The saying goes that the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball. A pitcher will throw the small ball towards the plate at extremely high velocities, and it is the hitter’s job to square up the ball on the barrel of his wooden club and hit it somewhere within a 90 degree horizontal range. It’s even better if the batter can place the ball in an area on the playing field that isn’t occupied by a defender. The batter must then run 90 feet before the ball can be thrown to his destination. By design, baseball is hard. It’s even harder to be good at baseball.
Now consider what goes into being so good at hitting a baseball that one can do it at a professional level. Then, consider how good you’d have to be to do it in the majors. Then consider the skills necessary to have a Hall of Fame-level stretch of success.
To reach the Hall, a player needs to be consistently good at hitting for about 17-20 years. An athlete’s body is much easier to wrangle at 22 than it is at 39. Many physical adjustments must be made, along with compensations for the injuries that take their toll along the long road to advanced age.
This, in short, is why it’s so impressive that Carlos Beltran is still hitting the daylights out of the ball. Beltran is 38-years-old, and has been in the bigs since he was 21. Since he broke in with Kansas City in 1998, Beltran has supplied 67.1 WARP and a .293 TAv. Once one of the more brilliant outfield defenders in the game, Beltran was a two-way threat of the highest order. His 20o6 campaign with the Mets — a 9.7 WARP, 41-homer rampage — is one of the best seasons ever put together by a member of that team.
The signing of the then-37-year-old Beltran before the 2014 season seemed like a risky endeavor. He proceeded to hit .233/.301/.402 and realize every fan’s worst fear. The Yankees had clearly been too hasty in seeking to replace the offensive production lost in Robinson Cano’s move to Seattle. Not only that, but Beltran’s old age and decreased mobility left him woefully ill prepared to track down balls in the outfield.
The good news is that Beltran bounced back from an offensive standpoint in 2015. A .260 TAv jumped to .280, and 94 hits to 132. Now in 2016, Beltran has been one of the team’s most important hitters in the early going.
Though it’s very unsustainable, Beltran has hit a whopping .351/.368/.649 in his first 38 plate appearances out of the gate. In a time of hardship for the run-scoring arm of the Yankees, Beltran has been an oasis in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Alex Rodriguez has struggled mightily and the team as a whole has largely failed to cash in when runners are in scoring position.
As he always has, Beltran is crushing both righty and lefty pitching as one of the better switch-hitters in the league. Against right-handers, Beltran is hitting .313/.333/.563. Against lefties, he’s hit .444 in 9 plate appearances. Regression is practically screaming to bang down the door and sink its claws into Beltran. For now, though, Yankees fans will just enjoy the ride.
Beltran has said that he hopes to continue playing once this season and his contract with New York are through. PECOTA projects a .271 TAv and 19 more home runs from here until the end of the year, and if that comes to pass, it’s not hard to imagine and AL team picking him up to serve as their designated hitter for a year or two. Eventually, like all good things, Beltran’s career must come to an end. When it does, he will be a likely member of the Hall of Fame. Until then, the Yankees will continue to enjoy his bat in the middle of their lineup.
Lead photo: Noah K. Murray / USA Today Sports