It’s kind of strange to me that the question is even asked, but I know there are some out there that thing the additions he would bring to this team would be minimal, at best, and not worth the amount of money the Angels would be paying to them were they to sign him. The short answer is that Beltre would significantly improve the Angels at 3B over the production they saw last season, on both sides of the ball. But of course, no one that disagrees will take the short answer, so let’s look at things a little more in-depth after the jump.
Defense is Beltre’s single biggest asset, and one the Angels could definitely use. To be fair, the Angels were not horrible at 3B defensively last season, but it was one of the few places that was true. With Hunter shifted to RF, Bourjos in CF, and Beltre at 3B, the Angels defense at least will see some upgrade without any further additions to the team.
Just how good is Beltre’s defense? A look at his UZR tells the whole story. Often when looking at fielding stats (ignore fielding percentage and errors, they’re mostly useless), getting a proper sample size is the biggest problem you’ll face. The Angels’ top three
3B in terms of total plays last season all have this problem, as none of them really have much 3B experience beyond last season. Expecting any of them to repeat, or even improve upon their performance when you can’t even say with any certainty if their 2010 fielding performance is a baseline you can depend on is a risky proposition, and not one the Angels should be prepared to make. With Beltre, we don’t remotely have this problem. We have nine seasons of UZR data for Beltre, and of those nine we have seven over an 11 UZR, including each of the last three seasons. To further illustrate the difference in sample size between them, Beltre has more plays in single seasons than either Wood or Callaspo have in their entire careers at 3B. It is not remotely a stretch to say that Beltre is a very good, very dependable fielder at 3B. Given the woes the Angels had defensively last season, even an extraordinarily average bat backed by his glove would make him a solid signing for the Halos. But, it is my belief that Beltre has a better than average bat. Granted, a career .339 wOBA is not amazing by any stretch, but many people seem to overlook Hunter’s career .344 wOBA when trying to use Beltre’s offense as a reason we shouldn’t sign him. Most of Hunter’s value at this point comes from his bat, and over their careers he’s only been 5 points better than Beltre. And for much of his career, Beltre was hitting baseballs in Seattle, where offense goes to die. The other thing people will point to is Beltre’s bad habit of having great offensive seasons in contract seasons. The argument seems to be that Beltre has some amazing offensive ability inside him, but he only switches it on when he’s at the end of his contract and about to enter free agency. But this argument has a few problems I don’t believe it can overcome. First, it assumes he even has this ability, which is a big assumption to begin with. There has never been a demonstrated correlation between people having huge seasons and contract years. Some people, like Beltre, do. Others don’t. It’s a luck of the draw thing.
Angels fans might think Gary Matthews Jr. is another person they could point to that did this, which obviously led to the horrible contract the Angels gave him. But if he could switch that on and off, wouldn’t he have turned it on at some point before he ended up in the Reds minor league system? Or before he lost his starting job with the Angels?
Second, why wouldn’t Beltre simply perform at a high offensive level all the time, which would increase his overall value and virtually guarantee him a huge contract as perhaps the single best 3B in the game? Wouldn’t it be far more beneficial to him if he simply smashed the ball all the time and made most every team in baseball want him, with no question marks on his abilities? Outside of that, doesn’t he run the risk of it not “switching on” one contract season, and he ends up not performing at that level and not getting a big contract? That’s a huge million dollar gamble to make. There also is an unspoken acceptance that Adrian Beltre has so mastered baseball that he can simply play at a high level on a whim, which is an absurd idea when you actually stop and think about it.
Lastly, why does Beltre turn his offense on and off, but keep his defense at a consistent level? If it’s simple laziness, then why wouldn’t his defense suffer as well when he decides to slack off? It doesn’t seem to me that it’d make much sense for Beltre to decide he doesn’t want to try to hit a baseball as well anymore, but he’ll still catch and throw it like crazy. When you look at it, it’s simply not an argument that holds much water.
So, does Beltre help the Angels? And if so, how much? Offensively, even if he has a completely average season for him, he’ll be a significant upgrade. I didn’t realize until I was researching this (though it’s not shocking), but the Angels finished dead last in the AL in wOBA among 3B last season. The Red Sox, with Beltre as their 3B, were second only to the Blue Jays. As I said though, even with a completely average season from Beltre, his career .339 wOBA is a huge upgrade over the .255 we saw at the hot corner last season. Defensively, there is basically no gamble involved. There is nothing about Alberto Callaspo that makes me think he’s going to be a defensive wizard at 3B, and nothing about Brandon Wood that makes me think he’ll see more than 300 PA for the Angels this season. Maybe he turns things around and becomes the guy everyone hoped he would be, but I’m not holding my breath on it. We could gamble on Wood, or we could go after a sure thing in Beltre. Only one of those two definitely helps the team, though.