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Is This A Carlos Beltran Renaissance?

Beltran has been hitting like it’s 2011 and he’s a young man again. How legit is his power surge this year?

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees
Carlos Beltran has been the Yankees’ best hitter this year. Can he continue to be?
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

In case you’ve missed it, or are not a Yankees fan, Carlos Beltran has been looking like his old self lately. He’s 39 years old, but his bat thinks he’s still 34. Is there something real going on here or just a temporary streak that won't last?

First, let’s look at his stats: 0.286/0.319/0.571, 16 HR, 0.286 ISO, 136 wRC+, 4.7% BB%, 20.3% K%.

Well, you can see his power looks great. His ISO hasn’t been this high since 2006! His batting average is at a three-year high. He already has almost as many home runs as he did last year (19). His wRC+ is the highest it has been since 2011. And so on. Basically, every one of these stats is not far from career highs.

His strikeout and walk rates, however, are at or near career worsts, so it’s not all puppies, lollipops, and rainbows. He’s rolling with a very reasonable 8.3% swinging strike percentage, though, so the strikeouts shouldn’t be a big problem. The walk rate will keep his OBP down in the 0.320 range, instead of 0.360, but that’s ok if it comes with this power.

How has his power increased this much? He’s hitting the same number of fly balls and pulling them at about the same rate as last year. His hard hit rate is up 2% from last year, to a great 35.8%. It was already good last year and now it is even better.

On the other hand, his HR/FB% sits at 21.9%, which would be a career high. Yes, Yankee stadium is very friendly for left handed hitters (he’s a switch hitter), but that is probably an unsustainable rate for him. Is it backed up by exit velocity and launch angle?

His average FB + LD exit velocity is 93.7 mph, good for 127th best in baseball. That’s not great. If you look just at the most productive contact (check out this article for more about exit velocity and launch angle), angled between 22 and 28 degrees, 90 mph or higher exit velocity, you find out that Beltran has 9 of these hits this year, good for a tie for 79th in baseball. He’s tied with Kole Calhoun, Matt Holliday, Andrew McCutchen, David Wright, Chris Carter, Stephen Vogt, and Corey Dickerson, to name a few. That’s a mixed bag as far as power goes, but it could be worse.

On ESPN’s home run tracker, Beltran has 4 “just enough” home runs, which is good for a tie for 25th highest. To make things more confusing, he also has 4 “no doubt” homers, which is tied for 7th most with guys like David Ortiz, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, and others.

The last piece in this power surge puzzle is normally his average home run fly ball distance, but that site is down (hopefully just temporarily?). Instead, I decided to look at his ISO on different pitch types to see if anything is going on there.

Here’s a table of his ISO against different pitch types, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

You can see he loves fastballs. His ISO against all types of fastballs is excellent this year, but he struggles with breaking balls. Offspeed stuff seems to be ok. Let’s compare that to the same chart from 2015.

He still preferred fastballs, but not in such an extreme way. His slider ISO wasn’t terrible, either. The biggest difference is that he destroying four seam fastballs this year, where he was merely hitting them well last year. Have pitchers responded by throwing him fewer fastballs this year?

Surprisingly, no. His rate of fastballs thrown to him is nearly identical for all the fastball varieties (55.5% for all fastballs in 2015, 54.2% in 2016). Pitchers aren’t catching on yet.

Let’s sum this all up. Carlos Beltran looks almost as good as he did in his prime. His power is looking especially good. Given that pitchers are still throwing him tons of fastballs and there weren't any big red flags in his batted ball data (other than his HR/FB %), I think this is a real power surge. I think his home run rate will fall off with his HR/FB ratio, but his slugging shouldn’t suffer much. If pitchers start throwing him more sliders or curves, he could see his numbers plummet, but it hasn’t happened so far. He’s still an injury risk given his age and history, but he’s still a good buy in redrafts for his power. Tschus!