Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Adrian Beltre or How I got a $64 million contract and learned to stop worrying about hitting

I've always found the idea of a so-called "contract year" to be a little bizarre. Do players really not try their hardest for 2 or 3 years, then, when they realize that they will need a new contract at the end of the season, become much better hitters or pitchers? I find it hard to believe that it is so easy to improve that much all of a sudden. Yet invariably, players such as Adrian Beltre come out of nowhere (well, he was always potentially one of the best third baseman in the league...whatever that means) to hit .334 with 48 home runs. So, of course, Beltre, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, was rewarded by the hitting-poor Seattle Mariners with a five-year contract for $64 million. The Mariners also signed Richie Sexson, a better hitter with a better track record, for much less money. Sexson is far out-performing Beltre this season and the Mariners are in last place, having scored the fewest runs in the American League. Go figure.

Back to Beltre, it is simple and instructive to look at his career statistics. Now I cannot explain what caused him to have such a fantastic season last year, but what I can do is look at his track record. I understand that players tend to hit their primes in their late 20s, so Beltre may be on the upswing of his career. That said, he was pretty consistent before last season. Consistently mediocre at the plate. From 2001-2003, he produced three extremely similar seasons (the only major difference was in games played in 2001, but he was on pace to post similar totals to 2002-2003 in most categories), each with an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage...one effective measure of offensive production) in the range of .714 to .729. Now an OPS in the low .700s is not very good. In fact, this season, it would be below the league average (as Beltre currently is with his .706), and certainly not to be expected from someone who is supposed to be a star.

Last season, Beltre's OPS shot up to 1.017, one of the best in the National League. Beltre went from being a reasonably bad hitter to being a great hitter (for comparison's sake, Derrek Lee is having a career year this season, putting up numbers that he will have difficulty sustaining this year or matching next year, but at least he was always a good hitter, unlike Beltre). So it should not be surprising that Beltre would suffer a drop-off this year. All of his numbers, except for doubles, are way down this season and he is laughing all the way to the bank. The Mariners were perfectly reasonable in expecting better than a .706 OPS and 9 home runs at this point in the season, but not that much better. Beltre is yet another example of the terrible economics of sports and the foolish people who run front offices. If they signed free agents based on the last 3-5 years, instead of just one, they might make some wiser decisions.


  1. Quality post. I was one of the Dodger fans outraged after Depodesta let Beltre go. Maybe it wasn't such a bad move after all. But McCourt is still a parsimonious cunt who never should have left the parking lot business.

  2. Best example of the post-contract-year flops in the NBA, without a doubt, has to be Juwan Howard. And the best part was that Miami actually got "screwed" out of Howard's services...

  3. dude, beltre was on steroids last year. it's not complicated.

  4. but derrek lee is legit.