Is Carlos Beltran a Hall of Famer?



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Do you remember Dos Carlos? If you’re a fan of a certain age, you surely do. That was the moniker attached to a pair of hotshot Royals rookies in the late 1990s: second baseman Carlos Febles and center fielder . During those years, Royals fans would grab at anything that looked like hope, and for a while, Dos Carlos was definitely a thing.

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After both reached the majors late in the 1998 season, Febles and Beltran spent their official rookie campaigns together the following year in Kansas City. They were both good. Febles hit 10 homers, stole 20 bases and provided above-average, often flashy defense. He finished 10th among MLB rookies that season with 2.0 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

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That turned out to be half-true. Febles’ rookie season turned out to be his best, and he was out of the majors before he reached his 28th birthday. Right now, as you read this, he is only 40 years old and is in his second season as the manager of the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.

Meanwhile, Beltran went on to become one of the best all-around players in baseball and one of the best in Royals history. His economic value long ago outgrew the constraints of the Royals’ budget, and he has gone on to star for several teams. A player who was once so uncertain of his own ability that he initially refused to return to the minors for injury rehab — Beltran was afraid he’d never make it back to The Show — has earned more than $200 million playing baseball.

This is the shape of a Hall of Fame career: Great out of the gate. Great for an extended period of time. Productive even after skills begin to fade. And make no mistake, the 40-year-old Beltran is in the fading phase of his career. If that Dos Carlos thing seems like a long, long time ago, it’s because it was — Bill Clinton was president when Beltran reached the big leagues. That’s how long it takes to build a Hall case if you aren’t among the elite of the elite, one of those slam-dunk players whose Hall worthiness is never questioned.

Beltran’s Hall of Fame case is not a slam dunk. He has been an All-Star nine times. He has won three Gold Gloves, though these days he hardly dons a glove at all. He garnered MVP support in seven seasons but has never finished higher than fourth in the voting. On the all-time WAR leaderboard, he is tied for No. 99 with Scott Rolen, who isn’t in the Hall. Right above Beltran is Barry Larkin, and right behind him is Gary Carter. They’re both in Cooperstown. But others ahead of Beltran — Rick Reuschel, Alan Trammell and Bobby Grich — have yet to be inducted.

Let’s consider Beltran’s case using one my favorite things: Bill James’ Keltner questions, which I most recently used in January to look at three Hall-eligible players.

Keltner questions1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

Probably not. The most damning evidence is the lack of MVP support that Beltran received, even during his best seasons. In 2006, the year he finished fourth in the balloting, Beltran ranked second among position players with 8.2 WAR, just behind peak-level . However, there is an argument that Beltran has briefly been the best at a very key time of the year. We’ll get to that.

When Carlos Beltran Jersey first came up with the Royals, there was nothing he couldn’t do. AP Photo/Ed Zurga2. Was he the best player on his team?

Beltran ranks 13th in Royals history by WAR, and none of the players ahead of him was an exact contemporary. It’s pretty clear that Beltran was the Royals’ best player during most of his time in Kansas City. With the , Beltran was outperformed by , though Beltran ranks sixth in Mets history in WAR. Also, for what it’s worth, Beltran was probably the Astros’ best player during the partial season he spent there in 2004.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Like most players with long careers, Beltran’s defensive responsibilities have waned over the years. Nevertheless, 71 percent of his career starts have come in center field, and that is the position for which he will be remembered. It was his primary position for 12 years, from 1999 to 2010. There are many ways to drill down on this question, but consider this: During those 12 years, among those who played at least 75 percent of their games in center, Beltran’s 56.5 WAR were nearly six wins better than anyone else’s, with Andruw Jones coming in a distant second. Beltran checks both of these boxes.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Beltran didn’t get much of an opportunity in this area when he was in Kansas City, save for the fleeting success of the Royals’ 2003 season. But the very next year, he helped put the Astros over the top in the NL playoff derby. He has played in 55 postseason games in seven postseasons. However, Beltran has played in just one World Series: St. Louis’ loss to Boston in 2013.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Very much so. Beltran has been an All-Star five times since he turned 30, including last season, when he was 39. Although he isn’t off to a great start for the Astros this season, he is still a regular player.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No, even leaving aside those who aren’t yet eligible, were banned or are being shunned because of PED-related issues. But it’s close. I’d give Trammell and Mike Mussina the nod over Beltran. If we include those who aren’t in for reasons other than performance, Beltran is below the standard of Roger Clemens, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Joe Jackson, et al.

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

This is a mixed bag. According to the similarity scores at Baseball-Reference.com, just four of the 10 players with career numbers most similar to Beltran’s are in Cooperstown: Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, Al Kaline and Tony Perez. Another, , is an active player who is a future no-brainer enshrinee.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

For this, we’ll use Jay Jaffe’s ingenious JAWS system. Again, it’s close. Beltran is just off the averages in both career WAR and peak WAR among Hall of Fame center fielders. It’s not over yet, but this season’s slow start has Beltran below replacement value, which costs him WAR in the career category.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than what is suggested by his statistics?

This might be the tipping point for Beltran, whose entire career has played out in the wild-card era, in which postseason production has taken on added importance when it comes to assessing a player’s career value. We mentioned Beltran’s 55 career postseason games. That total is tied for 47th all time. However, if he had played prior to 1994, it would rank fifth.

Anyway, Beltran not only has played in a lot of playoff games but also has often dominated when it matters most. His career postseason slash line is .323/.432/.646 with 16 homers. That 1.080 OPS ranks fourth among players with 100 postseason plate appearances, behind Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Lenny Dykstra.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

Returning to JAWS, the answer is yes, but it will become no if he continues to deliver below-replacement production and slips behind Kenny Lofton among center fielders. Right now, Beltran ranks eighth, and the top seven are in Cooperstown.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

We’ve covered this. He never got into the top three in the voting, but his 2006 season was clearly MVP-worthy.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star Games did he play in? Were most of the other players who played in this many All-Star Games inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Beltran has had five seasons with five or more WAR, the rule of thumb for an All-Star-type season, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He has played in eight All-Star Games, and among the 77 players who have appeared in eight, 56 are in the Hall.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

In general, if a player has had an MVP-caliber season, which Beltran has, the answer to this question is yes. But it’s more concrete if the player was actually the best performer on a pennant winner, and that hasn’t happened for Beltran.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Although Beltran hasn’t changed the game in any tangible way, his prominence as a Puerto Rico-born ballplayer has had a great deal of influence. Only Roberto Clemente has produced more WAR among those born in Puerto Rico. Beltran operates a baseball academy on the island.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

High marks in this area. A consummate professional on the field and a role model off it.

Bottom lineFor me, the eighth question is the first to consider as the jumping-off point: Do the player’s numbers warrant Hall consideration? In Beltran’s case, they clearly do. From there, he skirts along the borderline on most questions. However, none of these questions would rule him out. When you get to his postseason record and his intangible characteristics, those soft factors ultimately tip the scale. Carlos Beltran Jersey, regardless of what he does from here on out, is a Hall of Famer.

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