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Beltre's bashing stirs Hall of Fame talk

Adrian Beltre has gotten several well-deserved ovations over the past week, during which he's hit .517 in his past seven games. (Getty Images)

Another night, another monster showing by Adrian Beltre. The slugging third baseman led the Rangers past the Rays on Monday, going 3-for-3 with four RBIs in a 6-5 win. Facing lefty David Price — a Cy Young candidate — he cracked a 426-foot solo homer in the second inning, his 25th of the season, doubled home two runs in the third inning, and singled home what proved to be the deciding run in the fifth. Not surprisingly, Rays pitcher Kyle Farnsworth walked him on four pitches when he came to bat with two outs and nobody on in the seventh inning.

Beltre has enjoyed several big nights in recent days. On August 22nd, he hit three homers in a regular season game for the first time in his career, adding five RBIs against the Orioles. The next night against the Twins, he went 3-for-5 with a double and a homer. The night after that, he hit for the cycle, also against the Twins. In doing so, he joined Joe DiMaggio (1948) as the only other player with a three-homer game and a cycle in the same week. All told, from August 21-217, Beltre went 15-for-29 with four doubles, a triple, six homers and 13 RBIs in seven games, for a .517/.533/1.345 line. In terms of video game numbers, that hot streak recalls teammate Josh Hamilton's May 7-13 span, in which he went 14-for-30 with two doubles, nine homers and 18 RBIs, for a .467/.529/1.433 line.

Thanks in part to Beltre's streak and his .330/.381/.630 overall line this month, the Rangers have rebounded from a 9-14 July to go 17-9 in August; in doing so, they've recovered the league's best record (76-52) and rebuilt their AL West lead to 5 1/2 games after it had dwindled to three as of July 31. With Mitch Moreland (.347/.386/.573), David Murphy (.363/.416/.516), Hamilton (.308/.354/.567) and Nelson Cruz (.281/.356/.562) all mashing alongside Beltre, the Rangers have scored a whopping 6.08 runs per game since the calendar turned. Their hitter-friendly environment in Arlington has something to do with that; in 13 home games this month, the Rangers have cranked out 7.38 runs pr game, with totals of 15, 12, 11, 10 and nine along the way.

Overall, Beltre's hitting .315/.351/.530 with 25 homers, a total that ranks second only to Miguel Cabrera among all third basemen. Adjusting for his favorable hitting environment, his .306 True Average ranks seventh among third basemen, but fourth among those qualified for the batting title, with Cabrera (.327) the only AL hot cornerman ahead of him (Evan Longoria's at .325 in just 171 plate appearances, less than half of the necessary total).

At 33 years old, Beltre is now in his 15th major league season, with climbing career totals that start to sketch out a space in Cooperstown. He has 2,185 hits and 335 home runs, making him one of just 10 third basemen to reach both the 2,000 hit and 300 homer plateaus, a list that includes four Hall of Famers, one player almost certainly headed there and a few others with good cases:

RkPlayerHHRFromToAgeGPA
1George Brett*31543171973199320-40270711625
2Chipper Jones27054671993201221-40247110506
3Eddie Mathews*23155121952196820-36239110100
4Gary Gaetti22803601981200022-4125079817
5Ron Santo*22543421960197420-3422439397
6Mike Schmidt*22345481972198922-39240410062
7Graig Nettles22253901967198822-43270010228
8Darrell Evans22234141969198922-42268710737
9Adrian Beltre21853351998201219-3320838567
10Scott Rolen20653141996201221-3720208452

* Hall of Famer

We can get a good sense of Beltre's progress towards Cooperstown using my Jaffe WARP Score (JAWS) system, which I created for purposes of Hall of Fame evaluations. The system that measures each player's career and peak (best seven seasons) against the averages of the Hall of Famers at each position using Wins Above Replacement Player. Beltre's 48.6 career WARP ranks 21st among third basemen, while his 33.7 peak WARP ranks 27th. The average of those two totals is his JAWS, 41.2, which again is 21st among third basemen, and shy of the standard among the 12 third basemen already enshrined (68.6 career WARP, 45.3 peak WARP, and 55.0 JAWS). So even with his climbing counting stats, those numbers suggest he still has significant work to do, both in terms of longevity (hardly a surprise for a 33-year-old) and peak performance. While he has eight seasons above 3.0 WARP and appears headed for a ninth despite an anomalously poor defensive rating (2.7 WARP with a −9 FRAA, when he's never been below −2 before), as well two above 7.5 WARP (7.9 in 2004, 7.6 in 2010), he has just two seasons with between 4.0 and 7.5 WARP, the kinds of All-Star caliber seasons Hall of Famers tend to crank out routinely. Jones and Rolen, by comparison, both have eight such seasons, with the latter even exceeding that once. Both are now above the Hall's third base standard (74.6/43.9/59.2 for the former, 68.1/42.5/55.3 for the latter) as they head into the twilights of their careers.

With three years remaining on his five-year, $80 million contract — not to mention a $16 million vesting option for an additional year — Beltre could easily cross the 2,500 hit and 400 homer plateaus by the time he's done in Texas, a combination matched only by Jones. Runs at the 3,000 hit and 500 homer plateaus — a combination attained by only Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray and Rafael Palmeiro — aren't out of the question if he maintains his health and productivity into his late 30s, though it's worth noting that he has managed just one 150-game season since 2006 due to a variety of ailments. Such totals are pretty remarkable considering that aside from his mother-of-all-walk-years 2004 performance with the Dodgers (.334/.388/.629 with 48 homers), he was widely viewed as something of a disappointment in Los Angeles, an impression that carried over into his time Seattle, where his .266/.317/.442 line looked light for a player on a five-year, $64 million contract.

Beltre has been on the upswing since spending the 2010 season in Boston on a one-year deal; it's tempting, given the Red Sox recent fate, to revisit the decision to let him depart, return Kevin Youkilis to third base, and trade for Adrian Gonzalez, but that's a story for another day. Despite spending the past three seasons in Fenway and Arlington, his numbers have clearly been suppressed to some degree by his ballparks over the course of his career:

SplitPAHRBAOBPSLGBABIPtOPS+
Home4137164.268.323.452.28094
Away4430171.289.337.491.306106

The tOPS+ column is his on-base plus slugging percentages from each split relative to his total OPS, with 100 being average. Basically, he's been 12 percent more productive on the road than at home, a number that owes plenty to his batting average on balls in play.

Those numbers make it clear that it's too early to start casting Beltre's bronze plaque. Even so, it's amazing to think that just a few years ago, considering him in a Hall of Fame context seemed completely unwarranted. But now that he's entrenched as a key lineup cog on a perennial contender, in a ballpark that helps him put up eye-catching numbers, Beltre will be at the center of many such conversations in the coming years.

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