Presently, Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals leads the All-Star balloting among NL outfielders. While Beltran hasn't been the most productive of all in his peer group, he is indeed having an excellent season: .306/.348/.543 and on pace for 37 home runs.
Obviously, Beltran is still capable of performing at a high level, but he's 36 and in the final year of his contract. Presumably, he'll continue playing, but it's not premature to consider Beltran's Hall-of-Fame case.
To get the discussion started, here are some of Beltran's notable career numbers at the plate: .283/.360/.498; 123 OPS+; 2,143 hits; 351 homers (86th all-time); 424 doubles; 75 triples; 850 extra-base hits (80th all-time); 307 stolen bases; 1,289 RBI; 1,305 runs scored; 3,370 total bases; 3,095 times on base; 912 walks; 84 sac flies (76th all-time). As you can see, Beltran, as an All-Star-caliber performer who has spent parts of 16 seasons in the majors, has put up impressive "counting" stats.
As for hardware, Beltran was the AL Rookie of the Year in 1999. He's also a seven-time All-Star (soon to be eight-time) and a two-time Silver Slugger. Clutch? In terms of win probability added, which measures how much a player improves (or worsens) his team's chances of winning a given game, Beltran ranks 74th on the all-time list.
Of course, it goes beyond what he did at the plate. A good deal of Beltran's value is tied up in what was, pre-decline-phase, his outstanding glove work in center and superb base-running. Beltran won three Gold Gloves during his prime, and he was, to the eyes and to the numbers, an elite defensive center fielder for many years. On the bases, he swiped more than 300 bags, as noted, but he also achieved a stolen-base success rate of 86.48 percent that is the highest all-time among players with a minimum of 200 attempted steals.
How to put it all together? Over at the miracle-working Baseball-Reference.com, they include on every player page a rundown of how each player stacks up according to Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, which, using both peak and career wins above replacement (WAR), compares a player to those already inducted at his position or role. (Obligatory: WAR is not the final word on any player's value, but it is a useful thumbnail and starting point.) Now, here's how Beltran's JAWS score, fueled by WAR, compares to those outfielders already in the Hall ...
|Carlos Beltran and Jay Jaffe's JAWS|
|Player||Career WAR||7-year peak WAR||Overall JAWS score|
|Avg. Hall of Fame center fielder||70.5||44.1||57.3|
|Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference|
As you can see, according to JAWS, Beltran's right up against the line. He's precisely equal in terms of peak and just shy when it comes to career WAR and JAWS. Overall, that places Beltran ninth on the JAWS list of center fielders. The only players ahead of Beltran who aren't in the Hall are Ken Griffey Jr. (an obvious first-ballot selection once he's eligible) and Kenny Lofton (one of the most underrated players of the contemporary era). For me, what pushes Beltan into Hall-worthiness territory is his postseason excellence, which JAWS doesn't account for and which, in my opinion, should matter when discussing Hall of Fame dossiers.
In 151 postseason plate appearances spanning seven series, Beltran batted .363/.470/.782 with 14 homers, 10 doubles, 25 RBI, 39 runs scored and 11 steals in as many attempts. Prorate that to a full season's worth of plate appearances (say, 650), and you get an output of 60 homers (!), 40 doubles, 101 RBI and 157 runs scored (!). And keep in mind those numbers are coming against, generally speaking, some of the best pitching staffs. To put a finer point on it, in Beltran's "worst" postseason series -- the 2006 NLDS -- he posted an OBP of .500.
And remember this moment that, in an example of the worst reductionist tendencies in baseball narrative-shaping, has come to define Beltran the playoffs?
Beltran batted .296/.387/.667 with three homers in that series, the 2006 NLCS. Without Beltran's prior bestowals, there is no Game 7 loss for the Mets because they would've been eliminated earlier. The man simply abused the ball once the calendar flipped to October.
While I generally recoil at the notion that fans and media can truly know a player on a personal level, it's worth noting that Danny Knobler's excellent piece on Beltran's work in his native Puerto Rico should satisfy a character clause or three.
Add it all up -- the well-rounded excellence across more than 15 years, the superlative playoff performances and his "solid citizen" status -- and, for me, you've got a Hall of Famer in Beltran. The longer that Beltran sustains what he has been doing lately, the more obvious that will become.