Saying Carlos Beltran had a bad April is like saying the Titanic had a bad first trip. In the season's opening month, the 38-year-old hit an impossibly awful .162/.216/.265 with a wRC+ of 24. Those numbers prompted many fans to call for his benching or his outright release, despite the roughly $25 million that the Yankees still owe him through 2016. Joined with increasingly horrific defense in right, Beltran's 28.4 percent strikeout rate and 6.8 percent walk rate by April 30th left him with just about no discernable value whatsoever.
Unlike Alfonso Soriano a year ago, though, Beltran hasn't gone quietly into that good night - at least not yet. His April storm of fail ceded to sunnier skies in May, where he's managed a .301/.316/.521 triple slash and a 127 wRC+. Beltran's 22 May hits have doubled his April total with six games still left in the month, and the ten that have gone for extra bases have nearly done the same. His 3 home runs and 11 RBI this month have aided a Yankee lineup that's struggled at most other spots.
So which Carlos Beltran are we more likely to see going forward - April's rotting corpse or May's high-functioning reanimated corpse? Beltran's May resurgence came largely thanks to a .302 BABIP - slightly above his .300 career mark - which was up from a dismal .229 in April. There was some luck involved there, but the turn can also be traced to a 25.8 percent line drive rate, compared with 14.6 percent in April, and a 31.8 percent hard-hit ball rate, up from 22.9 percent in April. Not only did Beltran make better contact in May - he also made more of it. That 28.4 percent K-rate early on - an unprecedented number for him - has dipped to just 10.5 percent this month.
But the Beltran of May wasn't exactly the eight-time all-star, borderline Hall-of-Fame player who the Yankees (apparently) thought they were getting when they gave him a three-year deal during their whirlwind 2013-14 off-season. For a guy known as a generally patient hitter throughout his career (Adam Wainwright can attest to that) Beltran's been anything but the past few seasons. 2015 will likely be his third consecutive year with a walk rate of 8.2 percent or lower. While his other numbers have bounced back this month, Beltran's walk rate hasn't. He's earned just two free passes in 76 plate appearances. For the season his 8.6 percent swinging strike rate is above his 7.4 percent career norm and the 32.7 percent rate at which he chases pitches outside the strike zone is also far greater than what it was during his prime.
Beltran isn't nearly as terrible as he was in April. Few are. But it's hard for me to buy into the continued success of a player in his twilight years whose plate discipline has regressed at such a massive level. Beltran's May line drive rate is unsustainable, and as the line drives drop, so will the BABIP. The low K-rate, given his propensity for reaching outside the zone, is also likely to change, and with fewer balls in play, even a high batting average on them will matter less. Beltran's offensive numbers may gradually crawl back to league average, or even slightly better, but for someone playing right field - badly - that's just not good enough. The nature of the Yankees' roster prevents them from using Beltran at DH where he'd possibly do better, so despite some positive signs this month, it's tough to imagine the team extracting much value from the remainder of his tenure. There may be even more glaring holes right now, particularly at both middle infield spots, but the Yankees' right field situation is one that will eventually need to be addressed.