Claim to fame: Seemingly, Carlos Beltran's moment has arrived. As I write this, Game 3 of the National League Championship Series is underway, and while Beltran's St. Louis Cardinals are present losing 3-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers, something has finally come to light through this series: Beltran is a beast in the postseason. I never knew this, but through 181 lifetime plate appearances in the postseason entering Monday, Beltran has had 16 home runs and 34 RBI with a .340/.448/.740 slash line. Beltran's heroics in helping the Cardinals take the first two games of the series may have done something else for the 36-year-old centerfielder-- solidified his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Beltran is, of course, still playing and will be eligible for Cooperstown with the Baseball Writers Association of America five years after retirement. Realistically, that puts him as a first-time Hall candidate sometime around autumn of 2020, give or take. It'll be interesting to see what the ballot looks like by the time Beltran appears on it.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Postseason heroics aside, Beltran is more or less a bubble case for Cooperstown. Currently, he's amassed 67.6 Wins Above Replacement to go with 358 home runs, a 122 OPS+ and .283 batting average, among other stats. For traditional numbers, Beltran would rank among the bottom tier of power hitting outfielders in Cooperstown. He's already drawing comparisons to Jim Rice, and I imagine he may also be likened, unfavorably, to Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda and Andre Dawson, among others. Sabermetrically, however, Beltran's arguably done enough already for a plaque, and his credentials will only build if he can play above replacement level for another 2-3 seasons.
Since 1901, 45 offensive players, counting Beltran, have amassed 60-70 WAR lifetime. Of these players, 21 are in the Hall of Fame, nine are not yet eligible, 14 are eligible but not enshrined, and one, Shoeless Joe Jackson, is permanently ineligible. Using the invaluable Play Index tool on Baseball-Reference.com, I subdivided these players, save for Shoeless Joe, into three groups:
1. 60-70 WAR, in the Hall of Fame
Pee Wee Reese
Home Run Baker
2. 60-70 WAR, not yet eligible
3. 60-70 WAR, eligible but not enshrined
My hunch is that Beltran will find himself as a long-term member of the third group. It's a collection of underrated players who compiled stats more than they dominated, men who had 10, maybe 15 consistent seasons but rarely played at an unworldly level. That fits Beltran who parlayed a bright start to his career in Kansas City into a lucrative free agent deal with the Mets that yielded a few All Star appearances and Gold Gloves, but nothing that hasn't been done before. Tie this in with some injury trouble, and some may argue that Beltran was a disappointment, that he failed to reach his full potential. I wouldn't argue this, but I'm guessing the vast majority of voters will.
I like to think that in some cases the aggregate of a bubble player's accomplishments is enough to warrant a Hall of Fame plaque, but voting rarely works this way, at least not yet. The BBWAA is a cool, unforgiving voting bloc for a forgotten great like Willie Davis, who I sometimes mix up with Tommy Davis and who never even appeared on the Cooperstown ballot. If a player doesn't have an iconic image or some statistical benchmark seemingly achieved free of steroids, he faces a tough road to the Hall of Fame.
Carlos Beltran's future candidacy will be an interesting litmus test to see how much things have changed or will have changed among Hall voters, if sabermetrics has gained enough of a foothold to give Beltran a serious shot at a plaque. I'm not holding my breath. If I had to guess, I'd say Beltran goes the way of Dwight Evans, who fell off a particularly deep ballot in 1999, his third year of eligibility, with 3.6 percent of the vote. It's easy to get caught up in the hype of the NLCS and say right now that Beltran's postseason heroics will be enough to win him recognition, but Evans had them too, making a game-saving catch in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series and shining in the 1986 World Series. I wonder what the half life is for these moments, if Beltran's will be remembered in the minds of Hall voters five, seven or however many years from now.
It's not to say that Evans, Beltran or any number of the other men listed above won't one day be honored by the Veterans Committee. Still, I wouldn't count on this anytime soon.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is an occasional feature here.
Others in this series: Adrian Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Albert Pujols, Allie Reynolds, Andy Pettitte, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Bill King, Billy Martin, Billy Pierce, Bobby Grich, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Craig Biggio, Curt Flood, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Dick Groat, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe,Dwight Evans, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Gus Greenlee, Harold Baines, Harry Dalton, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, Johan Santana, John Smoltz, Johnny Murphy, Jose Canseco,J.R. Richard, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Kevin Brown, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Omar Vizquel, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito,Roger Maris, Ron Cey, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa, Sean Forman, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey,Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Tony Oliva, Vince Coleman, Vlad Guerrero, Will Clark