Adrian Beltre’s “Fluke” 2004 Happens Again

When Adrian Beltre put up one of the best seasons in the history of baseball in 2004, it was labeled many things: an historic fluke, evidence of steroid usage, and/or the greatest example in history of a player trying to cash in on a big contract in his walk year. He went from hitting 23 home runs in 2003 to 48 in 2004, and posted a higher WAR in that one year than he had in the prior three seasons combined.

The narrative just got louder when he went to Seattle and regressed back to his prior levels in his first year under the new contract. It was called a fluke to end all flukes, or it was proof that Beltre just started juicing in order to land a huge paycheck, and then he stopped taking PEDs after he got rich off the deal. These are the conclusions people drew. These are the conclusions people still draw, 10 years later; Just do a twitter search for Chris Davis+steroids.

Well, maybe it’s time to reevaluate those conclusions, because Adrian Beltre has done it again.

Year AB PA H 1B 2B 3B HR BB SO
2004 598 657 200 120 32 0 48 53 87
Last 365 652 700 218 138 36 2 42 41 78

The first line is Beltre’s ’04 season, while the second line is what he has done over the last calendar year. These are just the raw numbers, the actual accounting of what he’s done. The last 365 includes 165 games played because the 2013 season started earlier, so it’s apples to slightly different sized apples, but you can rescale the 2013 line to the 2004 plate appearance markers and the results still come out very similar. Or, more easily, you can just look at his rate stats, and then compare those to the league averages of the time.

In 2004, Beltre hit .334/.388/.629, while an average National League position player hit .270/.341/.437. So, he was +64 points in batting average, +47 points in on base percentage, and +192 points in slugging percentage, relative to an average NL hitter that year. Over the last calendar year, Beltre has hit .334/.379/.589, while an average American League position player hit .255/.319/.407. That leaves him up +79 points in batting average, +60 points in on base percentage, and +182 points in slugging percentage. His raw numbers aren’t quite as impressive, but offense is way down since 2004, and when you put the adjusted numbers next to each other, things look very similar.

Of course, there are park effects in play too, and Texas is a much better plate to hit than Los Angeles. But that’s why we have wRC+, which adjusts for both park effects and the league averages of the time. In 2004, Beltre posted a 161 wRC+; over the last 365 days, he’s at 158. And remember, that’s in a larger sample size. Over the last year, Adrian Beltre has been as good of a hitter as he was in 2004.

There are a bunch of takeaways from this:

1. Adrian Beltre is really freaking good.
2. The obvious narrative isn’t true just because it’s obvious.
3. Assuming that every surprisingly great performance is due to PED usage is silly.
4. The Past Calendar Year split is a lot of fun.
5. Aging curves are averages, and not every player follows them precisely.

It’s long past time anyone stopped referring to Adrian Beltre’s 2004 season as a fluke. He’s proven that he can hit at a high level, and now he’s even shown that he can have that same kind of offensive performance again over a full year’s worth of playing time.

The things people said about Adrian Beltre 10 years ago simply weren’t true. There’s no evidence he’s ever used PEDs. The contract year phenomenon is a myth. He’s revered by his teammates as perhaps one of the most team-centric, hard working players in the game.

And 10 years after putting up one of the great seasons in Major League history, he’s showing that it wasn’t a fluke.

We hoped you liked reading Adrian Beltre’s “Fluke” 2004 Happens Again by Dave Cameron!

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chuckb
Guest
chuckb

I’m glad you addressed the roids idiocy. There’s no evidence of roid use by a lot of players but that doesn’t prevent internet soothsayers from stating how obvious it is that people like Beltre are on the juice.

Tim
Guest
Tim

I can understand why people are jaded, though. A few years ago, people would have called you crazy for suggesting Ryan Braun was on something. It’s a problem that MLB players will probably have to put up with forever.

not to sound like an athlete, but...
Guest
not to sound like an athlete, but...

well said, Tim.

Steve Holt
Guest
Steve Holt

I recall being shouted down a few times when Braun’s 2012 numbers were evidence that he was not juicing in 2011. And then Biogenesis.

Tim
Guest
Tim

That’s the thing. Braun didn’t look like your typical roided out freak. He looked athletic. It’s not like he had muscles on top of muscles like McGwire. I’ll give every player the benefit of the doubt until there is a positive test or solid evidence, but it’s still in the back of mind.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

Braun’s 2012 numbers were evidence of not juicing no more than his 2011 numbers were evidence of juicing. People using either season to definitively argue one way or the other are shallow.

Abnormally good numbers are not sufficient credible evidence to prove juicing, just as abnormally low numbers are not sufficient credible evidence to prove that someone is no longer juicing. It may be a piece of evidence but it takes a lot more than that to provide conclusive proof either way.

Tim
Guest
Tim

I do not think anyone is arguing that a stnadout season is proof of juicing. We are just stating that because of the history and track record, guys will be under more scrutiny when they have a outlier season.

When guys that look clean (i.e. not bulky)are putting up crazy numbers (i.e. arod, braun) it ruins it for everyone else.

To my knowledge, besides speculation, Brady Anderson was never linked to PEDs, but the guy hit 50 homeruns, a quarter of his career total (14 seasons, 10 pretty much full seasons) in one season. Fair or not, a lot of people are going to say, “hmm, 96, middle of the ‘steroid era’, 50 homeruns for a guy that only 2 other times topped 20, something stinks here.”

Yes, I know Brady Anderson is a pretty extreme example.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

I totally agree with that on all counts; it seems reasonable to be suspicious of outlier seasons. I don’t think it’s reasonable to give voice (and thereby some legitimacy) to those suspicions without some more credible evidence, however.

Cus
Guest
Cus

Google Ryan Braun Shirtless and look at his abs when he is douche-tastically celebrating a walk off homer. Muscle and leanness like that is some combo of PEDs even if not ‘roids’ per se.

I.P. Freely
Guest
I.P. Freely

Doesn’t Beltre have a medical exception that allows him to take a banned substance due to his lost testical?

Do normal aging curves still come into play when a player is given a medical waiver that allows him to essentially have the same testosterone count he had at age 27?

I would imagine that if he is indeed taking something to account for his injury, that the Dr’s have him at peak form and not simply that of a typical man his age.

Coincidence or not, his career has taken a turn for the better after his injury.

Ed
Guest
Ed

Or more likely, his career took a turn for the better after he left the spacious confines of Safeco Field.

Swfcdan
Guest
Swfcdan

Lost testicle? Dunno how you know that man, but hope you didn’t check yourself…

Llewdor
Guest
Llewdor

Beltre didn’t like to wear a cup, and he took a harder grounder in the groin in a game in Seattle.

He still chased down the ball and finished the play… with a ruptured testicle.

TomReagan
Guest
TomReagan

Darn right people will speculate, but the players have themselves to blame for that. It finally seems as though the players really are beginning to police themselves and genuinely want to rid baseball of PEDs, but until failing a drug test becomes an unpardonable sin and until those players become pariahs within the game fans will speculate.

The players could’ve agreed to Olympic style testing or even stricter, but they haven’t and they’ve also allowed the steroid culture to not only infect baseball but to become synonymous with baseball.

MLB players are reaping what they’ve sown when it comes to their reputation for cheating.

waynetolleson
Guest
waynetolleson

“There’s no evidence of roid use by a lot of players but that doesn’t prevent internet soothsayers from stating how obvious it is that people like Beltre are on the juice.”

Hmmm. Manny Ramirez tested positive for steroids three times. Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, David Ortiz, Luis Gonzalez, Matt Williams, Mark McGwire, Eric Gagne, Roger Clemens and Ivan Rodriguez were all juicers.

Twenty players just received huge bans for PED use.

And the period of PED use JUST SO HAPPENS to have coincided with a period where all of these records were broken.

Now, Dave Cameron defended ALL OF THESE PEOPLE for years. I mean, in 2005, if you said Bonds and Clemens were on steroids, and that’s why they were posting these ridiculous numbers into their forties, it was all the same BS that Cameron’s saying today about Beltre.

I think Beltre was a PED guy, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he has been back on the juice. Given the current climate, it’s a distinct possibility, no matter what self-important clowns like Dave Cameron think.