Profiling Carlos Beltran to the Astros

The Astros went out and acquired Carlos Beltran again this winter, signing him to a one year, $16 million deal. I think it’s a fun deal. The circumstances are different than when they traded for him in 2004: they were 2.5 games out of the wild card then and looking to be more than an ephemeral summer contender. Now, with the talent to make a serious push, they’re looking for complementary pieces.

Then and Now

In Beltran’s first stint in Houston, he played 90 games and put up a pretty crazy 4 WAR. Over 162 games that number jumps to 7.2, which puts him squarely in the top 10 difference makers in all of baseball – then or now. What they’re paying him this year suggests they’re expecting about two wins above replacement. Obvious alert: it’s more than 12 years later, meaning he’s aged that much, so it’s not like they’re expecting him to deliver a performance similar to the first time. They’re also probably closer to winning now than they were in 2004, so it’s not like they need him to, either.

The counting numbers show how Beltran’s produced different results between then and now but his contact profile might give a hint why, beyond “well, he’s older.”

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He’s swinging more overall, and in particular at pitches out of the zone. He’s also swinging a little less at pitches in the zone and getting behind at the start of an AB about an additional 6%. He also hasn’t walked more than 8.5% since 2012. So with a peek at how Beltran’s different at the plate now, how does that impact what he might do in 2017?

2017 Projections

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Fangraphs’ Depth Charts projections combine Steamer and ZiPS. It forecasts Beltran to produce just one WAR this year. They’re assuming dips in a bunch of major offensive stats: ISO, average, OBP, slugging, wOBA, and wRC+. And it’s kind of curious given how steady his bat has been.

Above, I included Beltran’s numbers with both the Yankees and Rangers last year because they show how his season broke down. There’s a part of me that wants to assume a big reason his projections are what they are is because of his time with the Rangers. “What have you done for me lately?” is a valid question to ask a player who’s going to turn 40 in April but the sample size from Texas is small. That’s especially true when weighed against the data of the last, say, three or four years, which is the time period where Beltran has aged into being a two-ish WAR player/year.

His projected 2017 wRC+ – 108 – is much closer to his run creation with the Rangers (103) than the Yankees (135). He’s put up a number like that 108 before, with the Mets in 2010 (106) and the Yankees (97) in 2014. While those seasons show he’s capable of creating runs at a pedestrian rate, it’s more the outlier than the expectation. Between a little intuition and a little more knowledge on the changing aging curve, I’m not convinced Beltran’s run creation will drop so steeply this year.

Lineup Differences

When Beltran was first an Astro, he was replacing a duo of Orlando Palmiero and Jason Lane. Craig Biggio moved to left field, Lance Berkman moved to right field. He changed the whole look of the club’s offense.

This year, he’s only one piece of an offensive makeover for the Astros. They added Nori Aoki, Brian McCann, and Josh Reddick. In December, Jeff Sullivan examined how Houston now arguably has the best offense in the AL. Even if Beltran does only produce one WAR, they’ve got some safety nets to keep it from hurting too much.

The first time Houston added Beltran, he was a stud and it was to give them a puncher’s chance at the postseason. They ended up within a game of the World Series. This time, he’s a complementary piece that could help put them over the top. 

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