The seventh installment of our Hall of Fame series features center fielder Carlos Beltran. Beltran is the only active player we’re profiling, but we figured that, because he's close to the end of his career and already such an accomplished player, it was appropriate to include him. You can find the first six parts of the series at the links below.
The Mets signed Beltran as a free agent prior to the 2005 season, and he was with the team until the 2011 trade deadline. Beltran had an outstanding seven-year run for the Mets, hitting .282/.369/.503 (129 wRC+), and averaging 22 home runs, 82 RBIs, 81 runs scored, 31 doubles, three triples, 14 stolen bases, and 4.4 fWAR per year (including the 44 games he played for the Giants in 2011).
Beltran was, by WAR, the best player on the 2006 National League East champion Mets. The 2006 Mets, along with the Yankees, were the best team in baseball that year with a 97-65 record. By winning percentage (.599), they were also the fifth-best Mets team in franchise history. Beltran had a career year in 2006, finishing fourth in MVP voting on the strength of a .275/.388/.594 battling line (148 wRC+), with 41 homers, 116 RBIs, 127 runs scored, 38 doubles, 18 stolen bases, 13 defensive runs saved (DRS), a 10.4 UZR, and 7.8 fWAR. His home run, RBI, runs scored, and WAR totals, as well as his slugging percentage and wRC+, were all career highs. One of his signature moments as a Met came that season when, in a late-August game at Shea that the Mets had been trailing, 7-1, Beltran hit a two-run walk-off homer off the Cardinals’ Jason Isringhausen to give the Mets an 8-7 win, prompting a double "Outta here!" from Gary Cohen:
Beltran won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, and made five All-Star Teams with the Mets. In 2011, he became the eighth player in franchise history to homer three times in a game, which you can watch below. Beltran finished among the greatest Mets of all time in most offensive categories, including sixth in home runs (149) and RBIs (559), seventh in fWAR (29.4) and doubles (208), eighth in runs scored (551), and 11th in stolen bases (100). Among qualified Mets, he ranks fifth in slugging percentage (.500) and seventh in OBP (.369). He was, in short, one of the greatest players to ever wear a Mets uniform.
The case for
In his 18 major league seasons through 2015, Beltran hit .280/.355/.490 (120 wRC+), with 392 home runs, 1,443 RBIs, 2,454 hits, 1,449 runs scored, 503 doubles, 311 stolen bases, and 66.0 fWAR. During his peak, which lasted from 2001 to 2008, he hit an impressive .282/.363/.513 (124 wRC+), and averaged 29 homers, 104 RBIs, 108 runs scored, 34 doubles, 29 stolen bases, and 5.8 fWAR per year for the Royals, Astros, and Mets. Among players whose primary position was center field, Beltran ranks ninth all time in home runs, RBIs, and doubles, 11th in WAR, 17th in slugging percentage, and 20th in hits.
In addition to having a great bat, Beltran is one of the best baserunners to ever play the game. By Fangraphs’ Base Running stat, which accounts for all aspects of the running game—including stolen bases, caught stealings, extra bases taken, and number of times thrown out on the basepaths—Beltran is the 15th-best baserunner of all time. He ranks right behind Vince Coleman, Johnny Damon, and Lou Brock, and ahead of Chase Utley, Jose Reyes, Kenny Lofton, and Davey Lopes. That’s not bad company to be in as a baserunner. Beltran also has the highest stolen base percentage in baseball history among players with at least 200 attempts. And, by stealing the 300th base of his career in 2013, he became the eighth member of baseball’s 300-300 club:
Beltran complemented his tremendous offense and baserunning with Gold-Glove-caliber defense. His 77 total zone runs (TZ) as a center fielder are tied for the 15th most ever at his position. (While DRS and UZR are better defensive metrics, they weren’t around for the first few years of Beltran’s career. TZ allows us to compare Beltran to other players in baseball history, and to account for both his earlier and later years in the game.)
Beltran had five seasons of double-digit TZ, including three for the Mets in the four-year span from 2006 to 2009. Arguably his most memorable defensive play came in a 2007 game in Houston: With two outs, and runners on first and third in the bottom of the 14th inning of a 3-3 game, Beltran ran up Tal’s Hill to make a sliding, over-the-shoulder catch to end the inning and keep the score tied. The Mets would later win the game, 5-3, in 17 innings. You can watch Beltran’s catch in the clip below:
Beltran was rewarded for his outstanding defense with three consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 2006 to 2008. He won a host of other honors and awards throughout his career, including eight All-Star Game selections, two Silver Sluggers, two top-10 finishes in MVP voting, and the Rookie of the Year in 1999.
Perhaps Beltran’s biggest claim to fame is being one of the greatest postseason players of all time. Ironically, most of his playoff heroics came with teams with whom he didn’t spend a whole lot of time. For example, Beltran entered the national spotlight in 2004 with the Astros in his first postseason appearance. That year, the center fielder had one of the greatest playoff runs in baseball history, hitting an incredible .435/.536/1.022, with eight home runs, 14 RBIs, 21 runs scored, three doubles, nine walks, and six stolen bases in 12 NLDS and NLCS games for Houston.
Beltran’s eight home runs are tied with marks set by Barry Bonds and Nelson Cruz for the most in one postseason. Beltran’s 21 runs scored still stand as the record, and his 47 total bases are tied for the second most in playoff history. He also set a record by homering in five consecutive playoff games, a record that Daniel Murphy eventually broke in 2015. The homer that Beltran hit to set that record was also his record-tying eighth of the postseason, and you can watch it below. It was a particularly meaningful moment in the NLCS, as it gave the Astros a 6-5 lead over the Cardinals in the seventh inning of Game 4. Houston would hold that lead to tie the series at two games apiece.
Beltran’s next postseason appearance came with the Mets in 2006. That year, he hit .278/.422/.556, with three home runs, five RBIs, 10 runs scored, one double, and nine walks in 10 NLDS and NLCS games. His best moment was in Game 1 of the NLCS, when he hit a two-run shot off the Cardinals’ Jeff Weaver in the sixth inning to plate the only two runs scored by either team in that game. Beltran also had a big night in Game 4, a 12-5 rout of the Cardinals that tied the series at two, in which the center fielder went deep twice off of Cardinals pitching. You can watch all three of Beltran’s home runs below:
Beltran didn’t play in another postseason until 2012. Without missing a beat, he raked to a .357/.440/.714 batting line, with three home runs, six RBIs, seven runs scored, six doubles, and seven walks in 12 games with Cardinals, who made it to the NLCS. The following year, Beltran (still with the Cardinals) made his first World Series appearance, and hit .268/.388/.464, with two homers, 15 RBIs, six runs scored, three doubles, and 10 walks in 17 postseason games. He had yet another big moment in an NLCS Game 1, hitting a walk-off RBI single off the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen to give the Cardinals an early series lead:
Beltran’s next and most recent playoff appearance was in the one-game Wild Card game in 2015 that his Yankees lost to the Astros. Beltran went 1-for-4.
In total, Beltran hit .332/.441/.674, with 16 home runs, 40 RBIs, 45 runs scored, 13 doubles, and 11 stolen bases in 52 postseason games. What’s remarkable is that, not only did he post outstanding numbers overall, but he was great in each of the four major playoff runs (excluding the one-game playoff) in which he participated. Beltran is without a doubt one of the best postseason players in history, and compares very favorably to the game’s other October legends:
JAWS, which only measures regular season performance, ranks Beltran as the eighth-best center fielder of all time. The only seven players ahead of him are Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe DiMaggio, and Duke Snider. This means that, once Griffey gets inducted in 2016, Beltran will be the best center fielder not in the Hall of Fame.
JAWS ranks Beltran higher than 12 of the 18 center fielders in the Hall, including Richie Ashburn, Andre Dawson, Larry Doby, and Hack Wilson, as well as non-Hall-of-Famers like Kenny Lofton, Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds, Fred Lynn, Dale Murphy, and Bernie Williams. Were Beltran to retire today, he would be comfortably in the top half of Hall of Famers at his position. If he can remain an even semi-productive player for another year or two, his JAWS could match or even exceed that of the average center fielder in the Hall. When you consider that he is a top-10 center fielder to ever play the game, one of the game’s best all-around players, and one of the best postseason performers in baseball history, it's clear that Beltran has a very strong case for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
The case against
As of right now, Beltran ranks below the average Hall of Fame center fielder in JAWS. His 56.4 mark is about a point lower than the average mark of 57.2. Beltran ranks behind the six Hall of Fame center fielders mentioned above, and seven once Griffey is inducted next year. The biggest problem for Beltran will be if Hall voters consider him to be in the class not of the seven legends ahead of him in JAWS, but of the great-yet-probably-not-Hall-worthy players after him, like Lofton, Jones, and Edmonds.
Beltran has a few factors working against him. First, he was never considered the best player in his league, evidenced by the fact that he never won an MVP Award or led his league in any major category, including WAR. Second, he will likely fall short of reaching either of the popular milestones that Hall of Fame voters like to see, namely, 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. Third, as baseball writer Craig Wright put it, Beltran was "proficient at everything but not dominant enough in one area to have made it his signature contribution." There does seem to be a bias in favor of players—think Bill Mazeroski (defense), Jim Rice (power hitting), and Lou Brock (baserunning)—who dominated one aspect of the game, but who rank significantly lower in JAWS than the average Hall of Famer at their respective positions. Beltran may actually get penalized for being as much of an all-around player as he was.
Finally, Beltran isn’t identified with any one particular team. This certainly doesn’t help, as Hall voters tend to reward players who became cornerstone members of a franchise over the course of their careers. (Again, think of Mazeroski, Rice, and Brock.) Beltran is currently playing for his sixth team, and of the two teams with which he is most identified—the Royals and the Mets—he didn’t build a lasting legacy with either one, at least in the eyes of their respective fan bases. This is probably in part because, as great of a postseason player as he’s been, he only made the playoffs a total of one time with those two franchises in the 14 years he played for them. And, while he had a great playoff run for the Mets in 2006, he is unfortunately most remembered for one at-bat in that postseason.
Prospects for induction
Beltran is still an active player, so he won’t be on the Hall of Fame ballot for a while. This year will be the last of a three-year contract he signed with the Yankees. If he retires after the season, his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility will be 2022.
Because Beltran is such a strong—although by no means a slam-dunk—candidate, it will be interesting to see how much support he gets. Another interesting issue is with what team he would go into the Hall. The only two plausible candidates are the Royals and the Mets. Here is a comparison of Beltran’s career with each team:
As you can see, the center fielder played more games with the Mets, hit more home runs and doubles, had more plate appearances, RBIs, runs scored, and fWAR, and had a higher on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wRC+ with the team. He also won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers, and made a postseason and five All-Star Teams with the Mets. He won no Gold Gloves or Silver Sluggers, and made no postseasons and just one All-Star Team with the Royals. Beltran did have more hits, triples, stolen bases, and a higher batting average with the Royals, and won the Rookie of the Year Award with them. Still, he clearly did more with the Mets, and would therefore almost certainly go into the Hall with them.
That’s somewhat ironic. After all, there is a healthy portion of the Mets’ fan base that, mostly due to that one at-bat in 2006, probably doesn’t see Beltran as a signature player in franchise history—much less a Hall of Famer, and even less one who should go into the Hall wearing a Mets hat. Hopefully, after Beltran retires, and some time and distance allow fans to put his Mets career into better perspective, the perception of Beltran’s time in Flushing will begin to change for the better.