Consistency meter: Adrian Beltre

I am not going to pretend this time that you do not who the article is about because, well, it says so in the title. Adrian Beltre gets talked of solely in terms of his contract and not much is discussed about his future.

Beltre has been extremely consistent the past three years:

+------+-----+----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM     | AB  | BA    | HR | RBI |  R  | SB |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+
| 2004 |  24 |  Dodgers | 657 | 0.334 | 48 | 121 | 104 |  7 |
| 2005 |  25 | Mariners | 650 | 0.255 | 19 |  87 | 69  |  3 |
| 2006 |  26 | Mariners | 620 | 0.268 | 25 |  89 | 88  | 11 |
| 2007 |  27 | Mariners | 595 | 0.276 | 26 |  99 | 87  | 14 |
| 2008 |  28 | Mariners | 556 | 0.266 | 25 |  77 | 74  |  8 |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+

Before those three years, we see the downer season Beltre had in his first year of the new contract that spurned much criticism of the Mariners front office and a lot of “I told ya so.” And we see the career year Beltre experienced in 2004 that led to that five-year, $64 million contract.

So now that we know what Beltre is capable of, let’s look at what we can expect of him in 2009, the final year of his contract.

Power ability

If you’re new to THT Fantasy Focus and are unfamiliar with True Home Runs (tHR) or any of the other stats I’m using, check out our quick reference guide. These stats provide a much clearer picture of a player’s talent, so it’s well worth taking a couple of minutes to learn them.

+------+-----+----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM     | AB  | HR | tHR | HR_FB | tHR_FB | nHR_FB | RAW | OF_FB_ |
+------+-----+----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| 2006 |  26 | Mariners | 620 | 25 |  14 |    14 |      8 |      8 | 3.3 |     36 |
| 2007 |  27 | Mariners | 595 | 26 |  24 |    15 |     13 |     16 | 3.9 |     36 |
| 2008 |  28 | Mariners | 556 | 25 |   7 |    15 |      5 |      8 | 0.0 |     34 |
+------+-----+----------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+

image
Unlike last time Beltre was negotiating a contract, do not expect him to be coming off a career year. (Icon/SMI)

Anything catch your eye? I hope you answered yes, because that is a tremendous drop in True Home Runs (tHR)! Before we place the toe tag on Beltre, though, let’s examine why his tHR figure dropped so much in 2008, and why he still was able to hit 25 homers. To do that, we first have to understand how the True Home Runs system works.

True Home Runs likes players who hit the ball far. I would not consider it a bad thing; players who can hit the ball really far can also hit home runs for shorter distances even when they do not make optimal contact. Meanwhile, a player who cannot hit the ball as far must make perfect contact to hit a home run; if something is a little bit off, the ball will fall short of the fence as an out.

So tHR does a good job of taking into account how far a ball is hit, but does not attempt to determine how often a player reaches his maximum fly ball distance (if that is even possible to determine). Perhaps there is a player who has the ability to only squeak the ball over the wall, but does a great job of reaching his max distance often. True Home Runs would most likely underrate that player.

What I am saying is that while Beltre did see his average home run distance fall by 13 feet, which is concerning, there are ways for him to overcome his loss in power ability and still blast 25 home runs. Obviously Beltre has the potential to do that because that is exactly what he did in 2008!

Beltre’s home run total in 2009 is going to be tough to predict so we will revisit the home run issue after looking at his contact skills.

Contact ability

+------+-----+----------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM     | AB  | CT% | JUDGMENT X | A/P  | BAT CONTROL | BAD BALL |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| 2006 |  26 | Mariners | 620 |  81 |         89 | 0.52 |          87 |       58 |
| 2007 |  27 | Mariners | 595 |  83 |         85 | 0.57 |          85 |       63 |
| 2008 |  28 | Mariners | 556 |  84 |        101 | 0.49 |          88 |       68 |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+

From the chart, we see Beltre showed tremendous improvement in his plate discipline in 2008. In past years, he had poor judgment of pitches (Judgment X) and in 2008 he bumped that up to league average. Beltre is also league average at handling pitches inside the strike zone (Bat Control) and has become above average with pitches outside the zone (Bad Ball).

This improvement in his discipline—if sustained—figures to have a positive impact on his batting average in 2009. Speaking of which:

+------+-----+----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM     | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| 2006 |  26 | Mariners | 620 | 0.268 | 0.258 |  81 | 0.296 |  0.306 |  21 |     20 |      36 |
| 2007 |  27 | Mariners | 595 | 0.276 | 0.273 |  83 | 0.297 |  0.298 |  17 |     19 |      20 |
| 2008 |  28 | Mariners | 556 | 0.266 | 0.239 |  84 | 0.279 |  0.288 |  22 |     19 |      78 |
+------+-----+----------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+

Before you begin to place that toe tag on Beltre again, know that True Batting Average takes into account his expected power output, or in other words his tHR totals. So, if Beltre hit only seven home runs in 2008 (as tHR expected), he would have posted a 0.239 average. If we take out the home run factor, Beltre’s tBA would be 0.271.

Everything seems to be hinging on what I decide Beltre’s home run total to be, so I am going to refrain from throwing an expected average out there until I make that decision.

Concluding thoughts

One thing I can say for certain is that Beltre’s power skills have worsened while his contact skills have increased. I do not believe Beltre will hit 25 home runs next year; I am not sure he will hit even 20—15 is what I would expect. By what means he was able to sustain his power totals in 2008 is a mystery. I believe is was more luck than anything else and his diminished power ability will show in 2009. I am not predicting the complete collapse tHR does because I believe partially in the optimal contact theory I mentioned before, but I do not think Beltre will continue to “beat the system.”

If Beltre’s power totals were to have remained the same, I would have expected a slight rise in his batting average because of his improved plate discipline and slightly unlucky BABIP. However, because of the predicted home run drop, his batting average figures to take a hit, although not as bad a hit as tBA expects because we are expecting a less dramatic drop in home run totals. Somewhere around .255 seems about right.

Expect Beltre’s runs and RBI totals to decline in 2009 too, as a result of the home run and batting average drops. Overall, I would expect his 2009 season line to look like this: .258 average, 15 home runs, 70 RBI, 65 runs, and five steals. Like Aramis Ramirez, it is a good thing we checked up on this “consistent producer.”

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Comments

  1. Mike Podhorzer said...

    Derek, have you done a complete study on how well tHR predicts the following year’s HR output? I know in your introductory article you gave some examples on how it predicted some players correctly, but not sure you studied everyone.

  2. Derek Carty said...

    Nice article, Paul.  Just to chime in on the tHR issue, I agree that Beltre should bounce back some simply as a matter of regression and the need to look at more than one year’s worth of data.

    Beltre did get a little lucky, it seems, though, in terms of the weather.  Under average weather conditions for Safeco Park, Beltre would have hit just one ball over the wall with the roof up (of the “Just Enough” variety) and one ball over the wall with the roof down (of the “Plenty” variety).

    Since these denominations deal with the precise point at which the ball crosses the fence, though, Beltre could have gotten a bit “unlucky” in terms of where that point was.  Although as Paul noted, he wasn’t hitting the ball as far either, so it wasn’t all bad luck.

  3. Zach Sanders said...

    Strange that you think Beltre’s numbers will drop in ‘09.

    Bill James projections have him hitting 27 HR, 92 RBI and 82 R. All these are improvements over last season.

    But, Marcel has him dropping to 21 HR, 75 RBI and 71 R.

    I think I agree with Paul and Marcel. As a Seattle area resident, watching Beltre play everyday shows no signs of him getting better, only worse. His swing looks worse every game, as he tries to do too much and hit a homer on every play.

    I say 20 HR and 70 RBI this year, as the M’s offense won’t give him a lot to work with.

    -Zach Sanders
    http://www.mlbnotebook.com

  4. Paul Singman said...

    Mike and Rich, you guys could be right, I forgot about his surgeries completely.

    If his thumb was hampering his power ability, then perhaps something more along the line of 20 home runs can be expected as Zach said. That would then increase his batting average close to what it was last year, around .265.

    I am still a little tentative about Beltre and he probably will get taken in drafts sooner than when I will want to take him anyway.

  5. Paul Singman said...

    Forgot to respond to this: “Maybe his discipline improved because it hurt to swing?”

    I can see why you would say that Mike, and it is true that Beltre did swing at less pitches in 2008 and he also was more passive in his mistakes than in recent years (according to A/P).

    But, Beltre did see more pitches outside of the strike zone so that can partially explain why he swung at less. Also, he was not just swinging at less pitches, he was swinging at good ones more often in 2008. I don’t believe a thumb injury can explain that, and that is really what I was referring to when I said his discipline at the plate improved.

  6. Richard Fish said...

    Beltre had surgery on his thumb and shoulder in the off-season, while playing through injuries last year.  Maybe that’s why his power was down?

  7. Top2124 said...

    No mention of Beltre’s extreme unlucky BABIP compared with his line drive rate?  Beltre was one of the top performers at 3b last year, and still is undervalued because he seems like a let-down after hitting 48 homers.  I do agree his fantasy value isn’t as high as some others, but I don’t see him getting any worse at the plate, and in terms of the whole player most of his value comes from him being one of the top third basemen defensively.

  8. Paul Singman said...

    Top, I think it has been confirmed that BABIP is affected by many factors other than line drive rate and a more accurate xBABIP number can be produced when incorporating them. If you have not figured out, I’m referring to the Bendix and Dutton work, and even though their xBABIP for Beltre is not that far off from the LD + .120 model, the difference between his actual and expected BABIP in 2008 was .016, which is far from “extreme”. If you will notice, I did not project his batting average to fall far anyway.

    Perhaps Beltre is a terrific fielder, I cannot say I know, but even if he is, that provides almost nothing for me purely as a fantasy player. Projecting total win shares is not be goal in these articles.

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