Another year older and another year in which Adrian Beltre has simply refused to age. Hitters in their mid-30s aren’t supposed to perform so consistently well. They are supposed to decline. But Beltre has failed to receive the memo. As a result, he finished fourth in value among third basemen this year.
You want consistent? Check out his wOBA over the past four seasons, and remember, these all took place after the age of 30.
That’s pretty crazy. Beltre continues to make excellent contact, posting strikeout rates in the low double digits and a SwStk% no higher than 8.8% every season since 2010. He’s also coming off a season in which he hit the fewest pop-ups of his entire career — just four. He had never hit fewer than 15 previously. And his walk rate is even on a three year rise! There’s precious little that suggests Beltre is feeling the effects of aging.
Except for one thing. His ISO has been on a three season slide. But that’s not entirely fair to use as a sign of decline. His ISO started out on quite the perch, at .265 back in 2011. That’s elite level and almost no one could be expected to sustain such a level.
But this year, his ISO fell to just .168, his lowest mark since his disastrous 2009. His HR/FB rate also dropped to just around the league average and the third lowest mark of his career. His batted ball distance did fall by about five feet, but it remained above the league average and didn’t sound the alarm bells on its own.
Beltre also posted the second lowest fly ball rate of his career. Since 2010, his fly ball rate has generally been around 40%, but it fell to the mid-30% range this year. Is he having a bit more trouble lifting the ball, giving us an early sign of actual, real aging? It’s probable. But given his history, you have to assume at least a slight fly ball rate rebound. And he should be expected to hit for a similar HR/FB rate as well. Though I can’t imagine him reaching 30 homers again, the good contact, fly ball rate and slightly above league average HR/FB rate should all lead to a home run total in the 20-25 range. I don’t foresee another drop-off like he experienced this year.
But to earn the fourth most value among third basemen, Beltre required a career high .345 BABIP. That was probably deserved given his excellent batted ball profile, but is it really sustainable? Likely not. Since we know his power is in decline and now we think his batting average is going to fall, plus he still carries the same risk as any 35-year-old, it would be hard to recommend him at the price he is likely going to fetch on draft day.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.