After a remarkably disappointing season in 2005, Carlos Beltran turned around and had perhaps his best all-around year in 2006, with 41 homeruns, 127 runs scored, 116 RBI, 95 walks, and a .594 slugging percentage — all career highs — while finishing fourth in the NL MVP voting.
Most Mets fans were hoping he’d build on last year’s magical season and have another big season at the bat. Instead, he appears to be regressing — though if you look at his first-half numbers, they’re not THAT far off from 2006:
One noticeable difference right off the bat is the games played; at the rate he’s going, Beltran will play in at least ten to fifteen more games. Assuming that, he has a good chance of coming close to the same cumulative numbers. He may not hit 40 homers, but it looks like 30 is within reach; and he should come close to 300 total bases and around 110 RBI. What’s disconcerting is the concentration of the numbers — a.k.a., the percentages. While his end-of-year numbers won’t look far off, he’s over 100 points behind last year’s slugging percentage, and nearly 50 points below his 2006 on-base percentage. His biggest bugaboo appears to be his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last season, his 95 walks were a career high, and 99 Ks lower than his average. However, this year he’s striking out at an alarming rate — on pace to finish with 115-120 Ks — and may finish the year with less than 70 bases on balls. Strike zone judgment and discipline is one thing that is supposed to stay relatively stable, or improve, throughout a batter’s career — it’s how Billy Beane builds his teams. Beltran, however, has been remarkably inconsistent in that aspect of his game throughout his ten-year career.
There’s little doubt that Mets fans are disappointed thus far with Beltran’s 2007 performance — especially after having set so high a bar in 2006. He went from being THE top slugger and major run producer in the middle of the lineup to a curious bystander, slowly fading into the background of an inconsistent offense. As suggested in my article at Flushing University, Beltran may not be a marquee player, and his performance may be directly tied to the success of the people around him (namely, Carlos Delgado and David Wright).
Here is the first-half analysis of his play:
- capable of hitting to all fields from both sides, but tends to pull too many balls, making him vulnerable to off-speed pitches
- good overhand curve is his kryponite when batting from the left side (but then, who’s isn’t?)
- not nearly as patient as last year — he swings too early in counts in all situations
- when/if he’s relaxed and waits for the pitch he’s zoning for, he could go on a tear
- his strike zone judgment has regressed considerably — and may even have been given a few two-strike calls by umpires on the basis of his tenure
- is stealing more bases this year, but should be taking advantage of more opportunities
- quad injury has not affected his outfield play at all — he’s still one of the best defenders in the NL
- not flashy (except in Houston!), but gets great jumps and gets to nearly everything airborne
- strong, accurate arm may be the best in the NL
How he plays in the second half indeed may depend on whether Delgado has re-found his stroke, and thus removes the onus of being the Mets’ main slugger. It’s been proven in the past that Beltran is not comfortable as the “main guy” in a lineup, but will flourish with big bats surrounding him (i.e., 2004 with Berkman, Bagwell, and Kent behind him).
The quad injury appears to be something of a farce, as he’s been running down balls and speeding around the bases all season, and it’s hard to believe an upper leg injury would affect a swing but not a sprint. Beltran’s issue has never been physical — it’s mental. Similar to the other $100M man in New York — Alex Rodriguez — Beltran needs to forget about expectations and play his game, tension-free. Easier said than done, but possible if Wright and Delgado pick up the pace.