Old Reliable: Taking Beltre in 2015

I hear all you fantasy managers clambering for a chance to draft those young whippersnappers at the hot corner. Yes, Manny Machado had a great start to his career — before suffering two injuries and a bit of regression in some aspects. Yes, Kris Bryant was a beast in the minors in 2014 — but there are very few prospects who perform like all-stars out of the gate. Yes, Nolan Arenado should be keeper gold moving forward, but he’s not going to be a top-3 guy in 2015. What I propose is safer but also uses common sense: take the veteran who still produces, instead of the youngster who has a high ceiling but won’t reach that potential in 2015. Almost every player has a few red flags, but what matters is how major or minor those issues are. In Beltre’s case, I’m writing them off as minor in terms of 2015 production. Let’s look at (and debunk) the concerns about him.

His HR and SLG have dropped three straight years. You could argue that it’s a sign of age catching up to him, and maybe it’s a little true, but only in the slightest. However, he had his lowest FB% in in the last five years, and if that rebounds even a little, he’ll be at 20 HR easily. His HR/FB is trending downward as well, but he was consistent all of 2014 at 11%, and he still hits hard line drives (21-22% LD% the last three years). I’m not penciling him in for 30 HR again, like he did from 2011-13, but I set his floor at 20 and wouldn’t be surprised to see 25 with another 550 AB.

His 2014 BA is unsustainable due to high BABIP. Players’ BABIP fluctuate every year, and Beltre is no exception. What is the exception for him is that he’s consistently above the league average. Even if it was extra high for him in 2014, he has still been well above the league average the last three seasons. He may not reach .320 again, but his lowest BA in the last five seasons is .296 — the only time in that span he hit under .300. It’s safe to say he’s a BA machine, and that’s becoming a rarity in today’s game.

His run production was down in 2014. I really hope this doesn’t need much explaining, because the reason should be obvious. First, every Texas player, and maybe even the mascot and bat boys, got hurt in 2014. Without big bats in the lineup around him, there are fewer runs for Beltre to drive in, as well as fewer good hitters to drive him in. That’s also why his walk rate soared last year: he was the biggest (and only) threat in the lineup, so pitchers opted to walk him more often. He saw the fewest pitches in the strike zone of his entire career, and he set a career high in intentional walks.

Um, he missed time in 2014, so that means he’s old and risky? Okay, now you’re just trying to find excuses not to draft him over the youngsters. A quad injury at the start of the year won’t affect his 2015 projections. We’re done here.

Take a look at our 3B rankings for 2015. Note that there are only two guys who received all rankings at #3 or higher: Rendon and Beltre. Rendon is the hot new thing, and he’ll be solid for sure. But Beltre has been doing this for years, and even when he lost some HR in 2014, he was still the 5th best 3B option and the 50th best player in the game, according to CBS’s 5×5. There are no signs of an epic collapse here, just a few slight declines. He’s dropped from super-elite to just elite, but he’s far safer than most of the options at 3B. Don’t let his age or the allegedly decreased production in 2014 fool you. Adrian Beltre is going to be at the top of the rankings once again in 2015.

Kevin Jebens

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Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.