Time waits for no man. It’s mean like that. It’s even meaner to baseball players, systematically robbing them of their skills as they drift further from their youth.

Except for Adrian Beltre, who’s playing like he’s 37 going on 27.

It feels like Beltre has been lost in the shuffle in the Texas Rangers‘ rise to the top of the American League in 2016, but he’s been creeping back into the spotlight since the All-Star break. The creeping continued in a 12-4 thumping of the Houston Astros on Saturday at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Beltre pitched in three hits, including his 439th career home run.

So it goes for Beltre in the second half. He was just OK in the first half, hitting .281 with a .778 OPS and 12 homers. But since the break, he’s hit .311 with a .985 OPS and 14 homers. The veteran third baseman has been among the American League’s top hitters.

Just like that, a season that once seemed ticketed for mediocrity is now looking a lot like the other five seasons Beltre’s given the Rangers since he arrived in 2011. He averaged an .872 OPS and 27 homers in the first five. He now has an .852 OPS and 26 homers in 2016.

It would’ve been understandable if Beltre had never gotten to this point. After all, his modest first half came on the heels of a modest age-36 season last year, in which he OPS’d just .788 with 18 homers.

Plus, we know what the usual aging curves say about the progression of offensive skills over time. Per research offered by Jeff Zimmerman at Beyond the Box Score in 2011, hitters normally peak in their mid-to-late 20s and are well below their peaks by the time they hit their late 30s. By all rights, Beltre should be an Albert Pujols-like shell of his former self.

But he’s not. And it’s not as if we’re watching a guy who’s gotten hot because he’s getting little dinkers and duck snorts to fall in.

Compared to the first half, Beltre’s second half has seen him improve an already strong contact habit and make better contact through a higher launch angle and more exit velocity (per Baseball Savant):

This is number-y nerdspeak for stating the obvious: Beltre is locked in.

He usually is in the second half. He has a career .857 OPS after the break, compared to .783 before the break. More specifically, he’s at his best in August and September. 

“I think he is a player who smells the playoffs,” Rangers manager Jeff Banister told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. “The desire to win and advance is what he plays for. Playoff races and opportunities sharpen great players and heighten their drive. That’s why you see great players do great things at big moments.”

Another thing that’s not out of the ordinary is the excellent glovework Beltre is providing at the hot corner. Defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating both rate him as one of baseball’s elite defensive third basemen. Since these metrics are now taken into account in the voting, it’s possible his Gold Glove collection will grow from four to five this winter.

It’s unlikely any of this will garner Beltre American League MVP attention. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t be lost on what he means to the Rangers. They wouldn’t be much worse than their 82-54 record without him, but wins above replacement confirms he’s been by far their best everyday player:

  1. Adrian Beltre: 4.9
  2. Ian Desmond: 3.1
  3. Rougned Odor: 2.2

From where he is now, Beltre is a lock for another 5-WAR season. That would give him 10 of those since 2004, more than any other player.

To boot, seven of these 10 seasons will have come since Beltre’s age-31 season in 2010. Aging curves and rational logic insist that’s not supposed to happen, and it’s not like third basemen have a history of being exempt from the rule. Once Beltre crosses the 5-WAR threshold this season, he’ll become the only third baseman in history to collect as many as seven such seasons past the age of 31.

This will be just the latest feather in the cap of a career that will merit consideration for not just induction into the Hall of Fame, but also induction on Beltre’s first ballot when his time comes. Cooperstown is picky with third basemen, but WAR rates him has one of the five best to ever play the hot corner.

The one thing missing from Beltre’s career is a World Series ring. He came close to winning one in 2011, hitting .300 with an .889 OPS in a World Series the Rangers (famously) lost in seven games. He’s played in only four postseason games since then, including three in last year’s American League Division Series against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he was badly beaten up.

But now, Beltre’s red-hot bat is just another reason to like the Rangers’ chances of getting it done this season. He’s part of a deep lineup that can do it all. Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are a deadly one-two punch in the Rangers’ starting rotation. In their bullpen is a parade of hard-throwers no team will want to face in October.

Beltre will need to defy age for a couple of more months to see the Rangers’ quest through to the end. But hey, since he’s already made it this far…


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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