Lost in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, the A-Rod fiasco, and the optimistic Jacoby Ellsbury signing, the Yankees signed a future Hall of Famer to anchor the middle of their order. No one is talking about switch hitter Carlos Beltran, who quietly signed a three-year, $45 million in December. Among position players, Beltran is 90th in career WAR (64.1). Three solid seasons in the Bronx will vault him in the Top 50 ahead of future HOFer, Craig Biggio (68.1) and 2014 HOFer Frank Thomas (72.1). In 16 seasons, Beltran has 2,228 hits, 358 HRs, 308 SBs and boasts a .283/.359/.496 slash. To put his numbers in perspective, A-Rod is the only other active player with 300 HRs and 300 SBs.
As he enters his Age 37 season, Beltran’s days of double digit stolen bases are finished. However, Beltran’s power has not subsided. Beltran has clubbed at least 22 HRs over his last three seasons and hit at least .296 in two of those seasons. When we factor in Fangraph’s park factors, via Fangraphs, there’s an even bigger reason for optimism. Take a look at Table 1.
Table 1: Park Factors (Busch Stadium vs Yankee Stadium)
||1B as L
||1B as R
||2B as L
||2B as R
||3B as L
||3B as R
||HR as L
||HR as R
Higher ratings indicate a more hitter friendly park and when we consider home runs, Beltran gets a giant boost by playing half of his games at Yankee Stadium. For lefties, Yankee Stadium is the second most power hitter friendly park (Coors Field is first) while Busch Stadium ranks in the Bottom 10. For righties, Yankee Stadium is the seventh most friendly while Busch Stadium is in the Bottom 3. Beltran took 71 percent of his at-bats left-handed last season and hit 17 of his 24 homers from the left side. Add in the luxury of the DH and Beltran should be a safe bet for 70-75 games at Yankee Stadium. Therefore, as long as he continues to receive 600+ plate appearances, Beltran should see a spike in home runs.
In addition to a boost in park factors, Beltran will likely hit third and have more RBI opportunities than he did in St. Louis. Beltran hit second in St. Louis’ order and had the luxury of second baseman, Matt Carpenter (.396 on-base percentage) hitting in front of him. With the Yankees, Beltran will have Ellsbury (.355 OBP) and Derek Jeter (.362 OBP) hitting in front of him. Add in Brett Gardner (.352 OBP) when the line-up turns over and Beltran, who hit .374 with runners in scoring position last year, will have ample opportunities to drive in runs. Beltran should see a steady dose of fastballs with Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann hitting behind him as well.
Defensively, Beltran will grade out as below average, but when you factor in two plus defenders in LF (Gardner) and CF (Ellsbury), it’ll off-set Beltran’s shortcomings. In addition, Beltran will like see a third of his at-bats as a DH and the Yankees can insert Ichiro Suzuki into RF during late game situations. His glove won’t kill the Yankees, but he was ultimately brought in for his offense.
Based on these factors, I think Beltran has 30 HR, 100 RBI, .290+ batting average upside over 145 games. After reviewing some third-party projections, I think analysts are down on Beltran due the stigma surround his age (37) and ‘injury proneness’ (knee injuries in 2009 and 2010). Table 2 has their projections and my projection:
Table 2: Beltran Projections
Overall, I’m surprised how down Steamer and Oliver are on their projections. Beltran has some major things (home park, lineup, situational advantages) working in his favor. While ‘trying hard’ and ‘determination’ are things that go overlooked, Beltran has always wanted to be a Yankee. Before signing with the Mets in 2005, Beltran was very open about joining the Yankees. At the time, the Yankees had a declining Bernie Williams manning center field and opted for a cheaper Johnny Damon (four-years, $52 million) instead of a more expensive Beltran (seven-years, $119 million). Beltran, who hails from Puerto Rico, grew up idolizing Puerto Rican star, Bernie Williams. Just from listening to his press conference, Beltran is ecstatic about donning pinstripes.
While most Yankee fans are excited about Tanaka, McCann, and Ellsbury, expect Beltran to relish in a ‘secondary role’. Keep forgetting about him until April before watching him rake all summer long.