Up until there were two weeks left in the regular season, the Texas Rangers had two players that were included in many conversations regarding who would round out the top five of the American League MVP voting. Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton will both receive MVP votes, and will deservedly find themselves among the qualifiers for the award this season. They have both had excellent years that would rank among their top three seasons in their respective careers. However, throughout the course of the season it became clear that even though Beltre and Hamilton were somewhat similar in terms of production on the field, the two players are really not that similar at all.
In terms of their dissimilarities, I am not pointing to cosmetic differences such as the position they play or their handedness. Production is not the difference either, as stated before. Beltre finished the season with a .921 OPS and 36 home runs, while Hamilton notched a bit higher with a .930 OPS and 43 home runs. The contrast between these two All-Stars is most noticeable (seemingly) in their approach to the game.
I must caveat by saying seemingly, because the information I have is incredibly limited. Most of this is conjecture based on what I have seen on a television broadcast or in attendance at games, or what I have read or heard about through third parties. I feel it is important to note that because I want to respect the fact that I could be very, very wrong about this. I will do my best to avoid making baseless accusations.
I noted this difference on Twitter during the final game of the regular season. That tweet was sent immediately after Adrian Beltre had reached base for the fourth time of the day on his third hit. It came three innings after Josh Hamilton made a crucial drop on a routine fly ball, a play that could have very well been the deciding play in the decisive game of the season. Also at the time of the aforementioned tweet, Hamilton had collected his second strikeout of the afternoon on his way to a hat trick.
While I confess to committing hyperbole in that moment, I stand by the assertion that Beltre and Hamilton have completely different approaches to the game, in the following areas.
One does not achieve the summit of being a professional baseball player without some sense of a competitive spirit, but just as there are varying levels of competitiveness on your rec league softball team, they exist at the big league level as well. When Adrian Beltre is playing baseball, it is obvious to any onlooker that he plays with an intense desire to contribute to his team, and to win. When Josh Hamilton plays baseball, there is no denying his preternatural talent and ability, but eventually the doubt creeps in regarding just how bad he wants to win on the field. Hamilton had at least three plays defensively in the last week of the season similar to the botched fly ball in Oakland; routine plays that he failed to make that led to game-deciding runs being scored that otherwise would not have. Hamilton’s response to those errors is typically rather laissez-faire, shrouded in excuses and lacking in taking responsibility. You would be hard-pressed to find a single play in a 162 game season that you could accuse Adrian Beltre of not giving full effort. Beltre has played the last several weeks of the season fighting through a shoulder injury, but his refusal to stay out of the lineup and his continued excellence on the field speak to his fierce competitiveness. With Hamilton, it is much more difficult to find such examples of being an ultimate competitor.
When managing a financial portfolio, there is always a balance between risk and reward. Value is found by maximizing the reward, while minimizing the risk. Given the choice between two investments that provide a similar return, you will likely always select the one with less inherent risk. In baseball, there is also value out of getting the highest reward for the smallest amount of risk. Adrian Beltre brought that consistency to the Rangers this year. His OPS by month was .900, .882, .901, .697, 1.006, and 1.090. Hamilton, on the other hand, saw much greater swings in his OPS, which was 1.182, 1.187, .754, .607, .943, and .873 by month. Beltre ranged from being slightly below average to elite all season, while Hamilton’s spectrum this year could be classified anywhere from “best hitter in baseball” to literally “worst hitter in baseball”, depending on which arbitrary endpoints you’d like to select. At any point, and even in today’s Wild Card playoff game, Hamilton could explode for a huge game, but Beltre is the more reliable contributor.
While this category may actually have no impact to the run total or win column, it does stand out significantly as a difference between the two players. In 2012, Josh Hamilton has been a story in the media for the following: an alcohol relapse, publicly rebutting the idea of giving the Rangers a hometown discount, having a movie made about his life, confessing to struggling with something personal he couldn’t reveal, revealing that struggle was with quitting tobacco, being diagnosed with ocular keratitis due to too many sports drinks and caffeine, and suggesting he took off the month of June and July this season. Hamilton is an over-sharer when there is a microphone in front of him, and is honest to a fault. The image he gives to the media and to fans is not an endearing one. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre avoids interviews as often as he is able to, choosing to let his play on the field do the talking for him. As Mark Twain said, “It is better to have people think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
It is possible that none of this truly matters, and indeed it may not. In the end, all that really matters is what is being delivered on the field, and not just in small samples. Although, perhaps there is a reason that Beltre is now the lone Rangers player being mentioned as a top-five MVP candidate. The contrast in these areas between Hamilton and Beltre is a reason that Beltre is quickly becoming a fan favorite, while Hamilton is finding that there is a growing number among the Rangers faithful that are ready to bid him adieu this offseason.
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