The Batter's EyeMarch 08, 2007
Yo, Adrian
By Jeff Albert

After a stellar 2004 season, Seattle 3B Adrian Beltre has somehow lost his belt. Unfortunately, the belt I am referring to has to do with producing long hits instead of holding up long pants. What's intriguing is not that Beltre's production fell off after a career year, but the degree to which his numbers have declined. After what seemed to be an MVP-type season where Beltre put it all together showing his tremendous ability, it seems that 2005 resulted in a return right back to square one - do not pass go, do not collect your $200 (uh, rather collect your $64 million, but I suppose that
is another story).

Age is often a reason for decreased production, but Beltre will turn 28 next month as he enters his ninth full season. With his experience and youth, Beltre should be primed to enter the most productive stretch of his career, so what gives?

Here is a look at Beltre in 2004 and 2006:

2004 uber-Beltre is on the left and a more human 2006 Beltre is on the right. I picked the two clips with the most similarity in regard to camera angle, pitch type/location and result. Again, these are synchronized to contact.

There are a lot of similarities when looking at setup and body position throughout the swings, but there is one major difference that caught my attention. Here is a more directed look:

Beltre's 2006 swing clearly shows that his hands are more visible behind his head as he prepares to unload his swing. The significance of this deals with Beltre's "swing time" - the time it takes him to unload once he has decided to go ahead with his swing.

In all honesty, I could argue that I like his 2006 swing better. If I had to guess which swing would produce more raw power, I would pick the one on the right. The reason is because the actual swing quickness between the two looks very similar, so if the 2006 swing shows the hands traveling a longer distance in the same time, it stands that the 2006 swing should be creating more bat speed.

The 2004 swing, however, shows that Beltre was initiating his shoulder rotation slightly earlier. This coincides with his hands and bat moving sooner to the ball, which indicates a quicker swing. Additionally, Beltre's arms look slightly more extended at contact on the left, which supports the concept that he is starting his swing earlier because the extra time from the quicker swing happens to be filled by the extra extension. If contact was made with the arms in exactly the same position, the difference in quickness would be more apparent.

Here is the best side view I could manage:

This angle also makes it clear that Beltre has to move his barrel a longer distance in 2006. If he could pull this off with all else remaining equal, I do think it could be a big plus, but that does not appear to be the case.

More bat speed does not always equal more power. The small matter of making consistent, hard contact comes into play. Looking at the stride foot of each swing, 2004 Beltre looks to begin his swing slightly later, which may mean that he is getting a better, longer look at the ball. This would allow him to process more information about the oncoming pitch, and the stats say he was producing enough bat speed to put up great power numbers.

Mariners hitting coach Jeff Pentland also seems to agree that a shorter swing correlates to better results from Beltre:

"Instead of swinging harder, we pulled him back and concentrated more on squaring the ball up and hitting it solid," Pentland said.

I have heard some arguments about players performing well in their "walk" year only to see performance decline after signing a lucrative contract, but is this the case with Beltre?

Considering these video clips, it appears that Beltre may actually be trying to do too much after signing that 5-year, $64 million free agent deal with Seattle. Perhaps the departure from his successful ways of 2004 results from dealing with higher expectations by attempting to do more, more, more. If so, Beltre might just need to realize how talented he is, stay within himself and just go about his business.

This realization may have begun during the second half of last season, when Beltre's batting average jumped 31 points and he hit 18 of his 25 home runs.

Referencing that stretch, Beltre said:

"You get frustrated (through the struggles)," Beltre said. "You know you can do better. It gets to be too much. Finally I got to the point where you say, 'whatever.' Then you just go out, see the ball and hit the ball."

Sometimes a slight change in mentality, mechanics (like changing the position of the hands in order to shorten the swing) or a good combination of the two is all it takes to recreate a comfort level of past success. Beltre is a good, young athlete with loads of experience which leads me to believe an explanation is out there and that there is hope that he can produce more closely to what his ability suggests.


Of course the best explanation is not minor changes to his swing, but that he was using a performance enhancing drug in 2004, a year that was wildly out of whack with his career before or since. Bone spurs, popping his hips, changing his swing et al fail the smell test and while I don't want to punish him (2004 was one of the greatest experiences of my life as a Dodger fan) or even chastise him, the most likely explanation is he, like a lot of players, cheated that year.

It seems his bat speed can really be seen in the follow through. His 2004 finish to the stroke is much quicker than in 2006.

As a l-o-n-g time Dodger fan, Beltre was one of my favorite players -- not because of the numbers he put up, but because of the kind of person he appeared to be. I believe his 2004 career year was a direct result of Beltre being happy and settled down with a wife and new baby. He realized that baseball was "just a game" and he looked forward to going home after the game. In effect, Beltre simply RELAXED. It is my opinion that had Beltre stayed in L.A. he would have continued to put up big numbers -- simply because he was comfortable, relaxed, and confident. And he no longer had to "prove himself." Moving to another team, the pressure to prove himself started all over again. I predict that, after 2 years in Seattle, Beltre will have a monster 2007 season, not unlike the MVP like year he had in 2004.


I get the performance enhancing drugs issue and I thought about it because that 2004 season was so dramatically different. However, I am not going to label each player with noticeable statistical improvements with the steroid brush. Until names come out with solid evidence, I've got to stick to what I see and the information provided by the players and coaches.

Tommy -

that was my impression too just from watching the video and considering how I would have felt as a player. It just so happened that when I looked up the articles I referenced today, Beltre mentioned trying a bit too hard and needing to relax. Beltre bounced back a bit in the second half last year and we'll see if he can carry it over for a nice 2007.

I might be imagining this, but I seem to remember that Beltre had foot issues during the 2004 season and many people claimed that issue led to his offensive explosion. Jeff, did you see anything along those lines when you compared the two years' swings? Again, I am not sure if this was the case, so I might be instigating a witch hunt. Thanks.

I certainly don't expect you to say he used steroids, I guess at this point I just think it is the most probable explanation. Still, he is young enough to put together a very solid career (he already has 191 HR, so he could end up with 300-400 if things break well).

If you're a GM, always, always, ALWAYS be suspicious of a player who puts up an out of character monster season in his walk year. Beltre is a prime example.

To me, the biggest difference in those first 2 clips is his footwork. In the 2006 version, he opens up his hips quicker and pulls away from the plate (you can't see his back foot any more at contact as it is hidden behind the wide open front foot). In 2004, he stayed on the ball longer and didn't jerk his lower body open trying to pull the ball. You can tell that his back foot is still visible behind his front foot as he stays on the ball longer with his lower body.

Yes - Beltre had bone spurs in his left ankle all season in 2004. This was the pet theory in the Dodgers forum I occasioanlly haunt - that the sore front ankle forced him to stay back on the ball for once in his life that year. Sadly - if this was the case - it seems that he did not learn.

I've never really bought the PED theory - Beltre's problem was never strength, or talent, per se, he just kept chasing bad sliders all the time. It really did seem like a change in approach, whatever the source, was what allowed him to finally bust out.

Fantastic job, Jeff. Really enjoyed reading this.

Just a small question, though - when was the 2006 clip taken? Not only Post-ASB, but also well into June Beltre was hitting well. Was this clip taken during his April-May slump?

I've been trying to figure out Beltre for a while now. Speaking as a Mariner fan, he's been a frustration, but I can't help but cheer for the guy. Most people don't expect Beltre to put up those 2004 MVP numbers, but anything around a .850-.900 OPS in Safeco would justify his contract.

2006 clip is from the September 26th game - his first of 4 hr's in 4 games.

There's not even one little bit of evidence that steroids can take you from being a player that puts up Beltre's 2005 or 2006 lines to being a player that puts up Beltre's 2004 line.

Also, people think of Beltre's contract as a disaster, but after you adjust his batting line for Safeco's hatred of righty power and his stellar defense, he's not at all a bad free agent value. Aramis Ramirez is probably not one bit more valuable than Beltre.

The comment concerning Beltre opening up early and trying to pull everything may reflect park factors at Safeco. It seems likely that Beltre developed some bad habits trying to suit his swing to Safeco's spacious, home run dampening effect. It is a very difficult park on right handed power hitters, and righties have their most success pulling it straight down the left hand line. I suspect Beltre tried to overload his swing (lengthened it) and beginning pulling off to try to replicate his power results in LA by shooting for the left field line and swinging harder. LA is not a hitters park by any measure, but it has played favorable to home runs for a number of years. It is a little ironic that Beltre would go the route of starting his swing earlier and opening up since its actually counter productive in Safeco. There are good gaps in the outfield for homeruns and the rightfield porch is reachable for a player with good opposite field power. If Beltre had retained his LA swing, I suspect he still would have seen a drop in homeruns due to Safeco, but would have had some offsetting doubles and his road numbers probably wouldn't have taken the same hit (his road numbers have been very good as a Mariner, just not as good as his last year in LA).

Definitely agree with you there, IMFink'sPa - Safeco has seemed to ruin many a right-handed hitters.

And to build further on that, Beltre was much more of a pull hitter in 2005-2006 than he was in 2004 with the Dodgers.

If you compare the hitting charts ( between the 2005-2006 seasons with the 2004 season, you'll note that Beltre appears to use the entire field much more in '04 than in any other year. His homerun, singles, and doubles distribution in 2004 (at Dodger Stadium) has a more even spread than in 2005 and 2006 (at Safeco), which shows Beltre being more pull conscious.

This seems to also coincide with Jeff's notes - if Beltre is trying to draw out more power and is trying too hard, it makes sense that pulling the ball comes naturally.

First, nice article. I like it when you guys do this type of analysis.

Second, I can't stand the Dodgers and I've never much liked Adrian Beltre. But, can we just analyze baseball, its variables and its varience w/o labeling every player who became good or is good as a "steroid" user. Do you actually believe that a professional baseball player takes a magic "steroid" pill that just all of a sudden makes him good AND made him "good" for one stretch of 162 games? My God Benaiah, study the issue some without throwing out the "most probable explanation." It's crap, it's a non-starter and that's putting my thoughts about your comments lightly. Is Beltre "small" or "unathletic" now? Does he suck somehow now? Hell no, he's a decent MLB hitter and good 3B. What's your analysis going to say if he has a great year now or two years from now? Oh wait, I forgot, he most probably used "steroids" again.

(What's more, blanket statements about Player X's abilities and relating them to a magic pill--this is my view--leads to a dumbing of the real issues, challenges, ethics, and debates surrounding the use of PEDs by athletes in all sports.)

Hey Jeff,

Good article. I really enjoy these!

To me it also looks like Beltre's 2004 swing is a bit more level across his body while his 2006 has a bit of an uppercut too it.

What do you think?

Suds - "between the 2005-2006 seasons with the 2004 season, you'll note that Beltre appears to use the entire field much more in '04 than in any other year"

Sure, but then go back and look at 2003, 2002 - to me they look similar to 05/06, and that tracks with what I remember. I don't think it's Safeco - his 2004 approach/spray was different from anything he's done since, but also anything he did before. I'm sticking with my bone spur theory.

Beltre's batspeed in '04 is a heck of a lot quicker than the '06 version. Lining them up like that makes it that much more evident.

Mechanically the '06 version doesn't waste power in the weight transfer with his right foot, like the '04 version. Its actually a MORE effecient swing.

Also in the third visual you can see that Beltre is considerable more ripped, especially in the forearms and thighs.

Jeff, Rob, Willy Mo and others. You all had great observations! Being compact,quick,closed and level produced better results than being long, lumbering, flying open and uppercutting.

Good comments Kent. I agree with you. That answer is just too easy and convenient to use, not to mention patently unfair in many cases.