Fantasy baseball Stat Focus: Beltre's hitting improving with age

Thursday August 15th, 2013

With 25 homers so far this year, Adrian Beltre is on his way to a third-straight 30-home run season.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Here's a fun question: What do Norichika Aoki, Marco Scutaro, Andrelton Simmons, Martin Prado, Jeff Keppinger, Erick Aybar, Ian Kinsler, Yadier Molina, Nick Markakis, Ichiro Suzuki, Maicer Izturis and Adrian Beltre have in common? Through Tuesday, they're the only players in the league with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title who have a strikeout rate less than 10 percent. One of those names should look awfully conspicuous in that group. Beltre is the only player in the group with a slugging percentage north of .500, at .537 through 469 at-bats. Molina is next with a .479 SLG. No one else is higher than .411.

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On Tuesday, we looked at the underappreciated season of Mike Minor, a pitcher who isn't going to sniff the NL Cy Young, but deserves to be celebrated in his own right. Beltre's in a similar position. He won't be winning the AL MVP -- that's a ridiculously entertaining three-horse race between Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis and Mike Trout -- but he should come in fourth. That's just the kind of guy we want to honor as we wind down the 2013 season of the Advanced Stats Focus column.

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For the fourth-straight season, Beltre has been a darling for the sabermetric community. It's not just the sparkling K-rate combined with the eighth-highest slugging percentage in the majors; Beltre does everything on the field that we love to discuss in this column. His .370 OBP is "only" good enough for 23rd in the league. An OPS of .907 ranks him ninth. He has 25 homers, making his third-consecutive 30-homer campaign a near lock.

Despite turning 34 back in April, there's a chance Beltre is still getting better as a hitter. First of all, there hasn't been any dropoff in his obvious measurable stats over the last three seasons. In 2011, he hit .296/.331/.561. Last year, his slash was .321/.359/.561. He could top all of those in 2013, as he stands at .324/.370/.537. Those are some numbers even the old-school guys can applaud.

His OPS+, which adjusts for league and park and compares all players against each other, is 142. That means his OPS is 42 percent above league average, and would be his second-best mark behind his incredible 48-homer season with the Dodgers back in 2004. We've discussed wOBA a few times in this space during the season, and the song remains the same when look at this number. Beltre's .391 wOBA ranks ninth in the majors. It would also be the second best wOBA of his career, to that huge 2004 season.

His 86.3-percent contact rate is the best of his career, and he's swinging and missing 6.7 percent of the time. As you probably guessed, that's a career-low. A hitter's bat is supposed to slow down with age. If anything, Beltre's bat speed has increased. He's tied with Cabrera for the major-league lead in hits at 152. Basically, you could take every offensive measure, put them on a dartboard, close your eyes, and throw. No matter which one you hit, chances are Beltre's name would be mixed in among the leaders.

Beltre has been the best offensive player on a team that might end the season with the best record in the American League. Manny Machado may have supplanted him as the league's best defensive third baseman, but he can still flash the leather. Even as he moves into his mid-30s, he's making strides at the plate with his discipline, yet he still hits for significant power. Beltre isn't going to win the MVP, and that's fine, but he deserves his moment in the sun. Adrian Beltre, we salute you.

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