Defending Carlos Beltran from the Steve Phillips screwdriver
ESPN's Phillips criticized Beltran on Sunday night, saying "his game is inconsistent"
Beltran is hitting .367 with power and he is on pace to steal 30 bases
He has also driven in 100 runs and scored 100 runs eight times in his career
One of my favorite things when I was a kid was watching the oddsmaker Jimmy the Greek match up football teams on the old NFL Today pregame show. CBS had set up one of those high-tech boards -- kind of like the one in the game show Password Plus -- where the piece of cardboard would slide out to reveal check marks. This team would get a check mark for having the better offense, but the other team might get the check mark for better defense. Then, if I remember right, there was coaching and home-field advantage.
And finally, there were "intangibles." Even as a kid, I loved the irony of Jimmy the Greek giving one team an edge in "intangibles." To me, it was like a grownup version of "cooties" -- this girl has more cooties than that girl. But Jimmy would do it all right, and he would explain those intangibles, too. He would say that this team was playing better so they had an edge in intangibles, or that team wasn't very good on the road so they had a disadvantage in intangibles, and it was all quite enjoyable.
As I got older, though, I started to realize that there is something troubling about intangibles ... people tend to use them whenever they want to make a point that makes no tangible sense. I worked in a factory for a while, and there was this guy in there that everybody liked. He had a good sense of humor, and he always made sure to say hello to everyone, and he buttered up the boss, and he would always offer to buy the person next to him a can of Coke when he went to the break room. Good guy. But he didn't do squat. I mean, he didn't do ANYTHING. Trucks would come with boxes, and he was nowhere to be found. Barrels needed to be moved, and he was nowhere to be found. Then, you'd run into him, and he'd say he was doing something, and he'd tell you a joke and offer to buy you a Coke, and life went on. THAT guy had intangibles. He also was virtually worthless.
I bring this up because Sunday night, ESPN announcer Steve Phillips apparently found a way to rip Carlos Beltran. Now, I want to make this very clear: Carlos Beltran is hitting .367 with power, and he he has walked more times than he has struck out. He is on pace to steal 30 bases while getting caught five times. He has won center field Gold Gloves each of the last three seasons, and he deserved them all -- he has won the Fielding Bible* award as the best center fielder in baseball two of the last three years.
*I always point out: I'm on the Fielding Bible panel. But I'm only one man!
Beltran has also been the best base runner in the game for the last seven or eight years. He has faltered a touch this year, but he has been a +32 base runner every year since 2002 -- that's 32 more bases than the average base runner every single year (going first to third, second to home, first to home on a double, stolen bases, etc.)
My point is not to say that Carlos Beltran is above criticism. My point is to say that ... well, yeah, at the moment, Carlos Beltran is above criticism. Are you kidding me? A brilliant defensive center fielder who hits, hits with power, steals bases, runs the bases, draws walks ... and this year, so far, he's hitting .367. Is he perfect? Of course not. But if you want to judge him by certain criteria ... well, hey, wait a minute, here's some criteria right here, courtesy of Steve Phillips himself (quotes from this insightful article from the typically insightful Ted Berg):
"That guy who's a good base runner, a good defender, doesn't give up at-bats, gets the hit when you need the hit, drives in a run when you need the run, always seems to be in the right position. I think the good teams have that guy ... that singular flawless player that in every aspect of the game, lead."
Sure. Lots of teams have good defenders and good base runners who get the hit when you need the hit and drive in the run when you need the run and always seem to be in the right position and lead and also are flawless. Absolutely. Can't have a team without one of those guys.
So, who would fit all that? Mighty Hercules?*
*Hercules! Hero of song and story!
Well, how about Albert Pujols? Sure. Steve Phillips pointed him out quickly, though it should be noted that Steve Phillips' Mets did have 13 chances to draft Pujols just like everyone else, and swung and missed. Anyway, how about Pujols? He's the best player in the game, I've said that a million times. So can he be Steve Phillips' Mighty Hercules?
Good base runner: Yeah, he's good. But that check mark goes to Beltran.
Good defender: Pujols is an excellent first baseman. Beltran is a world-class center fielder. Check mark to Beltran.
Doesn't give up at-bats: Check mark to Pujols, though Beltran is on-basing .466 at the moment.
Gets the hit when you need the hit/drives in the run when you need the run: Check mark to Pujols, but Beltran is no slouch in the clutch. There are some pretty decent playoff numbers that prove the point.
Always seems to be in the right position: And here we have the bull hockey -- the intangibles. What is this supposed to mean? No, really, what? Carlos Beltran has driven in 100 runs and scored 100 runs eight times in his career. Seems to me, that's where he's supposed to be.
Flawless? Leader?: No idea. Check mark to Jimmy the Greek.
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