Breaking down Beckett

I keep hearing from people, “what’s wrong with Josh Beckett?”. After a year in which he nearly took the Cy Young Award and dominated the playoffs, we were ready to be blown away in 2008. But as it stands, Beckett is at 9-8 with a 4.15 ERA in 20 starts. The Sox are just 10-10 when he starts, and he’s given up 5 or more runs in 5 of those starts; he had only 4 games like that all of last year. Not exactly the dominant ace Red Sox Nation was expecting, right? Even though he has struggled somewhat with the long ball (he’s already given up 16 this season), a closer look at the numbers shows that he’s not as throwing as badly as people seem to think he is:

His velocity is consistent.
Beckett’s fastball has been clocked at 94.4 mph this year, while he averaged 94.6 mph last season. This seems to rule out any injury or “tired arm” concerns, though mechanics could affect his command. Last season, Beckett seemed to start out tossing softer and really ratcheted it up the second half, but this year he turned it on earlier. The velocity on his secondary pitches has also been consistent, and his curveball is still as tight as it was last year on most nights.

His secondary stats are consistent.
Sabermetricians will tell you that K/9, BB/9 and K/BB ratio are important indicators. In 2007, these numbers were 8.70, 1.79 and 4.85. In 2008? 8.64, 1.84 and 4.70. Incremental changes at best, especially given his slow start.

So what’s the problem? I’d say that Beckett has more mistakes this season than last year. He’s got the mildly elevated 1.09 HR/9 rate (he’s a flyball pitcher with a career 0.97 average), but opponents have hit 23.5% line drives off of him this year, much higher than his career 19.1% average. And I can’t help but notice that after using his curveball and changeup to great effect last season (63.1% fastballs, 25.1% curves and 11.5% changeups), he’s gone back to throwing 68.8% fastballs this year. That’s interestingly close to his 69.0% fastball selection back in 2006, when hitters were teeing off on him even more than this year. I think he needs to throw his changeup more, and take a little more off of it (average 88.7 mph velocity this year, compared with 87.9 mph last season). More benders woudn’t hurt, either.

The truth is, Beckett had himself a bit of a career year in 2007. I don’t see him outperforming those numbers by too much again in his career. But from what we see here, the good news is that Beckett’s had a bit of bad luck this season and is due for some regression to the mean.

April 27 he went seven strong innings, giving up one run and striking out 13 Tampa Rays, and they lost 3-0. May 24, he goes seven strong at Oakland, giving up two runs and striking out 9, and the Sox lose 3-0. June 29 at Houston, very similar performance in a 3-2 loss. And then July 25 the Sox drop a 1-0 game to the Yankees when he gave up one run in seven innings. That’s four tough losses. What would you say about Beckett if he were 12-5 or 13-4 with a 4.15 ERA? But that difference is just run support.


One Response to Breaking down Beckett

  1. Pingback: Linkage: Why Beckett is still Beckett « Saber Rattling

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