With his beautiful three home run performance against Baltimore last night, Adrian Beltre reached an important milestone, but not one you'll typically see on the bottom of your TV screen.
The value he added Wednesday took the third baseman to 3.9 Wins Above Replacement at FanGraphs, giving him exactly 60 WAR over the course of his career. That makes him the 147th position player in Major League history to reach that level, surpassing Elmer Flick and Jake Beckley to move in to a tie with Vladimir Guerrero (Lance Berkman is next).
That's not just a pretty round number, it's also typically the rough territory where sabermetric circles -- who have increasing say in these sorts of things -- begin talking about a player as a marginal Hall of Famer. The shape of Beltre's career did not change much over night, so this is long past due, but it is about time we start talking about him as a potential member of the Cooperstown elite.
What's important about hitting that total is that Beltre is not someone on his last legs who has managed to stretch his career until he hit a magic number. He's a guy still in his early 30s putting together a third consecutive elite season. He's going to age, but he doesn't look done, either. As of 2011 he also finally has some all-important October highlights, and should hopefully have more coming (and hopefully a ring to go with it).
The traditional counting stats are getting there, too. Beltre sits currently at 2,175 hits, and without seeing a collapse, will probably be able to surpass 2,500 by the end of his contract. If he ages well and keeps up his pace from the past three seasons, he could even be a season or two away from the magic 3,000 hit milestone, and it would be shocking in that case to see him not stick around to get it. Regardless of whether or not he sticks around for 3,000, 2500 hits would place him sixth all time among third basemen.
He's also headed to a big home run total, sitting at 332 after the big outing. Better than a 15 home run a year pace for the remainder of this contract is probably good enough to get him past 400 home runs; not a Hall of Fame magic number, but still a pretty round number. Also a number that only four primarily third basemen (Schmidt, Jones, Mathews, Evans) have reached.
Those totals would have been better, too, if his prime hadn't been spent in a pair of parks that hate hitters. Especially noteworthy is that Safeco Field is the sixth worst current ballpark for right handed home run hitters, suppressing their totals by 6%, with Dodger Stadium right behind it (despite actually boosting left handers). A stat like WAR is park adjusted, but it uses a sweeping adjustment, which is fine for how those players produce for their teams, but in something like the Hall of Fame case of Adrian Beltre that's not very fair. As someone who does not walk much and derives a lot of his value from home runs, a guy like Beltre is more affected by Safeco than the average player would be. When we look at Adrian Beltre's career, we would be smart to assume higher totals in home runs and value produced had he not played in such unfortunate parks.
Oh, and the defense. That, too.
The rebuttal against Beltre is that he has these huge totals because of a lengthy career that started at a very young age. 2004 and 2010 are his only seasons that really look like the prime of a typical Hall of Famer, and outside of that has typically been anything from All-Star at best to simply above-average. A lot of that, again, is probably due to Safeco, though, and his late career is helping his case a bit. It would still be a valid argument to keep him out due to a lack of Hall of Fame-caliber seasons, but the point of all this is not that Beltre is a slam dunk, merely a strong candidate.
Yet, he is never talked about like that. I'm not sure I have ever heard Beltre's Hall of Fame candidacy discussed on television or the radio, or seen it on a major website. That could simply be because he hasn't retired yet, but it seems more likely it's because his home ballparks and the hidden skill of defense have resulted in him becoming underrated. Not to mention a lot of derision based on a huge contract year followed by a disappointing stretch in Seattle.
Still, he deserves to be talked about. Just because there is a good case for leaving him out does not mean he doesn't belong in the discussion. Fortunately, more and more writers with Hall of Fame votes are beginning to look at things like park effects and defensive value; the stuff that makes Beltre look worthy of a hard look. He has plenty of time to continue to work on that resume, and by the time he's on that ballot, even more writers will be educated in how to look at his career properly.
He may be in the discussion often enough now, but he should be, and down the road quite possibly will be.