Can We Please Stop Undervaluing Adrian Beltre?

We’re encroaching on the start of a new season, which means an annual column on the worst baseball contracts of all-time has been published. Naturally names like Mike Hampton, Mo Vaughn, Darren Dreifort, and Chan Ho Park pop up, but in this Page 2 column, names like Alex Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre are listed, although not ranked amongst the “10 worst”. Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing has already blown the Alex Rodriguez mention to shreds with this post, but I’m still confused how Adrian Beltre deserves inclusion. Here’s what they say about him:

Adrian Beltre, 2005: 5 years, $64 million. Beltre hasn’t been a bad player with the Mariners, and while he’s been durable and provides a good glove, he’s also never posted an on-base percentage above .328 or driven in a hundred runs.

Beltre has been durable, and we’ll touch on the glove in a moment, but let’s focus on the offensive production. Belte’s career on-base percentage is .327 with a career walk rate of 7.3%. During his time in Seattle Beltre has posted OBPs and walk rates of: .303, .328, .319, .327, and 5.9%, 7%, 6%, and 8.3%. Average those out however you like and you’re essentially getting Beltre’s career totals.

That suggests the Mariners are getting what they paid for in terms of walks and on-base skills and while they aren’t great, Beltre was never going to replicate a .388 OBP without some balls-in-play luck. During that same time Beltre has slugged .413, .465, .482, and .457. That’s valuable. Of course, one should also point out Safeco Field’s conditions and dimensions depress right-handed power numbers, hurting Beltre’s raw offensive numbers. Using our park-adjusted batting runs metric, we see that Beltre has been worth about 17 runs offensively over his time in Seattle. That’s not too bad for a defensive virtuoso.

Defense is the part of Beltre’s game that people widely ignore or undervalue. Over the last four years Beltre has been worth an average of roughly 9 runs per season defensively. Add in those four runs of offense, a positional adjustment and 20 or so runs for replacement level and you have a 3.5-4 win player worth around 16 million on this market, but instead will only make 12 million next year. Ultimately, Beltre’s contract has paid him ~51 million to date and yet Beltre’s performances are valued at ~57 million, suggesting that Beltre has actually earned the Mariners a profit on a pretty good free agent deal.

Some may call Beltre’s contract a result of Bill Bavasi being Bill Bavasi and that’s simply untrue. Whether lucky or not, Bavasi signed Beltre to a very fair deal and ended up paying one of the league’s more underappreciated talents right what the market would dictate.

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Year #1 looks like the only significant overpay.
vr, Xei