Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is Carlos Beltran a Hall-of-Famer?

First, let me salute Joe Torre for his election to the Hall of Fame, in his first year of eligibility.  He goes in with the other 2 great managers of the last 25 years, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox.

For all the flak he caught in the 2004, '05, '06 and '07 seasons, for letting Jeff Weaver pitch in the 2003 World Series, for giving Mariano Rivera too many 2-inning save opportunities in 2001, the man won the Yankees 6 Pennants and 4 World Championships. 

(LaRussa won 6 Pennants and 3 World Series; Cox, 5 Pennants but just 1 World Series.  It should also be noted that Torre got the Atlanta Braves their only postseason appearance between 1969 and 1991, LaRussa the Chicago White Sox their only postseason appearance between 1959 and 1993, and Cox the Toronto Blue Jays their first postseason appearance in franchise history.)

Torre won 17 postseason series. Compare that to the other great Yankee managers: Joe McCarthy 7, Casey Stengel 7, Joe Girardi 5 so far, Bob Lemon 4 (5 if you count the Bucky Dent Game as a "postseason round"), Miller Huggins 3, Billy Martin 3, Ralph Houk 2, Bucky Harris 1.

Yes, he had more opportunities because of the expanded Playoffs. Well, show me another New York Tri-State Area manager or head coach, in any sport, who can match or top that.  There's only one: Al Arbour won a whopping 29 with the Islanders.  Next-best is Red Holzman of the Knicks, with 11.

Here's the postseason winning percentages for all Yankee managers who got into the postseason:

Harris 1.000 (1-0)
McCarthy .875 (7-1)
Lemon .800 (4-1)
Stengel .700 (7-3)
Torre .680 (17-8)
Houk .667 (2-1)
Martin .667 (2-1)
Girardi .625 (5-3)
Huggins .500 (3-3)
Yogi Berra .000 (0-1)
Dick Howser .000 (0-1)
Buck Showalter .000 (0-1)

Looks pretty good now. Of course, Torre's percentage was .000 after the 2004 ALDS (0-4)... but before that, it was .809 (17-4). Through the 2001 ALCS, it was .933 (14-1). Pretty strong.

And now that he's in the Hall of Fame, they can give him a Plaque for Monument Park that truthfully says so, and retire his Number 6.

Torre wasn't quite Hall-level as a player.  But he is now the only member of the Hall who has at least 2,000 hits and 2,000 managerial wins.


Next, let me answer the question of whether the now-departed Robinson Cano is a Hall-of-Famer: No, not yet. He'll need at least more 5 HOF-quality seasons to make it. Will he get them in Seattle? I don't think so.

Now, on to Beltran:

Carlos Ivan Beltran was born on April 24, 1977 -- meaning he'll turn 37 shortly after Opening Day.  So, barring injury, he probably has between 3 and 5 more seasons in him.  He was born and raised in in Manati, Puerto Rico.

He made his major league debut on September 14, 1998, in a 16-6 Kansas City Royals win over the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium.  In the top of the 7th, he replaced Larry Sutton in the batting order, taking center field, as another future Yankee, Johnny Damon, moved from center to right.  In the bottom of the inning, Beltran had his first major league at-bat, and beat out a grounder to 3rd, scoring on a double by Dean Palmer.

He was named American League Rookie of the Year in 1999, and remained with the Royals until 2004, when the Houston Astros "rented" him, and he cemented his reputation as a big-game performer, helping them reach the National League Wild Card, and then batting .455 with 4 home runs and 9 RBIs against the Atlanta Braves, as the Astros won a postseason series for the first time in the club's 43-season history.  (In fact, it was the first time either Texas team had won a postseason series.)

He then signed with the Mets as a free agent, and played in Flushing from 2005 to 2011, being traded to the San Francisco Giants (another "rental," less successful).  He spent the 2012 and '13 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.  He's reached the postseason with the '04 Astros, the '06 Mets, and the '12 and '13 Cards, but only last season, with the Cards, has he appeared in a World Series -- and lost.

When he started with the Royals, he was given Number 36.  For most of his career, he's worn 15.  With the Cards, he wore 3.  Since 15 and 3 are both retired by the Yankees, he's going to have to wear a different number.

In 2009, he was part of an investigation into a steroid dealer, but no credible evidence has ever been publicly released that suggests he has ever used performance-enhancing drugs, so it looks like his numbers are clean.  As for those numbers:

Four times, he's batted at least .300; two other times, including this past season, he's just missed.  Despite playing most of his career in pitchers' parks, he's had 11 seasons of at least 20 homers, 4 with at least 30, and peaked at 41 with the '06 Mets -- tying Todd Hundley for the club record, which still stands.  In 8 seasons, he's had at least 100 RBI, again peaking in '06, with 116. 

His lifetime batting average is .283, his on-base percentage .359, his slugging percentage .496, his OPS .854, his OPS+ 122.

He has 2,228 hits, including 446 doubles, 77 triples, 358 home runs, 1,327 RBIs, 1,346 runs and 308 stolen bases.  Those 358 home runs are as many as Yogi Berra had in his career, and only 3 fewer than Joe DiMaggio.

Of the 238 major league players, to date, that have been born in Puerto Rico, only Carlos Delgado (473), Juan Gonzalez (a steroid-aided 434) and Orlando Cepeda (379) have more home runs than Beltran, and with a good 2014 season, he'll surpass Cepeda.  Only those 3 and the steroid-aided Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez have more RBIs, and with a good season, he could surpass all but Delgado.  Only Pudge, Delgado, Roberto Alomar and Bernie Williams have more doubles, and with a good season, Beltra should surpass all but Pudge, Alomar and Delgado.  Only Alomar, Roberto Clemente and Jose Cruz Sr. have more triples, and with a good season, Beltran could surpass all but Clemente (whose 166 triples will be all but impossible for any active player, regardless of place of origin, to catch).  Only the aforementioned have more hits, and with a good season, Beltran should surpass all but Clemente, Pudge and Alomar.  Only Alomar, Clemente, Bernie and Pudge have scored more runs, and with even a good season, Beltran should surpass all but Alomar.  Only Alomar and Cruz have more stolen bases, and with a good season, Beltran should surpass Cruz.

Beltran is the 8th player in major league history to reach 300 in both home runs and stolen bases.  The others are Bobby and Barry Bonds, Andre Dawson, Steve Finley, Willie Mays, Reggie Sanders, and his new teammate Alex Rodriguez.  Of players with more homers, only Barry, Dawson and Mays have more steals; of players with more steals, only Barry, Dawson and Mays have more homers.  He's also the first switch-hitter to accomplish the feat.  (In case you're wondering, Mickey Mantle certainly had enough speed to steal 300 bases, but the Yankees simply weren't a running team in his day, and he got only halfway there: 153 steals.)

He's never won a Most Valuable Player award, but has finished in the top 10 once in each League.  He's played in 8 All-Star Games.

He's durable, more or less: 7 times, he's appeared in at least 150 games, including all 162 in 2002 and 161 in 2008.  However, he's also had seasons seriously shortened by injury in 2000, '09 and '10.

And if you're looking for league leadership, that 162-games-played season is the only time he's ever led either League in any category.  He's never come close to leading in any of the Triple Crown categories: His closest is 5th in home runs in the NL, in both 2006 and 2012.

He's a good baserunner: Aside from his record postseason percentage, he has the highest stolen-base success rate since 2000.  He's a good fielder, having won 3 Gold Gloves.

As for being a "big-game player"? His postseason batting average is .333, on-base .445, slugging .683, OPS 1.128.  In 10 seasons, with 219 plate appearances, he's had 16 homers and 40 RBIs.  He hit 4 homers for Houston in the 2004 NLDS, and 4 more in the NLCS, for 8 in one postseason, tying a record.  He has stolen 11 bases without being caught even once, a postseason record.

But for millions of people, the defining moment of his career is leaving the bat on his shoulder to take a called 3rd strike from Adam Wainwright, with the tying and Pennant-winning runs on base, to give the Cardinals a 3-1 win in Game 7 of the 2006 NL Championship Series.  This was the last postseason game that was ever played at Shea Stadium, and, 7 years later, it remains the last postseason game the Mets have played.  True, he batted .296 with 3 homers and 4 RBIs for the Mets in that series.  So if he hadn't played that well, they probably don't get to a Game 7.

If you're looking for an ESPN-style "Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Carlos Beltran," his own performance, aside from that last at-bat, may be Reason Number 1.  So it was a lot like an episode of that series that ESPN did do, on Earnest Byner, whose running for the Cleveland Browns got them into position to win the 1987 AFC Championship Game, before his fumble gave the game to the Denver Broncos.  If Byner needed "redemption," he got it, scoring a touchdown to help the Washington Redskins win Super Bowl XXVI 4 years later.  It remains to be seen whether Beltran will get that kind of chance with the Yankees.  There is precedent in New York baseball: After going hitless in the 1952 World Series, Gil Hodges went on a tear in the 1955 World Series, and the Brooklyn Dodgers wouldn't have won it if he hadn't.

In spite of that strikeout, in 2012, when Met fans voted on their 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, they chose Carlos Beltran as their all-time center fielder, ahead of Tommie Agee, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra and Jay Payton.  If forgiveness for that strikeout was necessary, clearly, they've given it.  If he were to reach the Hall of Fame, it is possible that he would be the 2nd player, after Tom Seaver, to have a Mets cap on his plaque -- the 3rd, if Mike Piazza gets in before him.

On their Hall of Fame Monitor, on which a "Likely HOFer" is at 100, Baseball-Reference has him at 104, which means he makes it.  But on their Hall of Fame Standards, on which the "Average HOFer" is at 50, he's at 44, which means he falls a little short.  This latter category is more weighted toward career stats, hence the difference.

On their Most Similar Batters, which tends to measure players against those who have played the same or similar positions, his top 10, in order, are: Ellis Burks, Carlos Lee, Bernie Williams, Torii Hunter, Larry Walker, Duke Snider, Jim Edmonds, Jim Rice, Shawn Green and Scott Rolen.

Snider and Rice are in the Hall.  Edmonds should be, when he becomes eligible in January 2016.  A case can be made for Walker (who is now eligible) and Rolen (who isn't yet).  Hunter is still active, but if he gets in, it'll be because of his fielding, as his hitting falls short of Cooperstown quality.  The others shouldn't get in -- sorry, Bernie.

However, B-R also has "Similar Batters Through Age." The following players are most statistically similar to Beltran through the year during which they turned 36: Dave Winfield, Andre Dawson, Lee, Dwight Evans, Billy Williams, Bobby Abreu, Bernie, Dale Murphy, Rice and Luis Gonzalez.

Winfield, Dawson, Williams and Rice are in.  Evans should be.  A lot of people think Murphy should be (but I'm not one of them).  Gonzalez is tainted and should never get in.  As I said, Lee and Bernie fall short.  Abreu, still active, is a tough call: Despite 565 doubles and being an RBI machine from 2001 to '09, I'm sorry, but I don't think he makes it unless he can get to 3,000 hits -- about to turn 40, he's 563 hits short, so he won't make it.  Still, this makes it look a lot better for Beltran.

What about character? Does that help? As I said, Beltran has never been seriously accused of cheating.  As far as I can tell, he's a decent enough person.  He has spent $6 million of his baseball earnings to establish a baseball school in Puerto Rico, so he is looking out for the next generation.  This past October, he was granted the Roberto Clemente Award, MLB's award for character.

Conclusion: I don't think Carlos Beltran deserves to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, based on what he's done so far.  I think he's at least 2 solid seasons short.  Two more solid seasons -- by which point he'd be 38 1/2 years old, so it's hardly out of the question if he doesn't get hurt -- would give him about 2,500 hits, 400 home runs, 500 doubles, 1,500 RBIs, 350 stolen bases.  That would make things look a lot better.

Of course, what would also look better is a World Championship, something he hasn't won yet.  Something so many players have come to the Yankees to win.

We shall see.

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