gives him 94.6 career WAR, while B-R gives him 72.7 WAR. It doesn’t much affect his rank on the career lists; FG has him 4th among all 3Bs, while B-R has him 6th (applying a “50% of games” standard to define who’s a 3B). Beltre looks much the same by either method: B-R says 61.1 WAR and 11th all-time, FG says 62.8 WAR and 16th (same standard).)
Will Beltre be able keep pace with Robinson? Brooks was unusually productive from 34-37, adding 16.7 WAR (4.2 per year). Just four other 3Bs ever amassed 15 WAR in that age range: Mike Schmidt (23.0), Chipper Jones (20.0), Pete Rose (17.3) and Jackie Robinson (16.9). (Rose and Jackie were not career 3Bs.)
Starting at age 33, the number of N-WAR seasons by all 3Bs:
- 5-WAR: 10, 5, 3, 2 at 36. (1 at 37, none older.)
- 3-WAR: 36, 21, 16, 8 at 36.
Aging notes for all the 50-WAR third basemen (ranked by total WAR after age 33):
- Chipper Jones (27.3 WAR after 33) stayed huge through 36 and lasted through 40 without ever falling under 2.1 WAR in a season.
- Mike Schmidt (24.2) stayed huge through age 37.
- Darrell Evans (20.3) averaged 3.1 WAR from 34-40, but moved to 1B at 36.
- Wade Boggs (19.8) from 24-33 averaged an MVP-caliber 6.8 WAR; he remained productive from 34- 38, but with a high of 4.3 WAR.
- Brooks Robinson (17.4) from 27-37 never fell below 3.1 WAR.
- George Brett (16.4) remained a fine hitter through 37, but he moved to 1B at 34.
- Graig Nettles (13.3) remained a regular 3B through age 41, but his last year over 3 WAR came at 33.
- Jimmy Collins (12.7) averaged 4.6 WAR for 34-35, then totaled 3.5 in his last three years.
- Stan Hack (11.8) was big at 35 against wartime competition, but in two more years against the big boys he totaled 4.0 WAR.
- Scott Rolen (10.6, still active) last reached 4 WAR at 31, averaged 2.6 from 32-37.
- Ron Cey (8.3) after 34 never reached 2 WAR, though he was OK through 38.
- Ken Boyer (5.8) was MVP at 33, never topped 2.4 WAR in six more years.
- Robin Ventura (5.1) had 3.4 WAR at 34, but added just 1.7 WAR in two more years.
- Sal Bando (5.0) notched 5.3 WAR at 34 but then gave some back in his last two years.
- Eddie Mathews (4.3) was still big at 33, had one more solid year but done at 36.
- Buddy Bell (4.0) at 32 had 5.8 WAR, completing a 6-year run at that level, but his last 5 years averaged less than 1 WAR.
- Home Run Baker (3.1) had 3.8 WAR at 33, not much in two more years.
- Ron Santo (-1.8) retired after 34.
And note these 3Bs who had 40+ WAR through 33 but didn’t get to 50:
- Toby Harrah (6.2) had big years at 33 (6.3 WAR) and 36 (4.0), but was done at 37.
- Matt Williams (5.0) at 33 had 3.8 WAR (and 142 RBI), totaled 1.2 in four more years.
- Bob Elliott (4.2) had 3.1 WAR at 34, totaled 1.1 in three more years.
- Heinie Groh (2.9) had 3.2 WAR at 34, barely played in three more years.
- John McGraw (0) last played regularly at 28 (a fantastic half season) and retired at 33.
Not a career 3B:
- Paul Molitor (24.3 WAR after 33, 72.5 career) moved from 3B at 33 and had several big years as a DH.
- Pete Rose (17.7 WAR after 33, 76.7 career) played 3B only from 34-37, averaging 4.3 WAR with the last of his 3-WAR seasons.
- Harmon Killebrew (16.4 after 33, 55.8 career) was a regular 3B only at age 23, 30, and 33-34, and played his last games there at 35; last reached 3 WAR at 34.
- Joe Torre (1.7 after 33, 54.2 career) was a regular 3B only at 30-31 and 34; MVP at 30 was his last big year.
Since Beltre’s glove is still earning raves, he’ll likely be able to stay at 3B for some time to come, which would help his WAR production. An example of how moving off 3B hurts WAR: Brett’s 148 OPS+ in ’79 was worth 6.9 oWAR as a 3B, but a virtual match in ’88 (149 OPS+ playing just as much) earned 5.0 oWAR as a 1B.
Let’s close out this long post with a couple more tables of third basemen since 1893:
WAR by 3Bs through age 33:
|8||Home Run Baker||56.4||1908||1919||22-33||1412||6036|
WAR Batting Runs (Rbat) by 3Bs through age 33:
(Note that this table has been shortened by deleting ranks 15-27 and 31-47.)
|8||Home Run Baker||257||1908||1919||22-33||1412||6036|
Ratio of Offensive to Defensive WAR (Career)
For all HOF 3Bs plus all others with 50+ WAR (ordered from lowest to highest ratio):
- Robinson, 1.1
- Beltre, 1.9
- Bell, 1.9
- Ventura, 2.2
- Collins, 2.3
- Nettles, 2.3
- Rolen, 2.4
- Schmidt, 4.9
- K.Boyer, 5.0
- Baker, 5.8
- Boggs, 6.1
- Bando, 6.7
- Santo, 7.3
- Cey, 7.8
- A-Rod, 9.2 (still needs 111 G at 3B to become a career 3B)
- Lindstrom, 9.6
- Mathews, 16.5
- Traynor, 18.9
- Kell, 20.1
- D.White, 28.0
- Hack, 36.3
- Brett, 67.0
- Chipper, negative dWAR
- Evans, negative dWAR
Only time will tell whether Beltre continues tracking the Hall’s greatest defensive third baseman. His reputation will never catch up to the legend’s, but he’s making inroads.
Subscribe to: RSS feed