When asked about his plan to improve the Red Sox earlier this winter, GM Theo Epstein emphasized a need to upgrade the defense, noting that his club was not very good in the field a year ago. He wasn’t kidding around, as yesterday, Boston signed Adrian Beltre to take over at third base, adding another premium defender to the earlier acquisition of Mike Cameron.
Beltre isn’t just a good defender. He is in the conversation of the best defensive third baseman of all time. Since 2002, the first year we have UZR data available here on the site, Beltre has put up a total of +104.5. That’s an average of +14 per 150 games over an eight year span. Forget complaints about small sample size or year to year variations – +14 UZR/150 over eight years is impossible to fluke.
It isn’t just the numbers, either. When you watch Beltre play third base, you are amazed at the things he can do. He has perfected the charge on a bunt – no one in baseball comes in on the ball as well as he does. His lateral range is hilarious at times, as he regularly fields balls that are hit directly at the shortstop, just because he can. He has a great arm, often throwing lasers across the field without transferring his weight, showing pure arm strength.
But don’t take my word for it – take the word of the fans who filled out Tom Tango’s scouting report project. Beltre grades out as the best third baseman in the game, rating a 4.56 out of a possible 5, and only five players in the game were graded out higher than Beltre. Or, you could take the word of Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon:
“[Beltre is] clearly the best [third baseman] I’ve ever seen in person,” said Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon. “I think [Evan Longoria] is good, I used to think Scott Brosius was really good. … [Eric] Chavez was good, but Beltre was stupid good. I think Beltre is the best who I’ve ever seen with my two eyes – defender, not just third baseman, but defense.”
Maddon isn’t the only one who feels that way. It is impossible to watch Beltre play third base and not be impressed. There isn’t a question over whether he’s a great defensive third baseman. The only argument you can have is where his glove ranks with the all-time greats.
The Red Sox just signed a great defensive player, but the value for them doesn’t end there. Offensively, Fenway Park should be a huge boon to his numbers, as Dave Allen showed how well Beltre’s game is suited towards a park that is friendly to right-handed pull hitters. He’s leaving the hardest park in baseball for a right-handed hitter and going to one that famously improves the performances of players with his offensive approach. Beltre has been a league average hitter while toiling in Safeco Field, and he has the chance to be much more than that in Boston.
This is simply a tremendous addition for the Red Sox. They got a +3 win player with upside, at age 30, on a one year deal for $10 million. They significantly upgraded over Mike Lowell, and put their defense back on track to being an asset, not a liability. Theo Epstein saw an opportunity to add undervalued assets and made huge improvements to the team by bringing in both Cameron and Beltre.
Boston fans, get ready to be spoiled. You’ll never see another third baseman play the hot corner as well as you’ll see it played in 2010.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.