Looking to re-establish his value following an injury-marred 2009 season, Adrian Beltre signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Boston Red Sox over the winter. By virtue of fantastic third base defense, Beltre still managed 2.4 WAR in his last season with the Mariners while battling a left shoulder injury requiring surgery to remove bone spurs, among other misfortunes that won’t be spoken of here.
As Beltre’s Seattle tenure came to a close, some characterized the five-year, $64 million pact that the M’s gave the third baseman prior to the 2005 season as a waste of team resources. Beltre, according to the narrative, went bonkers during his last season with the Dodgers, landed stacks-o-cash in free agency and then returned to mediocrity. Unfortunately, the facts get in the way of good copy.
Beltre played six full seasons for the Dodgers. He put up an astonishing 10.1 WAR in 2004, but he was an asset those other years, too. From 1999-2003, Beltre averaged 3.3 WAR per season. And, while uttering Bill Bavasi’s name in Seattle still might produce dirty looks and suggestions of physically impossible acts, Beltre was worth every penny the Mariners gave him.
Safeco Field is a crippling environment for right-handed power hitters. Adjusting for league and park factors, Beltre’s bat was slightly above-average — his wRC+ as a Mariner was 102. That decent lumber was coupled with upper-echelon defense, as Beltre posted UZR/150 marks of +8.8, +19.2, -2.7, +13.4 and +21.2. The former Dodger racked up a combined 16.7 WAR with Seattle, a performance that our Dollars system valued at $67.3 million.
In Boston, Beltre is enjoying his best season since that double-digit WAR total back in ’04. After a four-for-four night against the Rays, he’s batting .349/.387/.561 in 310 trips to the plate, with a .410 wOBA that ranks ninth among qualified major league hitters. He’s flashing the leather again, too, with +12.9 UZR/150. Beltre has already compiled 3.8 WAR this season, trailing only Justin Morneau, Robinson Cano and Carl Crawford among position players. With $15.1 million in Value Dollars, he has already more than justified Boston’s investment.
Beltre won’t keep up this pace at the plate, of course — his batting average on balls in play is .387. By contrast, his expected BABIP is .321, and his rest-of-season ZiPS projects a .327 BABIP. But he’s creaming the ball, with a .211 Isolated Power, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Beltre moved from a park that decreased run-scoring by six percent over the past three seasons (according to the Bill James Handbook) to Fenway and its inviting Green Monster, which boosted runs by 11 percent over that same period. ZiPS has a .362 rest-of-season wOBA for Beltre, and an overall .387 wOBA for 2010.
Beltre’s deal with the Red Sox included a $5 million player option for the 2011 season, which increases to $10 million if he reaches 640 PA this season. Barring some unforeseen injury, the 31-year-old Scott Boras client will opt out and land himself a lucrative multi-year deal this coming winter, whether that be with Boston or elsewhere.
Adrian Beltre is in the midst of a sublime season that’ll almost certainly go down as his best since that monstrous ’04 campaign. But it’s not as though he has been a bust in between those high marks — this guy has always been good.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.