Adrian Beltre has been manning the hot corner in Major League baseball for the last 16 seasons, first in LA with the Dodgers, then up here in Seattle for five seasons before spending one season in Boston and the last three in Texas. This season marks the 17th for Beltre, and he looks to build off of the .315/.371/.509 he hit last season, with 30 home runs and a league leading 199 hits. At age 35 Adrian Beltre shows very little sign of slowing down, and could put up large offensive numbers for a few more seasons before calling it a career. (It is worth noting that at the time of this writing Beltre is currently on the DL with a quad injury, although the move was precautionary and he appears all set to return in two days) The question is whether that career will land Adrian in the National baseball Hall of Fame.
Disclaimer: These types of debates are a bit harder to do with active players, as their body of work is not fully determined. While Beltre looks poised to have 3-4 more offensively dominant seasons, his career could also end tomorrow (for the sake of baseball and my fantasy team, I hope not). Because of this I will attempt to evaluate Adrian based mostly on what has already been accomplished, but also making some future predictions as well. Bear with me.
For Adrian Beltre and the Hall of Fame:
Simply put, Beltre's numbers as a third baseman hold up extremely well with other Hall of Famers. So far, Adrian Beltre has accrued 2434 hits, 498 doubles, 376 home runs, 1311 RBI's, and a career WAR of 71. Among third basemen, those numbers rank 7th, 5th, 7th, 11th, and 7th, respectively. Again, as a reminder, Beltre could very very easily eclipse many of the people in front of him. For example, if this season Beltre can accomplish 66 more hits and 24 home runs, he would have 2500 career hits and 400 career home runs. The number of third basemen who have achieved that? One. And we will only have to wait four more years until we can watch the legendary Chipper Jones get inducted into Cooperstown. Maybe Beltre won't be too far behind.
I could spend a very long time talking about Beltre's offensive statistics and how they qualify him for the Hall of Fame, but one thing that really separates Beltre from some of his counterparts is his defense. Using statistics, Beltre's defensive WAR of 21.8 puts him third all time among third basemen, and 34th all time among all of baseball. I am not a huge fan of defensive WAR, but having watched Beltre play third for his career I feel pretty confident calling him a top five defensive third baseman.
His combination of strong defense and strong offense has helped fuel his 71 career WAR, which ranks him 59th all time among position players, and 7th all time among third basemen. Beltre has a higher WAR at this point in his career than that of HOFers Tony Gwynn, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Ernie Banks and Third basemen Ron Santo, Home Run Baker, Scott Rolen and Sal Bando. He is only 7.3 WAR away from catching Brooks Robinson as well.
Beltre has led the league in Home runs once, hits once, doubles once, has won 4 gold gloves and 3 silver slugger awards, and has finished top 10 in MVP voting 4 times, including a controversial second place finish in 2004. (Barry Bonds won, and after allegations of steroids began to surface Beltre spoke out believing he should be the rightful MVP winner).
Against Adrian Beltre and the Hall of Fame:
Typically, one thing the Hall of Fame has really liked to see out of their inductees is consistency. While Beltre has been very consistent the last couple of seasons, and certainly has the potential to be consistent for a few more, he had a rough patch in Seattle that set him back in that category. At age 25 in 2004 with the Dodgers, Beltre hit 48 HR, drove in 121 RBI's and hit .334/.388/.629 in what was certainly his peak season. Between 2010 and 2013, his age 31-34 seasons, Beltre averaged .314/.358/.545 with 32 HR and 110 RBI's, also excellent numbers. However, his "peak years" between 26-30 is where Beltre suffered. Unfortunately for Seattle fans, this is how Beltre often gets remembered, as these were his Seattle seasons. While in the Emerald City between 2005-2009, Beltre slashed .266/.317/.442 and averaged 21 home runs and 79 RBI's, a far cry from the season before Seattle and the seasons afterward. While his career totals are still very good (as seen above) they could be much better had he stayed consistent with what he was accomplishing before and after his stop in Seattle. Voters will no doubt look at those years and question whether a player who put those numbers up in what is considered the prime of a players career will be HOF worthy.
According to baseball-reference.com, Adrian Beltre has a HOF monitor of 89 and a HOF standards score of 40, whereas the average HOFer has scores of 100 and 50, respectively. Likewise, Beltre has a black ink score (a measure of a players league leading statistics) of 9, and a gray ink score (measure of a players impact on the top ten finishes in statistics) of 87, where a HOFer averages 27 and 144, respectively. I'll admit that this argument really does not hold up since Beltre's career is not done. It is easily possible for him to eclipse the average HOF scores in most, if not all, of these measures. However, it is worth noting that if his career ended today he would be below the average HOFer.
I tried to put together valid reasoning on both sides before reaching this stage, but it was difficult for me to hide how I feel; Adrian Beltre is a Hall of Famer. His numbers stand alone not just as a third baseman, but just as an offensive and defensive machine. Never mind that he plays a position that is poorly represented in the Hall, and that he statistically is comparable to others already enshrined. If Beltre were to retire tomorrow, I think he will have done enough to merit enshrinement. However, after three or four more years of elite productivity, he will push himself into shoo-in status. Seattle fans shouldn't count on him entering the Hall wearing a Mariners hat, however.