He's a brilliant player capable of performing extraordinary feats with a glove and a baseball and a bat, and perhaps that, more than anything else, why I don't find myself overwhelmingly surprised by what he accomplished at the Ballpark last night. Yeah, you're a filthy, awful liar if you claim to have ever looked at a pre-game lineup, eyeballed one name in particular, and thought to yourself in good conscience, "hmm, yeah, he's going yard three times tonight," but I wouldn't be shocked to learn of others who view Adrian Beltre's game in a manner similar to how I do. He did, after all, pull off the same feat only 10.5 months ago on a much grander stage in a ballpark far less conducive to home runs, so why not do it again?
And so it was that in a game brimming with several fairly significant moments and storylines (including, notably, Derek Holland getting his season a little bit further back on track with a sturdy seven-inning, three-run effort, as well as Mitch Moreland smashing a dagger-esque grand slam and David Murphy going berzerk again as part of his continued push towards a .400 OBP), Beltre completely dominated the narrative. He went yard in the first inning on a middle-away heater from Tommy Hunter (on a 94 mph pitch with some life to it, no less), and then he squared up a terrible hanging cutter from Hunter with nobody out in the fourth inning for No. 2, and then, backed into an 0-2 hole later on in the same inning, he teed off on a high-and-away Kevin Gregg fastball for No. 3.
Per the ESPN Stats & Info pitch database, Beltre hadn't homered on a pitch that high in the zone -- a pitch so high that it only nicked the uppermost edge of the regulation strike zone, and probably wouldn't have been called a strike if he had refrained from swinging -- since September 8th, 2010, a point in time at which he was playing out the string for the eventual third-place Red Sox. More curious, however, is the striking similarity between the pitch that Beltre clobbered for No. 3 last night and the pitch which he clobbered for No. 3 in the 2011 ALDS, as both Gregg and the Rays' Matt Moore tried to avert homer No. 3 with up-and-away heaters, and failed miserably to achieve that end:
And, of course, we had the usual cavalcade of fun-time statistics that flowed down from the Elias pipeline after all was said and done. He's just the fifth player in baseball history to clout three home runs in both a regular season and a post-season game, joining Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, and Albert Pujols in that vaguely odd club, and when you pair Beltre's game with Josh Hamilton's four-homer outburst earlier this season at Camden Yards, you find that the Rangers are just the second team in baseball history to record an individual three-homer and an individual four-homer game against the same team in a single season. That's even more esoteric, but, well, alright then.
Beltre is also the first Ranger to go yard three times at the Ballpark since Brad Wilkerson on July 21st, 2007, and it's this final piece of information that I'd like to spend a moment focusing on. Since the Ballpark opened for business at the outset of the 1994 season, we had seen 15 individual three-homer games -- 14 in the regular season, and then Albert Pujols during last year's World Series -- across a grand total of 26,887 individual instances where any batter received at least three plate appearances in a single game. That works out to one three-homer affair for every 1,792 instances.
Since that 2007 season, though, the ratio had plummeted to just one three-homer game for every 3,552 individual three-plus-PA games, as you had only Carlos Quentin going yard three times on May 24th of last year, and, once again, Pujols. That strikes me (and perhaps only me) as sort of interesting, because while we may not all have been paying close attention to this, the reality is that the Ballpark hasn't played all that close to neutral over the last few years -- per StatCorner's park factor data, the Ballpark's multi-year home run park factor is 118 for both left-handed and right-handed hitters, and while I get that scoring across baseball isn't what it used to be (and, for that matter, that the Rangers' pitching is a lot better than it used to be), this is still an environment ripe for aberrant, monstrous home run outbursts. Beltre did his part to normalize that ratio a bit last night.
The other thing that stood out to me about last night was this tweet by Dave Cameron:
With his three homers tonight, Adrian Beltre has pushed himself over +60 WAR for his career.He's 33.HOF a legit possibility.— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) August 23, 2012
These days, we tend to look at 60 wins above replacement as a sort of quick-glance benchmark for Hall of Fame candidacy. It's not a hard and fast rule by any means, but, generally speaking, if you're below the 60 WAR line of demarcation and your career has just ended, it's likelier than not that you'll be facing an uphill battle of sorts with the BBWAA electorate. And, conversely, if you're north of that 60 WAR mark, your name is almost certainly going to be subjected to serious consideration (among saber-oriented types, at least), although that also doesn't guarantee you anything. Andruw Jones is sitting at 72.5 career fWAR, but I get the sense that he's still viewed as a borderline case within both sabermetric and more conventional circles of baseball discussion, in part because such a huge chunk of that number is tied to the defensive component and his assigned, highly debatable defensive value. *
[* I don't think anyone would bother to construct much of an argument against the idea that Andruw Jones is one of the greatest defensive center fielders that the game has ever seen. I suppose, then, that the real vexing question is something more along the lines of "is Andruw Jones' defense overvalued by WAR?" I'd snap off an instantaneous 'no,' but when you see numbers suggestive of Jones saving 35-plus runs defensively per season over multiple seasons in the late-90s, and you combine that with the lingering (and not entirely misplaced) distrust of defense valuation metrics, you have a situation where people, by and large, aren't going to blindly interpret the numbers as gospel.]
And you now see something kind of similar going on with Beltre, as more than one-quarter of his updated career fWAR total (60.0) is tied to defense. The lifetime batting line is good, but not elite (.278/.330/.470, 110 wRC+, 332 home runs), and while we have the statistical evidence in hand to support our hypothesis that Beltre is one of the greatest defensive third basemen of the last few generations, it still ultimately boils down to how much credit he'll get for that reputation from the electorate. He's a tad short on hardware, he doesn't have a World Series ring, and if his career ended tomorrow, he would lack the longevity and overall 'oomph' to make it over the top.
That's the thing, though. Beltre's not done as a major league ballplayer. He's pushing for another five-win campaign while in the midst of his age-33 season, and depending on how gracefully he ages, he could make a serious eventual push into 75-80 WAR territory, at which stage the opposition to Beltre going into the Hall of Fame would be decidedly tougher to find. It still sounds just a bit wild and a bit difficult to fathom on its surface, but Beltre has the opportunity to flesh out a potential Cooperstown resume over his next 3-4 years, and for the regular season-focused cynics out there who note that Beltre's three homers during last year's ALDS don't count towards his career numbers ... well, courtesy of last night, you now have a three-homer game that will count.