I’ve spent a lot of time this season profiling some of the league’s young stars at the hot corner. Kris Bryant and Jake Lamb have each represented points of emphasis, while the likes of Manny Machado, Justin Turner, and others have all had their moment in the sun in this here column at one point or another throughout the 2016 season. But there’s one that I have failed to give his due, which is a shame because he’s doing exactly what he’s done for the better part of his (potentially) Hall of Fame career. There may not be a finer example of consistency than that of Texas Rangers third sacker Adrian Beltre.
One of the league’s longest tenured veterans, despite not being among the game’s oldest when the season began, I’ve come admire Beltre above many others over the past few seasons, and it really is for a variety of reasons. His stoic presence with which he graces the field each day is not unlike my own, whether in the classroom or manning the infield on my own slow-pitch softball team (of course, that’s really where the similarities between the two of us really begin and end). I’m also a sucker for great defense, especially on the left side of the infield. Perhaps above all, though, there is something to be said for consistency, and there may not be a more upstanding example of a steady presence in recent years than that of Adrian Beltre.
I should preface this by noting that of course there are going to be declines and discrepancies in certain aspects due to factors such as age, health, BABIP, etc. The variation is going to exist, no matter how often the word consistent is going to be tossed around. Nonetheless, that consistency comes in a number of different regards. And given that the natural reaction is to neglect those down years in Seattle, we’ll start with 2010 as the basis for labeling him as such a constant presence at the plate.
Since re-establishing himself with Boston in 2010, Beltre has been the model performer at the third base position:
If we were to take each specific category and slap it on a line graph, I’d venture to say that it’d be a pretty steady distribution as the disparity between figures exists, but isn’t terribly significant. His power has declined a bit as he’s aged, but he’s still extremely productive, as indicated by virtually everything else above. Obviously there are going to be some outliers over the course of seven seasons, something which is true of every player because baseball. That strikeout rate is especially impressive, though, just because of how little disparity actually exists over that time.
Raw numbers have a little bit more “give”, as far as their ability to fluctuate a little bit more and still allow us to declare a player consistent. Which is what makes the contact rate and contact type aspects of Beltre’s game so intriguing:
We’ve seen players whose ability to not only make contact, but solid contact, fluctuates significantly from year to year. Obviously there are players out there who make hard contact at a significantly higher rate than Beltre as the percentages stand right now, but look at the Hard% since 2011. That’s very little variation. Which is kind of the theme here with Adrian Beltre: very little variation.
Beltre has never been keen on taking a free pass. His walk rate this season has him set in the bottom half of qualifying third basemen. Last year, he ranked 12th at the position (6.6%) and in 2013 (7.2%) he ranked 14th (2014 serves as the outlier here as he walked at a clip over 9 percent). But that hasn’t been a detractor from his success, as he’s maintained the high contact rates and low swinging strike rates as illustrated above. That’s not to say he’s a free swinger, as his Swing% on pitches outside the strike zone is just 33.o% for his career. The approach is there, even if he hasn’t exactly demonstrated a penchant for walking.
The production and contact at the plate are certainly one result of that consistent approach. And as far as his pitch selection is concerned, that’s yet another element of his game where he’s been entirely steady. That’s yet another aspect of his game which has not deviated from what we’ve come to expect:
The lone exception there is the offspeed in 2014 and 2015, but everything else has remained pretty steady. Beltre has posted a mean swing percentage of 53.02 against the hard stuff, with a median of 52.58. Against breaking pitches, he’s gone for a 44.23 average and a 43.22 median, with a 43.91 average against offspeed and a median of 43.75. Each category lends itself to a pretty even distribution and really helps to drive home the point of Beltre’s consistency as it relates to a number of different aspects.
It’s almost difficult for us to appreciate production this consistent. At some point, it becomes the norm and, thus, less impressive to us. Rational or not, that just seems to be the way we, as fans or media types, tend to react to overwhelmingly stable production. Such is the case with Adrian Beltre. So while we’re obviously going to pay plenty of attention to the guys making all the noise, Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, etc., it’s important to take a step back once in a while and admire as reliable of production as we have seen this decade at the hot corner over these last seven or so years.