Spring Training 2010: Considering Josh Beckett


With the leader of the pitching staff entering his contract year in 2010, the Red Sox are said to be broaching extension talks with Josh Beckett this Spring. Entering what will be his age 30 season, Beckett has already compiled quite a resume, including two All-Star appearances, a pretty sterling postseason track record and three World Series rings. He’s also been the World Series MVP. It’s rare to find a player with such command over his whole arsenal – a good fastball, a power curve, a polished changeup and a cutter to boot. He’s the stopper you bring in to silence the other team’s offense, start after start. Not only so, but Beckett is known as a fierce competitor and a driven athlete who sets the tone for the rest of the pitching staff. Let’s examine extending him in a bit more detail.

The numbers

At age 30, Beckett has already won 20 games once and reached 106 for his career. His ERA stands at a solid 3.79, and his WHIP is a svelte 1.218. The ERA+ number is at 117, which is good for 19th among active players. His strong 3.122 K:BB ratio ranks 11th among active players, and 31st all-time.

After moving to the junior circuit, Beckett has been a beast in the AL East, going 65-34 with a 4.05 ERA and 116 ERA+. Despite a 4.47 ERA at Fenway Park (a run-inflating park by any measure), his record is 31-17. If we adjust those numbers to reflect a neutralized pitching line, I get a corrected 3.77 ERA, 3.79 FIP and adjusted WHIP of just 1.16. So he’s a much better pitcher than his numbers might suggest. As far as divisional performance, he’s gone 9-5 with a 5.33 ERA against the Yankees and 7-4 with a 3.68 ERA against the Rays. You can’t ask for much more than that in the toughest division in baseball.

More than just his career numbers, Beckett has really progressed as a pitcher. Most of his stats have stabilized near career levels, but check out his walk rate since 2007:

Newfound command since 2007

image courtesy of FanGraphs

Command is not one of those things which really deteriorates; if anything it can improve even more – which suggests that there is a lot more good Beckett to come, even when he loses something off of that fastball due to age or injury.

Measuring Beckett’s value

Alright, so hopefully you get that Beckett’s pretty good. But how much do you pay for that level of good? As you know, sabermetricians have developed an algorithm which estimates the number of runs with which a pitcher may be credited, based on the fielding-independent pitching (FIP) metric. Then, based on the fact that ten runs is worth roughly a marginal win, and the fact that teams have paid free agents $4.5M per marginal win in recent years, you can estimate a player’s value. By this method, here are Beckett’s value added numbers since coming to Boston 4 seasons ago:

Year WAR Value ($M)
2006 2.1 7.9
2007 6.5 26.5
2008 5.0 22.6
2009 5.3 23.9

That’s an AVERAGE of $20.2M per season, during which time the Sox have paid out about $32.3M, or merely $8M per annum. Whether or not you agree with that first figure, let’s be fair here – Beckett has pitched at far less than market value since coming to Boston, and he will be looking for a generous contract. I’m not saying they should pay him for past performance, but the Red Sox should not lose a player like Beckett to free agency over a difference of a few million dollars.

Health and age considerations

The Red Sox have recently indicated that there may be some concern about Beckett’s shoulder in the long run, and that has the management shying away from any truly long-term deal. So don’t expect anything beyond 3-4 years, possibly with an option for an extra year.

Let me point out that there is a world of difference in risk between signing any 30-year old starting pitcher and signing an elite pitcher like Beckett. The list of pitchers since 1990 who have managed 100 wins and a 116 ERA+ by this age is short, and just about all of these pitchers went on to have long, productive Major League careers (Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, Kevin Appier). The only really early flameouts are Matt Morris and Bartolo Colon, whose last significant seasons as starters happened at age 32.

Free agent comparisons

Just how much do you pay an ace pitcher towards the end of his prime? The most recent free agent contracts which come to mind are teammate John Lackey and former teammate A.J. Burnett. Their 5-year, $82.5M contracts are often cited when discussing Beckett. The other extension which has been mentioned is Roy Halladay’s 3 year, $60M deal with the Phillies.

Prediction

The management loves Beckett, and for his part, he has said all the usual things about wanting to stay in Boston; there’s no sign that he’s at all dissatisfied here. But I’m not at all optimistic that we hear about a deal before the season gets underway. Here’s why:

  • Beckett has yet to get his really big payday, and while he’s not obsessed with that like some players, it has to be in the back of his mind. He’s a premier pitcher, and has yet to be paid like one. I don’t blame him at all.
  • The Red Sox are very conservative with player health (just think back to Jason Bay), especially pitchers. Unfortunately, I am not privy to the medical tests which have the Red Sox on alert about Beckett’s shoulder, so I don’t know how much it will affect any contract. Like they did with Bay, the safest route is to take a wait-and-see approach.
  • There are a number of potential free agent pitchers coming out next season that would look really good in a Red Sox uni, including Cliff Lee and Brandon Webb, both only one year older than Beckett. So I don’t feel this is something that NEEDS to get done now. That being said, pitchers of that talent don’t often reach free agency, so if they are locked up, you can be sure that Beckett is likely to be next.

The only way the Sox make this deal now is if Beckett agrees to take less money than he’s worth on the market. So if he agrees to a 3/$54M deal or 4/$65 contract, it’ll get done. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait until later in the year.

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4 Responses to Spring Training 2010: Considering Josh Beckett

  1. Pat says:

    The thing that has perplexed me the most, and is very relevant to this, is the Lackey signing. If they wanted a pitcher to help sure up the rotation for this “bridge” year, they could have picked up numerous other pitchers to short term contracts. If they wanted to sign a thirty year old pitcher to a long term contract, I would assume they would rather have Beckett than Lackey.

    So what gives?

  2. redsoxtalk says:

    If you’ll remember, I was somewhat against a Lackey signing early on precisely because of this issue. I didn’t see why we would sign a guy like him long-term (a not quite elite, 1A/#2-type) unless we were not planning on keeping Beckett after 2010. Having Lester-Beckett-Lackey is great, but are you going to commit $50M+ per season to the top 3 in the rotation going forward for that luxury? Add in Daisuke’s $7M and that’s a pricey rotation. That doesn’t seem like smart budgeting to me.

    This kind of scenario would only work if you balance the budget elsewhere. As for the rest of the rotation, I think either Buchholz or Dice-K would have to be traded for this to work. The fifth and sixth spots in the rotation can be filled cheaply by any one of Bowden, Tazawa or Kelly (or any 1-year FAs). Last year I was not confident about the depth of position player prospects in the Sox system, but I definitely feel better about that with the progression of Westmoreland, Kalish, Reddick and Anderson/Rizzo starting to get close. What you can project is that J.D. Drew, Ellsbury and Beltre/some 3B will be gone once these guys are ready. That helps. But V-Mart should get a healthy contract after this season, and we still have a number of guys with rising salaries. Papelbon is a goner for sure if we keep all three starters.

  3. Pingback: Beckett signs 4-year, $68M extension « Red Sox Talk

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