Monday, May 08, 2006

Money well spent

Carlos Beltran wasn't good last season. There's no need to rehash it here. Suffice it to say that he was a page after Jason LaRue on the list of NL hitters by VORP. It was enough to make people either forget about his 2004 or conclude that Shea Stadium is such a miserable place to hit that there's no way he'll ever do anything like it as a Met.

To review: In 2004, Beltran hit 38 regular season home runs. Because of the seemingly pointless custom of restarting the counting-stat odometer at zero when a player switches teams midseason, it never really got presented as a 38 home run season (even ESPN's player page makes you do the math). But that's what it was. He also stole 42 bases while only getting caught three times, extending his lead in career SB%, which as far as I know he still holds.

Then came the postseason, when in 46 AB he hit .435/.536/1.022, with a record 8 home runs. This did not go unnoticed, nor did the fact that he would be a free agent at the end of the season. The "contract year" theory gets an awful lot of run, I think in large part because it appeals to our natural jealousy of millionaire ballplayers.

In any case when Omar signed Beltran to such a massive contract, a lot of the mainstream commentary was focused on how much Carlos had profited financially from his incredible October. While it undoubtedly boosted his market price, so too must have his calendar year totals at age 27: 46 home runs and 50 steals in 646 at-bats.

So what happened? Disastrously little. His debut in New York was worse than I would have thought possible. I think it's safe to say we all remember it, and felt our emotions go from confusion to frustration, with a brief layover at rage on the way to despair.

The skeptics had warned us that Shea Stadium isn't as hitter friendly as Kansas City or Houston. We knew he had a leg injury, and smashed heads with Cameron, but how could we be sure that that was the only problem. And even if it was, would he ever fully recover?

As I pointed out at the time late last season, Mike and the Mad Dog took to speaking of Beltran as a "role player," who was not the marquee talent that had been advertised and paid for. The high expectations themselves were blamed for the lack of performance. "He can't play in New York" was the consensus in the New York media (it's obvious how much pride they take in the city's powers of intimidation).

They were right in that he wasn't playing well in New York, but it was and always will be patently ridiculous to suggest that Beltran didn't deserve to be considered a franchise player in the first place, and that 2005 was just his forseeable regression to the "good" player he had been all along. But what's this we see in the 2006 row? It looks like a .286/.441/.671 line. He seems to have eight homers and four steals.

Maybe, just maybe, the four years before he came to New York are a better reflection of his abilities than his first year with the Mets. Maybe a few years from now we'll find it hard to believe he ever got booed at Shea.

1 comment:

MKD said...

Couldn't agree with you more on Beltran. He looks like a pretty good fantasy pick this year, as a matter of fact. I call what Beltran suffered last year "Alex Rodriguez Syndrome." No, it's not clever. But Beltran's not the first person to suffer through a difficult first year in NYC...or the first person to rebound from one.