Carlos Beltran, David Ortiz, and the Hall of Fame

Over the weekend, the two most well regarded “clutch hitters” in baseball did their thing. Carlos Beltran won Game 1 of the NLCS with a 13th inning walk-off double, continuing his long trend of destroying the baseball in the postseason. On Sunday, David Ortiz hit a game tying grand slam in the 8th inning, capping a somewhat miraculous comeback when the Tigers seemed fully in control of the ALCS. Both players have been remarkably impressive postseason performers, and yesterday, Jeff wrote about their duel history of success in October.

Because of their recent and past playoff performances, it is easy to see Beltran and Ortiz in a similar light, and position them as two peas from the same pod. Joel Sherman does exactly that today in writing about the Hall of Fame worthiness of both players:

The Hall of Fame candidacies of Carlos Beltran and David Ortiz are going to tell us about the power of October.

We are going to learn if postseason genius can push a special player from the borderline of immortality all the way to enshrinement. From questionable to Cooperstown.

Does coming through when so many more are paying attention and so much more is at stake have a collateral akin to, say, winning MVPs or Cy Youngs?

I think Sherman is half right. Ortiz’s candidacy is absolutely going to be a litmus test for what kind of extra credit voters want to give to October performance when evaluating a player’s Hall of Fame case. And I think that’s a discussion worth having, because the postseason games are the most important of the season, and Ortiz has been fantastic for the Red Sox in those most important games. But equating Ortiz and Beltran’s candidacy, and tying them both to the value of postseason performance, does an enormous disservice to the fact that Beltran has had a far better career than Ortiz, and the two simply aren’t really comparable candidates.

Let’s just start with the most basic counting stats from the regular season, and put these two side by side.

Carlos Beltran 2063 8949 2228 1347 446 77 358 1346 1327 934 40 308 48
David Ortiz 1966 8249 2023 1054 520 18 431 1208 1429 1087 33 15 8

Because Beltran became an everyday player earlier in his career, he’s played 100 more games and hit 700 more times than Ortiz, so if you care about sustained performance over a longer time period, Beltran gets a slight edge, though 100 games shouldn’t be a large enough gap to say one player is in and the other is out in most cases. And a lot of their other numbers here are pretty similar, or at least, the differences from one category to the next seem to offset.

Beltran has 300 more singles, but Ortiz has 88 more extra base hits, and almost all of that difference comes from the extra 73 home runs he’s hit in his career. From a total bases perspective, 73 home runs (292 TB) and 300 singles (300 TB, naturally) are almost identical in value. In reality, the singles are more valuable, because reaching base 300 times will create more offense than hitting 73 dingers, but we’re still at the part of the article that deals in generalities, and with these kinds of numbers, we care more about the overall picture than extreme precision.

I’m not a big fan of using runs scored or runs batted in to evaluate a player, but the problems are less manifest over long careers than they are in single season evaluations. And, of course, the voters will look at these numbers, so I’ve included them here as well. And again, we see values that basically offset; Ortiz has 100 more RBI, but Beltran has 140 more runs scored. Ortiz has 150 more walks, but Beltran has 300 more stolen bases. Wherever one has an advantage, the other has their own. While they’re not identical, these lines are similar in total value.

There’s one key thing not included here, though it is somewhat implied by the fact that Ortiz put up similar numbers in fewer plate appearances; that missing thing is outs made. Beltran has made, in his career, 5,947 outs, while Ortiz has made 5,294 outs in his career. While Beltran has 700 more PAs, those have resulted in 650 more outs. This is one of the main things that is wrong with evaluating hitters solely by counting stats like HRs and RBIs, because outs are destructive to a team, and equal numbers in those categories can ignore that one player used a lot of outs to get to the same counting numbers.

So, even with similar-ish counting stats, Ortiz has been a significantly more valuable hitter. This isn’t any kind of revelation, since I think we all recognize that Ortiz is better at the plate than Beltran, but I think it’s useful to walk through why that is, when the raw counting stats might not make that obvious from the start. When we move towards the more complicated calculations, we can see this gap really start to show up, as Ortiz leads Beltran in Batting Runs by a 388 to 235 margin. This calculation takes into account all the positive numbers they’ve racked up at the plate, but also the fact that Beltran used 650 more outs to get there. So, advantage Ortiz. At the plate, at least.

But offense isn’t just about hitting. Even before we get to the run prevention side of a player’s value, we can’t ignore what a batter does when he reaches base. And just like Ortiz has a large advantage at the plate, Beltran has a huge advantage on the bases.

Beltran’s 308 stolen bases, while only being caught 48 times, translate into 37 runs of value for Beltran, according to our calculations. And base stealing isn’t the only way a player adds value on the bases. By advancing from first to third or scoring from second on a single, or scoring from first on a double, or taking an extra base on a pitch in the dirt, Beltran has racked up another 30 runs of value. Over the last 30 years, Carlos Beltran has been the 8th most valuable baserunner in the sport, adding 67 runs above what an average baserunner would have contributed.

During that same time period, David Ortiz has been the game’s second worst baserunner, being 58 runs worse than an average runner during his career; only Paul Konerko has been a less effective baserunner during this era. Ortiz gets on base a lot, but getting on base and getting stranded at third because you’re too slow to score on your teammates hits isn’t as useful as on base percentage would suggest.

So, Ortiz’s huge offensive lead at the plate — 153 runs — is almost completely obliterated when we include the runs that a player can create with his legs. When you combine batting runs and baserunning runs, Ortiz grades out as 330 runs above average, while Beltran comes out at 302. Using that same 1984-2013 time frame as before, that puts Ortiz 31st in offense, while Beltran ranks 38th. Ortiz is better, but it’s actually pretty close.

And then there’s defense. All those numbers above were completely agnostic about anything to do with defensive value. They weren’t relative to the position they played, and knew nothing about the fact that Ortiz was a DH while Beltran was primarily a center fielder. Once you adjust for the fact that Ortiz provided no defensive contributions — and by locking up the DH position, for a significant portion of his career, forced the Red Sox to stick Manny Ramirez in the outfield — while Beltran was a pretty good defender at an up the middle position, this fails to be any kind of real contest.

Our calculations have the defensive value gap between the two at 250 runs over their career. Defensive calculations aren’t as precise as offensive calculations, so maybe you believe that center field isn’t that hard to play or that DHs shouldn’t get that much of a penalty since it is a position that AL teams have to fill. If you fall in that kind of camp, maybe you want to cut these numbers in half, taking an extreme position that defense is wildly overrated and that we should only give marginal credit for a player’s ability to play the field. Even if you do that, Beltran still has a 125 run advantage, which cancels out Ortiz’s offensive lead and then still puts Beltran up by 100 runs. And that’s the extreme anti-defense position.

There’s just no way to argue that Ortiz has been as valuable as Beltran during his career. Even if you only focus on offense, Ortiz is only slightly ahead of Beltran, and when you factor in defense, it’s not even close. By WAR, Beltran has been the 24th most valuable position player in the sport in the last 30 years, coming in just ahead of Roberto Alomar, who got elected to Cooperstown a couple of years ago. David Ortiz, for reference, is 79th, essentially tied with Paul O’Neill and Mark Teixeira.

Both Ortiz and Beltran should get credit for their postseason performances in addition to these numbers, but there’s no way to spin these as two similar cases. Ortiz, without immense credit for his postseason performance, is not a Hall of Famer, and he doesn’t even really have much of a case. Beltran is a valid Hall of Fame candidate even before you factor in what he’s done in October. And Beltran has been better in postseason than Ortiz. Or anyone, really.

Carlos Beltran is, basically, the modern day Barry Larkin. Both had about 9,000 plate appearances. Beltran has a 122 wRC+, while Larkin finished at 118. They were both fantastic baserunners. They both played up the middle positions, and stuck around into their late-30s as big league regulars. Hall of Fame voters have already decided that this kind of player is worthy of induction into Cooperstown, even without giving Beltran credit for what he’s done in October. That is simply the cherry on top of a fantastic, Hall of Fame worthy career. It’s the thing that makes him a no-brainer. His postseason performance should be what gets him in on the first ballot, not what puts him over the hump to begin with.

Ortiz has been a terrific hitter for a decade, but his great player peak lasted roughly four years, and he’s been more good than great outside of those seasons. He’s been fantastic in October too, and I do believe that he should get substantial credit for playing well in over 300 postseason plate appearances, but that just pushes him up towards guys like Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker, who have been rejected by HOF voters.

Carlos Beltran and David Ortiz are both great October performers. Both should get credit for these postseason performances when it comes time to decide whether they belong in Cooperstown. But they’re not in the same boat, and they’re not really similar candidates in any way other than that both have been very good on the big stage. David Ortiz has played like a Hall of Famer in October; Carlos Beltran has played like a Hall of Famer in every month of the season.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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10 years ago

Isn’t the additional wrinkle here that Ortiz was linked to or semi-admitted to using PEDs?

10 years ago
Reply to  Robbie

His name got leaked on an anonymous list for reasons unknown.

10 years ago
Reply to  Brian

He admitted to no such thing and has NEVER been accused of using PED’s…don’t besmirch his good name on here…he’s a phenomenal hitter and has NEVER used PEDs ~.~

JB Knox
10 years ago
Reply to  jax

He was accused of using PED’s. The lawyers handling the case leaked that he failed a drug test during survey testing.

Ortiz admitted that yes the report was true and that he was surprised he failed the test because he claimed he never took PED’s but did say he used to purchase protein shakes from the DR that may have been the cause of the positive test although he was not sure.

His numbers drastically dropped once MLB went to a 2 tests per year system plus more for certain players.

Bo Knows
10 years ago
Reply to  Robbie

Ortiz didn’t admit anything, he said the standard BS response and it then faded into obscurity. If he gets into the HoF; the entire voting body needs to just resign their position, because they’d have shone themselves to be even bigger hypocrites than they already are.

10 years ago
Reply to  Bo Knows

That list has some problems though. Mainly, that there were fewer specimens taken than people on the list being accused of taking steroids. I’m not saying Ortiz never took P.E.D.s but the leaked results aren’t exactly damning evidence.

10 years ago
Reply to  Izzy

Not only that, but MLB and the MLBPA later stated that Ortiz’s name wasn’t actually on the list, because his test was inconclusive.

10 years ago
Reply to  Izzy

Leaked results being worthless doesn’t mean that BWAA voter won’t be idiots about it. Remember who you are talking about.