After hitting 44 home runs in 2002 and 2003 combined, Adrian Beltre launched 48 home runs in 2004, putting together one of the great seasons any third baseman has ever had. Because his monster season seemingly “came out of nowhere” (despite the fact that he was considered an elite prospect and reached the majors as a teenager), and because he wasn’t able to sustain that kind of offensive performance in Seattle, that year is often referred to as one of the great flukes in baseball history. It is common to hear people point to it as evidence of the “contract year” phenomenon or suggest that he starting used steroids in order to get himself a big paycheck in free agency.
For those people, though, 2011 is becoming a bit of a problem, because Adrian Beltre is doing it again.
In 2004, 7.1% of Beltre’s plate appearances (including the postseason) resulted in a home run. In 2011, 6.4% of Beltre’s plate appearances have resulted in a home run, a rate just slightly less than what he put up in his “fluke” year. If you give him the same number of plate appearances as he had in 2004, he’d have 43.4 home runs this year, just 4.6 fewer than his breakout season.
It gets even better. Because of the offensive downturn of the last several years, home runs are no longer as common now as they were back then. Relative to the average hitter in the National League in 2004, Beltre’s HR/PA ratio was 151% above average – this year, it’s 145% above average.
It’s not really a fluke if you do it twice. It’s not really a contract year push when you do it immediately after signing a long term deal that doesn’t expire until 2016. It’s just evidence of what’s been true all along – Adrian Beltre is one of the best players in baseball.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.