Is there any hope for Carlos Beltran’s bat?

Substandard would be an appropriate description of Carlos Beltran‘s 2014 campaign. He was added to be the lineup’s bopper after Robinson Cano‘s departure, but Beltran’s failed to live up to his reputation, batting .235/.292/.420 (94 wRC+) in 370 plate appearances. Age and health are the most obvious factors to assign blame, but is there anything behind the numbers that hint at improvement?

A career low .246 BABIP, a mark Beltran has posted evenly from both sides of the dish, indicates bad luck without digging deeply. To some extent, that rate should regress in his favor, but there are other factors implying his low BABIP is merited. Compared to last season and his career, Beltran’s line drive rate is down 7% and 3% respectively. In turn, his ground balls are up 9% and 3% vs. the same periods. Obviously, line drives have the highest probability of landing for a hit, so such a transition is a driving force against Beltran’s offensive output. Simply put, he’s not hitting the ball with authority like he once did.

Beltran’s experienced most of his difficulties as a lefty, from which he’s posted a 59 wRC+ in 220 plate appearances this year. On the other side, he’s hit a respectable 111 wRC+ in 116 trips to the plate. Despite being a productively balanced switch-hitter for the duration of his career, Beltran was also significantly worse from the left-handed batter’s box last season. If this is what Beltran is going forward, the Yankees have a pricey platoon designated hitter type through 2016. That’s quite the conundrum, particularly with the majority of the league’s pitchers throwing right-handed.

If the batted ball data and platoon split wasn’t enough to be concerned about, let’s pile on with what I briefly mentioned in the first paragraph: age and health. Who could be positive about a struggling 37 year-old with past knee problems that has already missed 30 games because of unrelated injuries? These issues only cast further doubt on the odds his batted ball and platoon stats rebound.

Perhaps future projections can tell a better story. ZiPS and Steamer still foresee Beltran to be above average with the bat for the remainder of the season. ZiPS likes Beltran to post a .337 wOBA, while Steamer is a bit more rosy pegging the switch-hitter for a .351 wOBA. However, both are down on Beltran since the preseason forecasts were released. Before Opening Day, ZiPS and Steamer pointed to a .346 and .357 wOBA respectively, so the rest of season projections certainly believe that Beltran has fallen. They don’t think he’s shot, which is of some solace, but they’ve exhibited some degree of pessimism.

To answer the post’s question, there isn’t much hope anywhere other than the projection systems. Indeed, ZiPS and Steamer are better guesses at a player’s future than one person’s analysis, so not all belief in Beltran’s bat should be gone. Nonetheless, they do buy into Beltran’s drop in ability over this season’s four and a half months of play. If I had to bet, I’d take the under on Beltran’s estimates going forward. His age, health, batted ball data, and developing lopsided platoon is too troublesome for me to feel confident in his future performance.

Statistics and projections via Fangraphs.

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