Breaking Down Beckett

by Marc on August 16, 2010

in Red Sox

Photo courtesy of examiner.com

A look at Josh Beckett’s ERA is enough to make you nervous, especially when you remember that his contract was extended through 2014 for another $68 million. It’s easy enough to say that he’s been hurt this year and it’s affected his performance, but there are more reasons to be optimistic going forward than that, which is good news for those who are concerned about all of the money and years left for not only Beckett, but John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka as well.

Beckett’s last two starts were poor–there’s no denying that. But you can cut the Texan some slack given the circumstances–Beckett wouldn’t be the first person to give up three homers in Arlington in August, and we’ve all seen enough Red Sox/Yankee matchups to know that the performances of starting pitchers in those games have little to do with their actual talent level. It’s easy to be knocked around in either Fenway or the new Yankee Stadium, and the lineups for either club are among the most difficult in the majors for any pitcher to face.

Before that, we saw three promising starts in a row from the post-DL Beckett. He struck out 18 hitters in 20 2/3 innings (against just four walks) while giving up five runs and a single homer–yes, a start against the Indians and Mariners are mixed in there, which is reason enough to not get too excited, but I’m not basing my 2011 Beckett optimism off of a handful of starts in the same way I’m not ready to throw in the towel based on a couple of poor ones.

Even forgetting the injury, Beckett has dealt with poor luck in 2010. As lucky as Clay Buchholz has been this year, Beckett has been unlucky. Using SIERA, a run estimator that is a better predictor of future ERA than actual ERA, we see that Beckett’s ERA does not reflect his performance at all. While his ERA is 6.51, his SIERA is 3.91–or, for a little more perspective, a little more than half-a-run above his 2009 SIERA of 3.34.

His BABIP is .353 despite a Red Sox defense that has converted nearly 70 percent of balls in play into outs, good enough for a top 10 showing. That’s about 50 points higher than it should be given that information, and while Beckett has had poor BABIP even with better defenses than this one behind him, 2010′s figure is outrageous. He’s lost a little bit on the strikeout side of things, but is still more than a full strikeout above league average, though an increase in his walks hasn’t helped–these are the kinds of things that can be attributed to his health issues though. It’s tough to command your pitches when you’re having back problems.

Given that information, his home run rate is also understandable–1.3 per nine is high, but it’s not horrendous if you can strike out hitters and keep your walks down, and would probably be lower if he had his command in perfect order. The three homers in Arlington didn’t help given he’s thrown just 76 innings this year–if he had been around all season with about double that inning total, we wouldn’t even notice outside of grumbling about a wasted opportunity the next day.

Beckett has relied more on his cut fastball at the expense of his curve this season, which is something I’m a bit more nervous about. Beckett’s fastball is an excellent pitch with movement, but it’s nowhere near as effective when he isn’t using it to set up his devastating bender–when hitters know the fastball is coming, you end up with years like 2006, which was the last time his walks and homers were up and his punch outs down, though in that year he was also plenty unlucky. It would also help if he brought his first-pitch strikes back in line with the past, as he’s been much closer to the league average in that regard this year. Starting out a hitter 0-1 affords you a lot of options and puts you in control of the plate appearance–walks would drop and strikeouts would climb, and fewer pitches that turn into souvenirs would be thrown when the hitters know they are coming.

Ignore Beckett’s 2010 ERA, and remember that his adjusted numbers, which more accurately reflect his performance, have him declining ever so slightly rather than in a significant way. He’s still more than capable of earning his contract, despite the way his last few outings, and this season overall, have made it seem.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe P. August 16, 2010 at 10:38 am

Such is life with an elite pitcher. They have a down year and everyone freaks out. Beckett has been mostly healthy throughout his Red Sox tenure, but had injury issues this year. It happens. If he doesn’t come back with a ~3.40 ERA and ~8 K/9 next year I’d be shocked.

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Marc August 16, 2010 at 10:46 am

That’s how I feel about it, as well. There’s nothing wrong with his 2010 that can’t be fixed, though I do hope his back doesn’t continue to be a problem.

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Daern August 16, 2010 at 11:45 am

A lot of the naysaying comes from a combination of heightened expectations from his brilliant 2007, bad luck, and the fact that he signed his contract soon after John Lackey, who has been a legitimate disappointment.

That being said, it was a good signing when they inked it, and Becket will most likely outperform it when all’s said and done.

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Marc August 16, 2010 at 11:55 am

I’ll most likely tackle Lackey later on this week. Since Sully kicked things off with Clay I figured a look at the others would be good for me and everyone else. Therapeutic, even.

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Daern August 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm

That’s a fine idea, sir. I tend to try and balance my observations of any player with the stats behind his performance, but I find it difficult to like anything John Lackey does given his stubborn insistence following poor performances that it was not his fault. Well, that and he’s never been the sort of pitcher I liked, and that his deal essentially upped the ante on the Beckett deal. I genuinely believe Beckett could have been had for less had Lackey not gotten a large deal. As soon as Lackey was signed, Beckett, who is better in basically every way and has been for a while, became pricier.

Sully August 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I don’t trust my eye all that much but it sure looks like hitters are comfortable in the box against him. It makes me just a tick more pessimistic than I ordinarily would be looking at the numbers.

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Marc August 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I think part of that comes from knowing there’s a very high chance of seeing a fastball, or seeing many fastballs over the course of a plate appearance. If he can get away from that (again) then I have no problem thinking he’ll be back to his old self.

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