Following Carlos Beltran’s heroics Friday night–which continued his history of tremendous postseason results (save one forgettable at bat in the 2006 NLCS)–I witnessed the following discussion on Twitter between two high-profile writers regarding his Hall of Fame chances:
.@JeffPassan Beltran is better, as a Hall candidate, than every BBWAA HoF outfielder in the last 20 years save Rickey.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 12, 2013
@JeffPassan Beltran vs Winfield is close. Position and postseason, I give Beltran the edge.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 12, 2013
@joe_sheehan It is close. Ultimately, I think he makes it on account of being clean. Because beyond Junior, Vlad and Ichiro, not much else.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 12, 2013
Surfeit? Who uses that word? Perhaps the same guy who thinks of Dave Winfield as the second-best outfielder who’s played in the last 20 years.
EDIT: In comment #2 below, Hartvig points out that they’re talking about outfielders elected by the BBWAA, not all outfielders who’ve played in the last 20 years. Obviously, I completely spaced this detail.
But, I digress. Let’s take a look at that list of outfielders.
First things first, though. How are we defining last 20 years? Since Winfield was a major part of the discussion, and he retired after 1995, I’m going to assume we’re talking about any outfielders who’ve played at all in the last two decades.
The next assumption I’m going to make is this is one of those “…besides Barry Bonds (and other PED-implicated players)” discussions.
So, ignoring Bonds, as many delusional folks would like to do, it’s also obvious Sheehan overlooked Ken Griffey Jr. Clearly, Junior is easily the best outfielder who’s played the game in the last 20 years.*
After that, this debate is clearly up in the air, as Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez (if not for…well, you know), Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines, Kenny Lofton, Andre Dawson, Winfield and Beltran could all be considered #3 on the list.* Of course, Gwynn, Dawson and Winfield are Hall of Famers, but none of them are indisputably better than any of Walker, Raines, Lofton and Beltran.
*besides Barry Bonds
But, the point here is really to discuss Beltran’s Hall of Fame credentials. Comparing him to his peers is certainly relevant to that discussion, but he’s clearly not the second-best outfielder of the last 20 years, nor does he need to be to be Hall-worthy.
By advanced metrics, his 67.5 career WAR ranks behind only five Hall of Famers who played 50% or more of their career games in center field. [I’m pretty sure everyone reading this post can name all five in a matter of seconds.] If we don’t limit to Hall of Famers, Griffey and Lofton slide in ahead of him. Still, 8th best all-time at any position, let alone one as top-heavy as this one, is quite impressive.
Additionally, Beltran’s Hall Rating of 131 ranks 9th all-time among center fielders, with Billy Hamilton edging ahead of him, and Duke Snider rounding out the top 10 at 130.
What’s working against Beltran, of course, is his lack of any marquee counting numbers, and with only 2228 career hits, 358 home runs and 308 stolen bases, those who don’t realize only four players in history can top that combination are likely to look past him.
But, what I also think is happening with Beltran, and what I think is a fairly common phenomenon, is that he was written off as not quite Hall of Fame material too quickly, and people have a tough time moving beyond such preconceptions. His career looked to be tailing off in his early 30s when the Mets moved him to right field, then jettisoned him to San Francisco, and he’s been thought of as a role player since.
Role player or not, he’s still producing more than Raines and Lofton were at this age, and, of course, since he doesn’t turn 37 until early next year, his career is far from over. However, the additional 5 WAR Walker added after his age-36 season didn’t change the perception of his candidacy much, so short of some more postseason heroics, it’s hard to imagine Beltran will convert the unconverted in the next two or three years.
Whether you’re a fan of WAR or not, there’s really no disputing it’s been difficult for voters to wrap their heads around evaluating players who do a lot of things well but who don’t make an obvious contribution in one area. While it’s looking like there’s at least a pretty good chance Raines eventually gets in the Hall, the question that’s difficult to answer right now is will Beltran go the way of the one-and-done Lofton, will he linger on the ballot without much reason for optimism like Walker, or will he earn the relatively favorable treatment of Raines?
What do you think? What kind of Hall of Fame treatment is in store for Carlos Beltran?