Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Will Always Love Carlos Beltran, But...

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Newsday

Recently, Brian Joura at posted an interesting piece on whether Carlos Beltran would wear a Mets hat when elected to the Hall of Fame.  The thing that struck me the most about the title was the word "when".

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Carlos Beltran and was hoping the Mets would re-sign him to an incentive-laden short-term contract, but at the same time, I am a realist.  I knew the Mets would never bring him back.  So being the realist that I am, I'd also like to say that as things currently stand, I don't think Carlos Beltran will ever be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There have been many players who have boosted their Hall of Fame credentials after their 34th birthday.  One player who comes to mind is Paul Molitor.

At the end of the 1990 season, Paul Molitor was a 34-year-old with the Milwaukee Brewers.  At the time, he had enjoyed a good, but not great, career.  His career numbers (.299 batting average, 1,870 hits, 337 doubles, 66 triples, 131 HR, 626 RBI, 1,053 runs scored, 362 SB, three All-Star appearances and two Silver Slugger Awards) were those of a very good player, but no one expected him to be a Hall of Famer, especially with his injury history.  Molitor missed at least 44 games a year in three of the five seasons from age 30 to 34.

But beginning in 1991, the year he turned 35, Molitor enjoyed a baseball second wind.  Over his final eight seasons in the majors, Molitor hit .316.  After his 35th birthday, he had three seasons of 200 or more hits, scored 100 or more runs twice (missing a third time when he scored 99 runs in 1996 - the year he turned 40), drove in 100 or more runs twice (the only two times in his career he accomplished the feat) and hit at least 29 doubles in all eight seasons.  He also stole 142 bases after 1990, a rare feat for someone in the supposed twilight of his career and made four more All-Star teams to go with two additional Silver Slugger Awards.

What was once an okay career became a Hall of Fame one, as Molitor finished his career with a .305 lifetime batting average, 3,319 hits, 605 doubles, 114 triples, 234 HR, 1,307 RBI, 1,782 runs scored and 504 SB.  He also was a seven-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award recipient.

This brings us to Carlos Beltran.  Sure it's possible for Beltran to return to his 2006-2008 form with the Mets, but even doing that wouldn't get him anywhere near the numbers put up by Paul Molitor.  However, there is one player whose career numbers are very similar to Carlos Beltran's.  And no one is expecting this player to make the Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible in 2013.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the case of Steve Finley.

Steve Finley was a very good player who had a long career in the major leagues.  For 19 seasons, he was a dependable outfielder who won numerous Gold Glove Awards while not being a slouch at the plate.  Let's compare Carlos Beltran's career numbers with those of Steve Finley to see how similar they've been.

  • Carlos Beltran: 14 years, 1,917 hits, 390 doubles, 73 triples, 302 HR, 1,146 RBI, 1,184 runs scored, 293 SB, 831 BB, six-time All-Star, three Gold Gloves, two postseason appearances, no pennants, no World Series titles.
  • Steve Finley: 19 years, 2,548 hits, 449 doubles, 124 triples, 304 HR, 1,167 RBI, 1,443 runs scored, 320 SB, 844 BB, two-time All-Star, five Gold Gloves, seven postseason appearances, two pennants, one World Series title. 

They look pretty similar, don’t you think?  As of right now, Finley leads Beltran in most categories.  Beltran will more than likely surpass Finley in HR, RBI and walks this year.   He also might pass Finley in doubles in 2013.  But he might never pass him in base hits, triples and runs scored.  After stealing only four bases last year, it might take a few years for him to pass Finley in stolen bases, if he ever does at all.  It will also take him a minimum of four years to pass Finley in runs scored.

Now let's look at some sabermetric numbers, a category I don't use much here, but feel compelled to do in this comparison.  Carlos Beltran’s 60.8 WAR (53.6 oWAR, 7.2 dWAR) is better than Finley’s 40.5 WAR (42.5 oWAR, -2.0 dWAR), but Finley’s dWAR numbers took a dive in his final three years in the major leagues, as should be expected from a player once he turns 40. His dWAR over his final three years was -2.6, meaning he was above zero through age 39.

Carlos Beltran has had quite a career in the major leagues.  Unfortunately, he's been plagued by injuries for most of the past three seasons.  However, after having a bounceback campaign in 2011, he might be returning to his All-Star caliber self.  Still, that doesn't mean he's going to put up the type of numbers Paul Molitor put up after turning 35.

Beltran will turn 35 in April, just three weeks after the season begins.  He appears on track to have a career comparable to Steve Finley.  That's not a Hall of Fame career.  That's just a very good career.  And that's not such a bad thing.  As I said before, I'll always love Carlos Beltran, but he's not a Hall of Famer in my mind.  He has a lot of work to do if he's going to become one.


Joe D. said...

You are an incredible writer, Ed. You made a strong argument and I just finished replying to it on FB, but I just wanted to let you know what a well written post this was. LGM!

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

Aw, shucks. Thanks so much for the kind words. By the way, there is one difference between Steve Finley and Carlos Beltran. I think Beltran would've caught Todd Pratt's walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 1999 NLDS before it went over the wall, whereas Finely didn't. I'm glad Beltran was on the Royals in 1999 instead of the Diamondbacks or else things could have been very different!

Brian Joura said...

Thanks for linking to my article over at 360 and thank you for your comments over there.

The Hall of Fame voters think Jim Rice belongs in Cooperstown and Jeff Bagwell doesn't, so we can never say for sure what that body will do.

What we can say right now is that every eligible player who spent the majority of their career in CF who finished with a bWAR of 60 or above is in the Hall of Fame. Beltran went over 60 bWAR last year.

Of course, the waters are going to get complicated with all of the great players coming up for enshrinement in the next 3-5 years, along with how the voters will handle the steroids issue. It's going to be a brutal ballot the next few years and a lot of deserving candidates are going to fall off. This may or may not work itself out before Beltran becomes eligible for voting.

As for your comparisons:
Beltran v Finley -- this is a classic case of quality over quantity. Beltran leads in bWAR 61.0 to 40.5, which is quite a significant edge. Their raw numbers are equal, or favor Finley, due to the fact that Finley has 2,730 extra plate appearances, somewhere around 5 extra years of playing time. Finley played for a long time but was below average for many of those seasons. Remember 2005, Beltran's first season with the Mets when everyone thought he was a giant bust? Finley had 12 seasons worse than that. I give a lot of credit to Finley for playing in the majors to age 40. But in no serious way can I compare these two players and conclude that they are equal. Beltran has a higher peak than Finley, he has more years as a productive player and he has never played a full season and put up numbers like Finley did in 1990 or 1993 or 1995 or 1997 or 1998 or 2001 ...

Beltran v Molitor
I don't think you can compare a Gold Glove CF who steals bases at an 88 percent success rate to a DH. Molitor did not contribute anything defensively after the 1983 season, when he was 26. Molitor played until he was 41. There's simply different offensive standards for a DH than there is for a CF.

Here are the offensive stats for Wade Boggs and Edgar Martinez for their age 27-40 seasons:

Boggs – 8,614 PA, 1,213 R, 2,391 H, 100 HR, 812 RBIs, .326/.415/.444 131 OPS+
Edgar – 7,843 PA, 1,148 R, 2,053 H, 295 HR, 1,168 RBIs, .317/.426/.531 153 OPS+

Boggs was a first-ballot HOFer while Martinez only got 36.5 percent of the vote on his third year on the ballot and is in danger of falling off the ballot with the upcoming glut of strong candidates. Boggs was nowhere near as good defensively as Beltran and CF is a tougher position to play than 3B. Hall of Fame voters have decided that a DH needs to be better than Edgar Martinez to be a serious HOF candidate. That's how high they are placing the barrier to entry for a DH.

There are very few rules for HOF voting and all we can go by is precedent. Right now, Beltran has met the historical requirements of CF to make Cooperstown. And hopefully he adds to his case and leaves no doubt over the next few seasons.