Saturday, November 13, 2010

Theo's Conference Call Part 1: Adrian Beltre

Theo Epstein held a conference call today.  As Peter Abrahams writes:
"In strong terms, he said the Red Sox want Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez back and are pursuing them. Epstein said media reports portraying anything else are inaccurate."
I'm not surprised Epstein wants Beltre back.  Beltre, a supreme defender at third base, has a swing that seems uniquely suited to take advantage of the Green Monster.  Plus, how can you dislike a guy that had a .390 wOBA, 11.8 UZR, and 7.1 WAR in 2010?   What's not to like?  Well, for starters, his .331 BABIP.  For his career, Beltre's put up a .294 BABIP.  Based on his .313 xBABIP, I'd say he's a pretty clear candidate for regression to the mean.  While Beltre was a little lucky on balls on play, this was due to his ability to pepper the Green Monster for doubles and long singles.  As a pure pull hitter, I see Beltre being the type of player that will continue to have a similar rate of success on balls in play assuming he continued to play half of his games at Fenway.

Where I see his regression occurring is in his strikeout rate.  During his time with the Mariners, Beltre put up strikeout rates of 17.9%, 19.0%, 17.5%, 16.2%, and 16.5%.  Last year with the Red Sox, he put up a 13. 9% rate.  Over the course of these two samples, Beltre's walk rate remained the same (6.3% versus 6.2%).  Digging a little deeper, I decided to look at the average number of pitches Beltre saw per plate appearance.  During his time in Seattle, Beltre saw an average of 3.76 pitches per PA.  While with the Red Sox in 2010, he saw 3.74 pitcher per PA.  The difference is negligible.

So how does a pitcher drop his strikeout rate by 3% while not seeing any difference in his walk and patience rates?  Well, it's possible Beltre changed his approach at the plate in two strike counts.  Rather than remaining aggressive, it's possible he took a defensive approach, merely trying to put the ball in play.  While this is certainly possible, I find it to be unlikely due to his aggressive nature.  The more likely excuse is that he was lucky.  If that is the case, we'll likely see his strikeout rate regress to his career means, thereby dragging his batting average down with it.  As I discussed last week, Beltre is still a great bet to provide enough value to justify a four or five year deal worth $14M per season, regardless of any regression.  Look for Epstein to make a strong push to re-sign Beltre this offseason.

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