Make way for Adrian Beltre in the record books. In Friday night's game against the Indians, the Rangers' third baseman hit his 400th career home run, becoming the fourth active player to reach that plateau. The solo shot, which came off veteran lefthander Bruce Chen, makes Beltre the 52nd player in history to collect at least 400 career round-trippers and adds another bullet point to his already strong Hall of Fame resume.
With one out, none on and the game tied 2–2 in the first inning, Beltre worked his way into a 3–0 count, then walloped an 82-mph “fastball” from Chen to straightaway centerfield. The ball cleared the fence with ease, leading to a mad scramble by fans in the grassy area in center to grab it and a standing ovation from the crowd, which Beltre acknowledged with a curtain call. It also earned him a deluge of head pats and rubs from his teammates, led by Elvis Andrus, who gave him a bear hug for good measure. (Beltre, if you didn't know, isn't especially fond of players trying to touch his head, particularly Andrus.)
As noted above, Beltre is the fourth active player to become a member of the 400-homer club, joining Alex Rodriguez (663), Albert Pujols (525) and David Ortiz (470). That group will likely have a fifth member very soon: Miguel Cabrera currently has 399 career homers after hitting a two-run blast against the Cardinals on Friday night. As for the all-time record books, Beltre now sits just seven homers behind longtime Dodgers centerfielder Duke Snider for 51st.
The home run is also Beltre's 122nd as a member of the Rangers, though first place on that list (Juan Gonzalez with 372) is well out of reach. Beltre is the third player to hit his 400th homer with Texas, joining Rafael Palmeiro (Sept. 23, 2000 against the Angels) and Gonzalez (June 5, 2002, also against the Angels), and he's also only the fourth player ever to reach 400 homers while playing at least 75% of his career games at third base, joining Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews and Chipper Jones.
The homer was Beltre's fifth of the season—he went back to back with Prince Fielder—and part of a 2-for-4 night overall, though the Rangers lost 8–3. It also continues what's been a recent hot streak for the third baseman, who was hitting just .243/.281/.396 coming into the night but now has nine hits in his last 25 at-bats, including three homers. Beltre has been slumping all season, however: He hit a mere .205 and homered only twice in the month of April, and while May has been better (.295/.302/.475 in 63 plate appearances before Friday), he hasn't shown much of his trademark power yet. Indeed, Beltre's home-run-to-fly-ball ratio is just 7.7%, his lowest mark since 2009 in Seattle, and his line-drive rate is a career low 15.2%. Defensively, he remains one of the game's premier third basemen, but his slump on offense has limited him to 0.6 Wins Above Replacement on the season.
What's been eating at Beltre? His swing rates are more or less unchanged from last year and his career as a whole, but in looking at the numbers, it seems he isn't squaring up fastballs like he has in the past. On the year, Beltre is hitting .167 with a .227 slugging percentage and .061 isolated power on four-seam fastballs, a startling dip from 2014 (.374/.513/.139) and his career (.308/.526/.218). That's left him vulnerable to breaking pitches, particularly sliders, against which Beltre has hit just .214 this season.
Whatever the reason for Beltre's slump, hopefully for him and the Rangers his 400th homer will help end it. Regardless, the homer should at least give the 36-year-old slugger's Hall of Fame chances another boost, even if the numbers are already well on his side.
With Friday night's game in the books, Beltre now has 400 career homers and 2,641 career hits. Only 21 other players in major league history have compiled at least 400 homers and 2,600 hits, and 15 are in the Hall of Fame. The other six are Palmeiro, A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones. Griffey and Jones are locks for enshrinement when their turns on the ballot come up (the former for the 2016 class, the latter for '18). Palmeiro fell off the ballot in '14 after four years due to his connections to performance enhancing drugs, a fate that very well may await Rodriguez, Bonds and Sheffield as well. Beltre, however, has never been connected to steroids in any capacity, leaving him free of any potential off-field obstacles.
Moreover, by the advanced measurements, Beltre seems like a lock for Cooperstown. By Jay Jaffe's JAWS metric, Beltre is the sixth-best third baseman of all time, trailing only Schmidt, Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett, and Jones. Every member of the top nine by JAWS aside from Jones and Beltre is a Hall of Famer, and Beltre easily clears the average WAR, WAR7 (their seven-year peak WAR) and JAWS for the 13 Hall of Fame third basemen.
|3B HOF average||67.4||42.7||55.0|
And while Beltre doesn't have a Most Valuable Player award or World Series title to his name, he will go down as one of the best defensive third basemen of his generation, by the traditional standards (he's a four-time Gold Glove winner) and the advanced metrics (he's posted a positive Defensive Runs Saved figure every year since 2002 except for '13). That glovework will only enhance his strong Hall of Fame credentials.
Even better for Beltre is that he still has time to add to those numbers. Beltre is signed through 2016 by Texas, as the Rangers exercised his option for that season in February. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system currently has him projected to hit 14 more home runs this season and another 17 next year, which would give him 431 for his career. Assuming he can hang on for another few years as an above-average regular, and PECOTA has him projected as such through 2020, 500 homers could be in reach. The same is true of 3,000 hits: Beltre is currently on pace for 166 hits this year, which would leave him 230 shy of the hallowed mark by season's end. Two more years of solid production would easily get him there.
No matter where Beltre's career goes from here, though, 400 is a milestone few have reached, which is a testament to Beltre's durability and excellence, as well as to his ability to resurrect his career following his lost years in Seattle. It's just one more impressive step for the venerable third baseman on his road to a deserved plaque in Cooperstown.