Adrian Beltre's been a good player for a long time, but he actually seems to be improving in his 30s. Except for his bizarrely powerful 2004, when he was 25, Beltre's best seasons have all come since his 30th birthday. Which, as you know, is not typical.
This season alone, he's hit for the cycle and homered three times in one game within a week. As Tyler Kepner points out, Beltré is the first player to do that since Joe DiMaggio in 1948.
What makes Beltré a truly special player, though, isn't his hitting. It's his fielding. More Kepner:
But what truly distinguishes Beltre, what makes him perhaps the most underappreciated performer in baseball, is the way he plays third base. It is not only that Beltre, a three-time Gold Glove winner, is the best in the majors at the position. It is that he plays it with a style that defies logic, and he uses a blend of skill, strength, intellect and instinct that is all his own.
When the Rangers signed Beltre to a five-year contract before last season, they paired him with Manager Ron Washington, a master infield instructor. The proper way to play third base, Washington said, is to flow through the ball while fielding it.
Beltre, he said, does it all wrong. He tends to stop, catch and then unleash a throw with uncanny precision, from any angle. Essentially, Beltre’s hands are so quick and his arm is so strong that he hardly needs his feet.
As always with Kepner, you'll be rewarded by reading the whole piece. The takeaway, though, isn't that Beltré is the greatest third baseman, but rather that he's great and that nobody else does it like he does it.
To which I have nothing to add except, cool.
Still, I can't help wondering if Beltré really is the greatest third baseman.
In retrospect, it's hard to believe that Beltré has won only three Gold Gloves: 2007 and '8, then again in 2011. Baseball Info Solutions has been handing out Fielding Bible Awards since 2006, and Beltré's won three of those: 2006, 2008, and 2011. He's the only third baseman with more than one, which pretty obviously makes him the greatest third baseman of the last six seasons (by that measure, anyway, and I trust that measure).
What's really impressive is that Beltré is still an outstanding fielder; most players peak as defenders in their early or middle 20s. But even at 33, he's great.
The greatest, though? I suspect that Beltré will win his fourth Gold Glove this year, especially with Evan Longoria missing a big chunk of the season. Hell, he might win it unanimously. And nobody should complain, because he's still fantastic.
I don't know if he's the fantastickest, though.
Kansas City's Mike Moustakas plays third base like a shortstop, which isn't a big surprise since he was a shortstop just a few years ago. According to FanGraphs, Moustakas leads the majors in fielding runs among third basemen, with Beltré second. Those numbers match up almost perfectly with Baseball Info Solutions' Defensive Runs Saved, with Moustakas and Beltré first and second in the American League (tops in the majors, by a nose, is actually David Wright).
But Moustakas's numbers are boosted by his playing time; because Beltré's DH'd some this season, he's got 130 fewer innings at third base than Moose. On a per-game basis, they're essentially even in all the metrics.
Which is why it's not a stretch to suggest that Beltré is the best in the majors. If you need a third baseman to make one tough play, right now, there might be no better choice than him.
It's close, though. Beltré is little better, if he's better at all, than Moustakas or a healthy Longoria. We'll just see how long it takes those brilliant Gold Glove voters to figure it all out.