Three years ago, a fair question to ask about Carlos Beltran would be whether his career was coming to end. Now, it is appropriate to ponder if he is a Hall-of-Famer.
Beltran was held to 528 at-bats in 2009 and 2010, combined, due to knee issues that caused him to miss a whopping 179 games in those two seasons. At the end of the 2010 season, it appeared that he would either morph into a part-time player, or, even worse, soon see his playing days end all together.
The 16-year veteran, however, has, for the most part, managed to stay healthy over the last two-plus seasons and his production has been the better for it.
With his recent resurgence, is Beltran headed to Cooperstown? The answer should be yes based on what he is accomplished, and avoided, so far in his career and how he matches up to comparable Hall of Fame outfielders. Beltran still has some work to do, though, before he can solidify his spot.
Jim Rice and the late Kirby Puckett are both members of the Hall of Fame. The former made it in his 15th year of eligibility with a 76.4 percent vote (75 percent is the minimum needed for entry) and the latter shockingly qualified on his first try, with a comfortable 82.1 percent of the vote.
As you can see in the below chart, Beltran’s career regular season numbers match up very well with those of Rice and Puckett:
Beltran beats Rice in three of the six categories and he is not far behind in any of the categories he trails in. His case against Puckett is even better, as he has the edge in all but one category.
When you analyze the postseason numbers of these three players, Beltran really starts to shine:
Beltran clearly has the advantage in at-bats but his counting stats are so far superior, especially versus Rice, that it doesn’t really matter. Actually, in the case of his OPS, the extra at-bats help his cause, since you would assume this number would take a hit over a larger sample size.
Numbers can’t be the only criteria, however, for judging Beltran against Rice and Puckett. Awards and All-Star appearances need to be factored in as well. The 36-year-old still stacks up nicely, though his candidacy does take a bit of a hit here.
Beltran was the Rookie of the Year in 1999 and has three Gold Gloves and two top-ten MVP finishes to his credit. He has also made the All-Star team seven times and appears to be headed there again this season.
Puckett won one batting title and was the 1991 ALCS MVP. He also has six Gold Gloves, seven top-ten MVP finishes and 10 All-Star appearances. In addition, it needs to be noted that he was a big part of two championship teams.
Rice had eight All-Star appearances and seven top-ten MVP finishes, including winning the award in 1978. He was a good left fielder, though he never managed to win a Gold Glove.
Overall, Beltran certainly belongs in the conversation with these two fellow outfielders. When you consider that Puckett easily made the Hall-of-Fame and Rice probably should have as well, if he was nicer to the media in his playing days, then Beltran's candidacy looks strong.
Also helping his cause is something else he has accomplished, namely largely avoiding having his name tied to the steroid era. While he hasn’t been completely immune, since he was questioned in the Tony Galea scandal in 2010, he is generally considered to not be someone who has taken performance-enhancing drugs.
Craig Biggio is another member of the steroid era who is also believed to have played clean. This reputation helped him in the most recent Hall-of-Fame voting in January. He was the leading vote-getter at 68.2 percent against a group of more accomplished candidates largely linked to steroids, including Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Based on his first-year success, Biggio should be headed to Cooperstown in the next year or two and his ability to rise above the steroid era appears to be a big reason why.
While Beltran has Hall of Fame credentials, he would make his candidacy a virtual no-brainer by putting up a few more solid seasons.
If he can help the Cardinals win a World Series title or two before his career is over, however, a case could be made that the cap should have a redbird on it.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
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