Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Replacing Mike Lowell: Adrian Beltre

If the Red Sox move any closer to signing Adrian Beltre to play third base and unloading Mike Lowell, you'll start to see more and more comparisons between the two. Some might even wonder if Beltre, a righthanded-hitting slugger, would put dents in the Green Monster the way Lowell has done for the past four seasons.

That, though, is not what the Red Sox would be signing Beltre to do.

Every move this season has to be examined through the lens of the criteria Theo Epstein laid out only a few days after the Angels eliminated the Red Sox from the playoffs in October:
1. The Red Sox need to get better defensively.
2. The Red Sox need to get better at hitting on the road.

Beltre would serve both purposes.

First things first: Beltre can catch the ball as well as any third baseman in the game. He ranked third in the major leagues in plus-minus this season (plus-27) and third in the major leagues with 21 runs saved on defense. In 2008, he led the major leagues with a plus-32 and with 24 runs saved.

If you accept the sabermetric idea that 10 runs saved or created equal one win, Beltre is worth more than two wins with his defense alone.

Lowell, on the other hand, saw his range drop precipitously this season in the aftermath of a hip injury, and there's no guarantee it's coming back. He finished this season with a minus-23 and was credited with minus-17 runs saved -- meaning he cost the Red Sox almost two wins with his defense alone.

Replacing Lowell with Beltre at third base turns the Red Sox from a below-average defensive team at third base to an elite defensive team at third base -- and that could mean turning a 95-win team into a 99-win team.

But fans aren't going to judge the success of a move by its impact on defense -- not for a third baseman, the type of player who's supposed to hit.

Lowell made a living driving doubles off the Green Monster -- he OPS'ed .932 at home this season -- but saw his slugging percentage drop in a big way on the road (.713). Part of the reason the Red Sox acquired him was because he fit Fenway Park so well.

Beltre wouldn't be as great of a fit for the Green Monster -- and it's easy to look at his spray chart from 2008, his last healthy season, to see why:

Beltre can hit for power to all fields -- and not just to left field.

If you look closely at the chart, there actually aren't many doubles or fly balls that the Green Monster would turn into home runs, and there might be a few doubles or home runs that the cavernous right field at Fenway Park would turn into outs.

But here's the M. Night Shyamalan twist: The Red Sox don't need a hitter who can tattoo the Green Monster. No team in the American League had a higher home slugging percentage than the Red Sox's .498, and no team in the American League scored more runs than the Red Sox's 481 -- or 5.93 per game.

The Red Sox need a hitter who can do some damage on the road.

Playing his games at Seattle's Safeco field, Beltre OPS'ed a woeful .702 at home in 2008 and .646 in 2009. On the road, though, where everything evens out, Beltre has OPS'ed .862 and .717, respectively, in the past two seasons

If you want to give Beltre a break for this season because of his injuries, it's worth pointing out that only Victor Martinez, Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis OPS'ed better than .850 on the road for the Red Sox season.

If you don't want to give Beltre a break for this season, well, at least he'd become one of the few hitters in the Red Sox lineup who seems to be at least as comfortable cruising around the American League as he is in his home ballpark.

Oh, and Beltre has a career .534 slugging percentage at Yankee Stadium.

The biggest reason to make the investment in Beltre would be for the defensive upgrade at third base. His numbers at the plate actually are remarkably similar to those of Lowell -- and, in terms of OPS+, he's actually a little bit worse than Lowell.

But if the Red Sox are looking for someone who can hit on the road -- and, of course, for someone who can catch the ball -- Beltre might be just the guy.


dbhammel said...

Do you mean Beltre might be the guy, in your last paragraph?

Brian MacPherson said...

Always a critic.

floydiansea said...

Tug Hulett?