With Albert Pujols on the sidelines, the best player in baseball right now is Carlos Beltran. Beltran is fourth in the league in Runs Created, behind Pujols and two designated hitters (Jim Thome and Travis Hafner). Add his excellent glove in center field, and you’ve got the best player currently playing.
Things didn’t go so well for the multimillionaire last year. He batted .266/.330/.414 for the entire year, compared to .300/.408/.643 so far this year. Plus, he’s already stolen 17 bases in 19 attempts, vs. 17 of 23 last year. Improved health has got to be a factor for the Mets’ center fielder, as well as adjusting to New York. Let’s see if we can spot any other details in his peformance graphs.
First of all, Beltran is striking out at a noticeably higher pace this year, higher than at any time in his career.
Strikeouts aren’t necessarily a bad thing, however, if they’re offset by higher walk rates and performance, and Beltran is doing quite well in both categories. His walk rate has spiked this year, and the following graph illustrates that 2005 appears to have been an aberration against a longer trend of increasing walk rates.
Most importantly, Beltran’s batted ball profile has changed dramatically this year. Last year, he hit more groundballs than flyballs, a pattern he had established in three of the previous four years. This year, however, he’s following the same pattern he had in 2004, batting most pitches far into the sky and forsaking groundballs and line drives. On the following graph, flyballs are blue, groundballs are green and line drives are red. I think the changing pattern is pretty clear, don’t you?
The bottom line is a marked increase in Beltran’s SLG. In fact, if he were to maintain his pace for the entire year (an unlikely event), it would establish a career high.
Carlos Beltran has become a different type of hitter this year: a swing-for-the fences power hitter with great plate discipline and speed. This is probably a permanent change in style for the 29-year-old—many players have undergone similar changes at this age. If he avoids injury for the next few years, Met fans will not regret that big contract after all.