ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian, with perfect timing, raised the question as Adrian Beltre dug in against David Price to lead off the bottom off the second inning: "It's time to start thinking of Beltre in a Hall of Fame terms ..." BOOM! Beltre turned on a 1-1 inside fastball, lining it over the left-field fence for his 25th home run.
In the third inning, Price threw a 1-2 cut fastball on the outside corner. Nothing wrong with the pitch, maybe a little up in the zone from where Price wanted. Beltre lined it into the right-center gap for a two-run double.
In the fifth, Beltre came up with runners on the corners. For the third straight time, Price got ahead in the count. He threw an 0-1 97-mph heater off the inside corner of the plate. Beltre fought it off and dumped a little flair down the left-field line for an RBI single, giving the Rangers a 6-5 lead and knocking Price from the game.
"I didn't feel like I was throwing the ball any different than I was during the stretch where I've been successful," Price said. "It's Texas, they're a good-hitting team, and they're feeling it right now."
In the seventh inning, the Rays just gave in. With two outs and the bases empty, Kyle Farnsworth threw four straight balls, the intentional unintentional walk.
But the damage had been done. Baseball's hottest hitter beat baseball's hottest pitcher. Price entered the game with an 8-0 record and 1.45 ERA over his past 12 starts, having thrown 12 consecutive games where he pitched at least seven innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer, the first lefty to do that since Randy Johnson in 1999. Since Aug. 16, Beltre is now hitting .447 with six home runs, five doubles and 16 RBIs in 12 games. The Rangers held on for that 6-5 victory as the Rays missed a chance to gain a game on the New York Yankees after the Bronx Bombers blew a ninth-inning lead to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Before the game, ESPN's Aaron Boone opined that Beltre, and not major league RBI leader Josh Hamilton, has been the Rangers' MVP, citing Beltre's excellent defense at third base as one reason. It's that defense that makes Kurkjian's statement more legitimate than you may think: Does Beltre have a chance at the Hall of Fame?
I agree with Kurkjian that Beltre's not there yet, but in a few more years the career totals will start to mount. Here, let's begin with the top third basemen since 1901, using Baseball-Reference.com's WAR leaders. The chart below lists each player's wins above replacement, his career value derived from his offense and defense plus his career adjusted OPS mark.
As you can see, Beltre has derived more of his career value than any of the best third basemen other than Brooks Robinson. You can also see that, other than Robinson, the great glovemen have been ignored in Hall of Fame voting, a reason third base is the most underrepresented position in Cooperstown. It's worth noting that Beltre's career OPS+ matches Graig Nettles and Buddy Bell. Neither fared well in Hall voting. Nettles peaked at 8.7 percent on the ballot and fell off after four years; Bell got 1.7 percent and dropped after one year.
Beltre has a big edge over those two, however, at least in the perception of his offensive contributions. Nettles hit just .248 in his career, as his offensive value came from power and walks; Bell hit .279 but lacked Beltre's power. Beltre has a .278 career average and has reached 20 home runs in 10 seasons.
More importantly, he's far from finished. He was just 19 when he reached the majors so has a chance to finish with some impressive career totals. He's just 33 now and is signed for four more years. If he averages 25 home runs, 80 RBIs and 140 hits per season through 2016, we're looking at 445 home runs, more than 1,500 RBIs and more than 2,700 hits. If he proves exceptionally durable and plays until he's 40, he has a shot at 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.
Beltre's career totals will also be helped by playing his home games in Arlington. As basically a dead-pull power hitter, Safeco Field was about the worst park for Beltre to play in. He still managed to reach 25 home runs in three of his five seasons in Seattle. But he has played the past three seasons in Boston and Texas -- probably the two best parks for him. Not surprisingly, he has posted the best numbers of his career besides his monster 2004 season with the Dodgers. (Since joining the Rangers, 38 of his 57 home runs have come at home.)
Of course, even if he remains productive, he's hardly a Hall of Fame lock. While his defensive metrics rate as outstanding, he has won only three Gold Gloves. Scott Rolen, his similar contemporary, has won eight Gold Gloves, so if you're thinking of reputation (which will likely influence voters more than defensive WAR), Beltre may lack the needed caché. He has also made just three All-Star appearances and finished in the top-10 of the MVP twice. Other than that .334, 48-homer season with the Dodgers (one of the best ever from a third baseman), he has never really been considered one of the game's elite players.
His reputation has certainly improved the past couple of years and his career numbers could eventually make his case a hot debate. At the very least, we can at least start appreciating the excellence of one of the game's most underrated players of the past decade.
PHOTO OF THE DAY