Friday, July 22, 2011

In The Sabermetric Spotlight: Adrian Beltre

Yesterday, @RedSox tweeted "Gonzo went 4-5 w/ a run in 4-0 win over the O's. This season, he has 4 games w/ 4 hits - most by a #RedSox 1B since Mo Vaughn in '96." I can feel the power of the Spotlight growing each week...

Boy, 2004 sure feels like a long time ago. In September of 2004, "My Goodies" by Ciara (feat. Petey Pablo) was the number one song on the Hot 100 Chart. Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 were tops in the box office. Hurricane Jean was pounding Florida. Adrian Beltre was having the season of a lifetime when he managed to hit .334 with 48 HR and 121 RBI. He's come a long way. Had his ups and downs. And changed teams three times. This week, we shine The Sabermetric Spotlight on...

Adrian Beltre, 3B Texas Rangers

After finishing 3rd on ESPN's Player Rater for thirdbaseman in 2010, Beltre was poised to have another big year, moving to another hitters park in Arlington. Currently, in ESPN standard leagues, Beltre ranks 2nd among fantasy thirdbaseman, only behind the other-worldly Jose Bautista. Let's take a look at his current line.

Comparing these numbers to last year in Boston, the average is down a little, but there is a huge power boost and run production is also up. Beltre is having a fantastic year no matter which way you look at it. In fact, Beltre is on pace for career highs in R and RBI, with the second highest career number in HR (second only to the fantastic 2004 season). Isn't this the same guy that hit only 8 HR over 111 games in the 2009 (albiet injury-riddled) season?

Where is all this production coming from? If you simply look at his counting stats, everything but average looks like an improvement over his stellar 2010 campaign, and a significant upgrade over the dismal 2009 season.

Any fantasy owner would be thrilled with these numbers. Even the batting average wont hurt you. Considering that you didn't expect any speed out of Beltre, you would most likely consider this a draft-day success. But hang on a second. Several of Beltre's peripherals look fishy, and contradict the solid season he's been having.


First of all, why was 2009 such a bad season for Beltre? Injuries aside, his numbers were much lower than expected, across the board (save his SB total). His BABIP wasn't terrible (in fact, better than his career average), so it's not like he was unlucky, he genuinely had a bad year. Perhaps injuries played a more significant role than we originally thought. Beltre's K% was significantly higher than is has been the last two years, but at that point in his career it was right on line with his career average. His ISO was significantly down, but that alone couldn't account for his lack of production?

What sticks out to me about 2009 was his unusually high O-Contact% (percent contact made on pitches outside the zone) and SwStr%, meaning he swung and missed at a lot of pitches. His FB% was slightly down, and his HR/FB rate was at a career low. He obviously wasn't getting the pitches he wanted, and was rolling easy grounders to infielders it seems. I think this is a season that Beltre and his fantasy owners in 2009 want to forget.

Back to the present. Take a look at the BABIP numbers in the table. 80 points below last season, and more than 40 points below is career average, not to mention he's in what is considered a very hitter friendly ball park. Beltre's LD% is right on line with his career numbers, so he's making good contact at the plate. His GB% is a little lower than previous years, but nothing too out of the ordinary. It's clear that Beltre is having awful luck this year when it comes to putting the ball in play. In fact, of all qualifying Rangers, Beltre has the second lowest BABIP, only behind Ian Kinsler.

So your telling me, ballpark factors aside, Beltre was luckier in 2009 (his worst season) than he is in 2011? Your telling me that Beltre, despite being on pace for some career highs, could improve? Bingo.

Beltre's ISO is nearly exacty where it was last year, and higher than his career average. Where are all these HRs coming from? His HR/FB rate is nearly the same as last year, so it's not like he's found a new power stroke. The FB% for 2011 (so far) does stick out, however. It's higher than years past, and higher than his career average. How much of this is attributed to his approach at the plate in Texas, is hard to say, but the fact remains the same. Beltre is hitting more HRs because he's hitting more fly balls.

This thought could also explain why his batting average is down slightly, and his BABIP is lower than usual. When you are hitting more fly balls, you are bound to record more outs. The longer the ball is in the air, the more likely it is that you'll be headed back to the bench. You live by the long ball; you die by the long ball (doesn't really apply here, but I just thought it sounded good).

Another number that caught my eye was Beltre's career low K%. Perhaps he is seeing the ball better, or is getting better at adjusting to pitchers in his early 30s. Beltre's Contact% is at a career high, and his SwStr% is at a career low. He's not missing many pitches, and going deep into counts. This gives him the opportunity to look for the pitch he's waiting for and drive it somewhere.

I think Beltre, even after the stellar first half, could have an even better second half. Will he hit 40 HR? Probably not. I think 35 HR is something you could reasonably expect from him. I believe he will post career highs in Runs and RBI, eclipsing 100 in both, and I also think his batting average will come up. If I had a chance to trade for him, I would definitely pull the trigger.

Do you have a comment about the article? Do you have a suggestion for the next player featured In The Sabermetric Spotlight? Hit me up on twitter @SillyLittleGame or leave a comment below!

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