Talk baseball all season long with SI.com's Jacob Luft in Baseball Chatter, a journal for hot topic debates, Sabermetric ramblings and reader-driven discussions.
8/10/2006 11:38:00 AM
Beckett's trial by fire
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Josh Beckett will be a great pitcher one day. As for when that day will come, your guess is as good as mine. It certainly isn't today.
Despite a 13-6 record, it's fair to say Beckett has been somewhat of a disappointment this season. He entered last night's game with a 5.00 ERA and took advantage of the punchless Royals to lower it to 4.92 in the Red Sox's 5-4 loss. (Beckett did not factor in the decision after allowing two runs in six innings.)
The game continued Beckett's pattern this season of succeeding against weak lineups. Against top offensive teams, it's a different story. As you'll see in this chart, he's been shelled by the AL's elite lineups during his first season in the junior circuit, much more so than you would expect with a pitcher featuring his kind of electrifying stuff.
Beckett vs. teams in top half of AL in runs scored:
1. White Sox, 1-0, 7.50 ERA, 6.0 IP, 3 HR
2. Boston, NA
3. New York, 1-1, 10.80 ERA, 8.1 IP, 3 HR
4. Cleveland, 0-2, 13.97 ERA, 9.2 IP, 6 HR
5. Toronto, 1-1, 6.38 ERA, 24.0 IP, 7 HR
6. Detroit, NA
7. Texas, 1-0, 2.92 ERA, 12.1 IP, 1 HR
Beckett vs. teams in bottom half of AL in runs scored:
8. Minnesota, NA
9. Los Angeles, 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 6.0 IP, 0 HR
10. Baltimore, 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 7.0 IP, 1 HR
11. Seattle, 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 7.0 IP, 0 HR
12. Kansas City, 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 14.0 IP, 0 HR
13. Oakland, 1-1, 8.71 ERA, 10.1 IP, 2 HR
14. Tampa Bay, 1-1, 2.08 ERA, 13.0 IP, 3 HR
Beckett vs. NL
Philadelphia, 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 15.0 IP, 3 HR
New York, 1-0, 2.35 ERA, 8.2 IP, 2 HR
Atlanta, 1-0, 3.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 0 HR
I'll admit it's a small sample size here. Nonetheless, there is an obvious trend: He's getting killed by the stacked lineups of the elite AL offenses. Nineteen of his 31 home runs allowed have come against four teams: White Sox, Yankees, Indians and Blue Jays.
Granted, those teams hit home runs off of a lot of pitchers, but the degree of Beckett's ineptitude against them speaks to his youth. At 26, it's obvious he has yet to learn much about game management -- who to pitch around, who to attack, when to dial it up, when to dial it down and, most important, how to stop giving in to hitters. Why do you think Tom Glavine has won 287 games, by blowing hitters away with a blazing fastball? He never had one, and neither did 328-game winner Greg Maddux. Beckett has the talent to join them in Cooperstown one day, but does he have the makeup? That's a fair question to ask at this point in his career.
A career National Leaguer, Beckett has never been tested like he has been this season. Not even close. Baseball Prospectus tracks a statistic called "Pitcher's Quality of Batters Faced." You can sort it by OPS, slugging, OBP, average, etc. Here is where Beckett has ranked among major league pitchers during his career in terms of the average slugging percentage of the batters he has faced (min. 100 IP):
In other words, the typical batter Beckett has faced this season has the same slugging percentage of Pudge Rodriguez (.444). Last season, his typical opposing batter was more like Vinny Castilla, who slugged .403 in the NL in 2005. A lot of that difference is simply because of the DH. A lot of it is the fact that the top AL offenses have mashers like Vernon Wells, Jermaine Dye and Travis Hafner, all of whom have gone deep off Beckett this season. Welcome to the AL, Josh.
On the bright side, Beckett's peripherals -- other than his home runs -- are outstanding: 120 strikeouts, 46 walks in 146 1/3 innings. Considering the soaring price of pitching, Beckett is a decent bet to play up to his three-year, $30 million contract extension. (The team holds a $10 million option for a fourth year.) Fenway Park is kind to power right-handers, and he has pitched much better at home this season than on the road.
But how do you feel about Beckett's chances to reach his ace potential during the term of this contract? How about ever?
Three years ago on a blustery night at Yankee Stadium, I never would have thought these questions about Beckett's ability ever would come up. Now I have to wonder if he'll be more than just a good pitcher. Jack McDowell and Jim Lonborg are two of his closest comparables by age on baseball-reference.com. Prospectus is more optimistic, listing Jim Palmer and John Smoltz as possible career paths. Which do you think is more likely?
I saw Beckett at Fenway the night the A's ploundered him. He's got the power, and this year he's healthy. But with his change-up and slider in the low-to-mid 80s, maybe what he needs is another pitch. A serious off-speed pitch. That might be the only thing keeping him away from greatness, or at least having a below - 4.00 ERA in the AL.
In addition to the potent offenses of the American League, immaturity and psychological makeup clearly play a role in recent Beckett's failures. While he can be brilliant on the mound at times, his hot-headedness and lack of focus ultimately doom him when facing more imposing lineups.
Let me start by saying I am a Marlins fan. I have not seen many of Josh's starts this season except for the highlights on Sportscenter, however, from what I have seen, it has been a pretty similar Beckett to what we had here when he was with the Fish. He is agressive, apparently too much so for the American League, and brash, another trait that appears to have not panned out so well for him. I'm not well versed in the early years of the Rocket's career (since they're from a few years before I was born), however, I think that Beckett has the STUFF like an early Rocket. When healthy, Josh Beckett has nearly unrivaled talent, the problem is he has yet to learn how to harness it. IF Josh can learn how to pitch (and assuming he's finally past all his blister troubles), I think that he has the talent to follow a career path closer to Smoltz (without being a closer for a few years, Josh wouldn't be able to handle that I don't think).
A blazing fastball can get you to the big's, but the ability to utilize only when you neeed it is what seperates the good fro the great. I have no doubt he will be a twenty game winner when and only when he learns you can't throw the ball past major league hitters every time. I partially blame the catcher calling the game and the coaching staff, it's easy to fall in love with the heat he brings, but anybody who has watched him this year can tell you that hitters are just sitting on his fastball. He needs another out pitch, and must learn to keep hitters off balance. He has the stuff of greatness, and being only twenty six years old, you can chalk some of this up to the learning curve many pitchers must go through, especially in the stacked american league. Have patience red sox fans, in the end he'll be worth every penny... I think.
Watching Beckett pitch in the AL it is clear he needs another "strike-out" pitch. If he had a spilt-finger fastball to go along with plus fastball, he'd be lights out. Hey it worked pretty well for his mentor, Clemens.
I constantly get in Arguments with my friends over this. Beckett, is, in fact, overrated. Never pitched more than 175 ip in a year, pitched possibly the worst game every by a starter, against the Yankees earlier this year. I am so sick and tired of hearing about how he shut down the Yanks in Game 6 of the World Series. One series/game does not make you an ACE. Do you remember Jaret Wright in the 1997 World Series against the Marlins? Enough said. And Yes, I am a die har Red Sox fan.
Players (especially pitchers) usually struggle in their first year after switching leagues. This is just a transition season for Beckett. He will bounce back next year with the kind of season expected of him.
Yea i have to agree with what you guys are basically saying. I remember watching him against the O's a ways back, and he had 5 consecutive picthes that went something like 95,97,97,98,96. His talent is obvious, but he needs to have another out pitch, maybe a high 80's change-up like the one Pedro has used to put away a batter with 2 strikes.
the first set of numbers represents the number of home runs Curt Schilling has allowed in his last three full seasons. Schilling is able to win games (23 in 2002) despite this because of his incredible BB:SO ratio.
16, 14, 31
Before this season, Josh Beckett had never given up more than 16 home runs in a season.
You'd think, perhaps, the difference being that right handers have dumped a few fly balls over the monster. Not so. In ~70 innings at home, Beckett has allowed 8 home runs. Away from home, in ~76 innings, he has allowed 23. Looking at Beckett's walk to strikeout ratio, it is good but not impressive.
Therefore, I draw two conclusions. One, which reaffirms what you've already established, is that the AL hitters are much tougher. Two, he is wild, sometimes wild within the strike zone (i.e., belt-high fastballs).
However, if he is able to gain control, the number suggest he could be the next Curt Schilling.
Beckett should not be compared to Rocket... more like Jared Wright - great beginning of his career - post season success (not world series mind you but pretty good post seasons none the less). How about this chant "OVER-RATED!"
One thing that you need to consider when judging pitchers on the Red Sox and Yankees is the fact that they are in pressure packed situations. Nobody expected the Marlins to win the World Series in 2003. When you come to the elite of the A.L East, things change dramatically. The baseball world is littered with pitchers who were fantastic in other teams but failed when pitching for the Yankees (some day that list may include Randy Johnson if you measure it on a $'s per win basis). Beckett should still be given time to adapt. As a true Yankee fan, I hope he never does.
By the way, Mr. Luft, how about doing something on the X-factors it takes to play in the A.L. East and how teams (and particularly young pitchers with something to prove) seem to really take it up a notch when they play the Yankees (and to a lesser degree the Red Sox). Maybe there is an angle there that can be explored statistically.
the red sox are basically the face of moneyball on the east coast with number crunchers up the wahzoo gave this guy a 30 million dollar deal and i'm probably sure they knew about these numbers but maybe they're interperting and reading it a whole lot different than you and the rest of us are.
Coming from a diehard Sox fan, I would die to have Beckett learn a splitter. Schil taught it to Papelbon and it has taken him to a new level. That aside, Varitek is calling way too many fastballs, and that may be because there is no confidence in other pitches in 2 and 3 ball counts. There is also talk that he has trouble with his curve because he throws his sides with a band-aid on his fingertip to avoid blisters. Result? No blisters, not much of a curveball either....
After watching Beckett dominate the Yankees in the 2003 series I thought he would really be something else. Now I look at his stats and realize that in that year he still was only 9-8. Up until last year he was quite literally a .500 pitcher. What has saved him this year is Interleague games and the fact that he has Manny and Ortiz in the lineup. When he pitches 250+ innings two or three years straight then we can discuss how good he might be. Until then he is a thrower and not a pitcher.
The HR numbers jump out at you, but what has me scratching my head is the K/9 innings. At 7.38, he's 15th in the AL (behind guys like Ted Lilly and Gil Meche). With the fastball at 97 and the big curve to complement, I'd expect more K's. For whatever reason, he doesn't seem to fool hitters like he should.
Let me start by saying I hate the Red Sox. Now I feel better. I dont' really care for Beckett either. In his defense though look at the record the year. Yes he has a high ERA and give up to many homeruns but what counts are the wins. Pitching for Boston he doesn't need a era that can only be viewed with microscope. As for being an Ace they already have schilling for that role. To borrow a line from Al Davis "Just win baby"(If i had on a white wind suit and gold chains it might have a litte more impact)
someone here said they partially blame the catcher cuz he calls the pitches,,,vartitek is the best game caller in the game...the problem is beckett shakes him off until all he can throw down is the one finger...when beckett learns to trust varitek, then and only then will he achieve consistency...
Beckett is a 26-yr old innings-eater with high 90s heat and no history of arm trouble. Any team in the league would love to have him, and the contract he signed is cheap when compared to guys like AJ Burnett or Carl Pavano. The Clemens comparison is unwarranted, but how about Schilling, who like Beckett struggled early in his career but has turned into a winner and big game pitcher? I'm happy the Red Sox have him, and once he learns the hitters and the league, he'll be a consistent threat to win 20 games a year.
I am a diehard Red Sox fan, a native New Englander who lives in Florida. I have been following the Red Sox since 1961. I watch the Sox on the MLB cable package and I have attended 5 games this season (1 in Atlanta and 4 in St Petersburg). Beckett was dominating in the game I saw him pitch against the Braves. From my perspective, hot-headedness is definitely an issue. Some people mature out of that and some never do. I would not question Varitek's calling of the game. He is universally regarded as one of the best. Schilling says Varitek is the best game caller he has seen in his career. I notice that Beckett does not consistently hit the spots Varitek is calling in games where he gets lit up. I also think he needs another pitch.
As for the Lonborg comparison, he broke his leg in the 67-68 offseason and was never quite the same pitcher afterwards. Also, Lonborg became a doctor and I think he did not see baseball as a very long term career. I do not remember if he started med school in the offseason or not.
Beckett could be a solid #1 starter if he learns to focus. Even so,considering the price of even mediocre pitchers these days, he is a bargain at $10 million per year for four years (4th year is club option).
Beckett didn't get 'owned' by the Royals, he had good stuff, retired them in order the first time through, and Lopez' shoddy defense and poor arm cost him at least one of the three runs. He had one bad inning where he gave up the no-no and got rattled for a few batters.
I expect him to continue to improve, he is a good fit in Boston, they love his character even if his brash approach needs moderating for him to beat some of the better teams consistently.
Developing a splitter would just be unfair. The idea of Beckett with a filthy splitter makes me hot, hopefully Schilling can give him a few pointers before he hangs it up next year.
I don't know why you say Josh Beckett will be a great pitcher some day. how many pitchers have been in the major leagues 4 years not being at all great suddenly turn out to be great. People keep saying he needs to harness his talent, but maybe his talent is overrated. It takes talent to throw a baseball hard, with great movement and control within the strike zone. the last element is the most crucial and beckett has not generally shown alot of control within the strike zone. that's why he gives up so many dingers.
Fenway is so completely different from Dolphins Stadium that Beckett has changed his style of pitching, either for reasons of strategy or fear. Pitch location, not velocity is the reason for long term success and Fenway has affected his location. Peter Risbergs, Lawrenceville, Ga.
Whoever said ERA is not important and all that matter are wins, please, cut it out. What matters is doing your job to give your team the best chance to win, and allowing 5 runs every 9 innings is not doing that.
If any of you have gotten to watch Beckett pitch several times it has become apparent that when he has good control of his curveball he is almost untouchable. He needs to learn that his fastball is not his number one pitch and that hitters can hit a 97 MPH fastball when it is straight and hitters sit on it. However, hitters cannot hit a 97 MPH fastball after being fed a steady diet of 81 MPH curveballs.
He is not as good as people thought before the season. He is not as bad people think he is now. As a Yankee fan, I can honestly say that I am happy when he is not pitching in a series against the Bombers. Yes, he may get creamed one night, but he ALWAYS has that potential to completely shut down a lineup, and this is what makes him so good in the playoffs if he is on his game. Most of his stats can be attributed to changing leagues.
He'll never live up to the John Smoltz/Jim Palmer expectations. Those are two certain HOFers, this guy is nothing more then just an average pitcher at best...His performance three years ago in the playoffs was a fluke and he'll never repeat that success again.
so long as he keeps winning i don't think the sox care...they gave him an extension earlier this yr so it's obvious they have faith in him and believe he'll get better w/ time. he's still young. i wouldn't worry too much about it.
I've followed Beckett very closely this season, and it fascinates me that his first year in the AL has been so topsy-turvy. In the 13 games he's won, his ERA is right around three. In the six losses, it's well over 10. To me, that's not a mark of failure at all; it's a mark of inconsistency. He's either very good or very bad with virtually no in-between. But that inconsistency is the same reason why there's cause for optimism.
The fact is that he's still only 26, roughly six month older than rookie closer Jonathan Papelbon. There is still a lot of time for Beckett to develop and refine his natural talent, and the blisters in the past may have been a blessing in disguise as they saved a lot of mileage on his arm. He certainly has the stuff to be a dominant pitcher, as he has shown at times this year. It's just a matter of his being consistent with his control and execution, but the transition from "thrower" to "pitcher" isn't going to happen all at once.
As for the mental aspect, I have little doubt Josh can and will succeed in a big market like Boston. From what I've read and heard him say to the media, he seems to genuinely like it here, and the fact that he didn't even attempt to test free agency before signing an extension would reinforce that. He is a work in progress, but one that I think is worth the patience.
"Joe Valente said... I don't know why you say Josh Beckett will be a great pitcher some day. how many pitchers have been in the major leagues 4 years not being at all great suddenly turn out to be great." I'm not saying he will be great, but exhibit A would be his teammate, Curt Schilling. Schilling was a nobody for the first few years of his career b/c he was immature. I think the same could be said for Beckett. You can't teach stuff, and he has that, now he just has to learn how to pitch.
Maybe Beckett would make a good closer. Think about it...the main "knocks" on him are his hot-headedness and lack of any out pitch besides a plus fastball. These are two traits that managers often LOOK FOR in looking for closers! Many pitchers don't thrive as closers because they lack the psycological makeup that Beckett has (and that is a knock on him as a starter), and many closers thrive with just one fastball. Look at Felix Rodriguez (okay, maybe "thrive" is a little to generous to Felix). Being a Giants fan, this is hard to admit, but Beckett does remind me of Eric Gagne in some key ways, and Gagne was quite the closer back when he could actually take the mound. I'm not suggesting that the Red Sox bounce Jonathon Papelbon from the closer role, but down the road if Beckett continues to struggle as a starter, I don't think it would be out of the question to try him out as a closer.
The numbers above are those of Randy Johnson in his fourth season, when he was 27. That puts him at a year older than Beckett and two seasons of experience behind. While Beckett's already given up more HR's than the Big Unit did that season, he has more wins. Yes, the ERA is a about a run higher for Beckett this year, but he's in his first year in the AL. Maybe the comparisons to Clemens were off, but he has other aspects of his line similar to Johnson's (some are better, like his SO:BB ratio, others appear to not be on par, like his IP). However, regardless of Johnson's recent "underachieving" (he still won 17 games last year), I think we all agree he's a future HOF. Yeah, the Unit's a lefty, but he's a flame thrower that took a couple years to learn how to pitch instead of throw. Just some food for thought. I'm not saying Beckett's going to become Randy Johnson, I'm just proposing that maybe with a little bit of time to adjust to the AL and to gain some more maturity he'll be able to reach more of his potential. Like others have said, when he's on top of his game, Beckett is close to untouchable, but he loses control of his pitches far too frequently to be considered worth what the Red Sox gave up to get him at the moment (as Hanley Ramirez and Anibel Sanchez are playing pretty good baseball for the Florida Marlins).
"but he loses control of his pitches far too frequently to be considered worth what the Red Sox gave up to get him at the moment (as Hanley Ramirez and Anibel Sanchez are playing pretty good baseball for the Florida Marlins)."
Hang on....Anibal Sanchez has an ERA of 4.27 in the National League (in a pressure less environment). Just going by the old add-on of 1 run difference, that's an ERA of 5.27 (and the differential seems to be closing in on 1.5 run difference between the leagues). He's not pitching too poorly for his first year in the majors, but he's not pitching especially well, and he's also not eatting up innings. There's a reason the Sox gave him up and hung onto the likes of Lester, and the rest.
And Hanley is hitting .265 with an OPS of .758. Admittedly, he's shown a bit more power than expected, but he's also sporting 17 Errors, and a FPCT of .964. All numbers pretty similar to what Edgar Renteria is being paid not to bring to the Red Sox anymore.
Both may turn into fine players in the near future....but neither one has a ceiling as high as Beckett's (nor is either one as close to reaching that potential, despite Beckett taking a step back this season)
I'm sorry did someone post that Beckett is an innings eater? Did this person just pick up watching baseball. Beckett is still immature even at the age of 26. As long as things go his way he will be on the money. He gets mad especially when his fastball gets hit. Then he will begin to overthrow and that leads to him getting shelled. He doesn't need another pitch. He needs to work on the ones he has already, he needs to develop better arm speed with his change and curve. Then and only then will the AL hitters stop feasting on him
How ESPN magazine could put him on their cover with a 5.00 ERA is ridiculous. Besides his struggles on the mound, the guy needs to remember who helps to pay his salary (the fans). He refused to autograph a card or have a picture taken with my young son, when the Red Sox came to town. Nice guy!!!
You don't get better by being the best guy in the group. Beck should have moved to the AL two years ago. Instead the weak NL lineups have made him lazy about pitch selection and game management. Hence all the taters. He has the stuff (filthy stuff) and enough difference in his off-speed pitches (15 mph) to be a great pitcher in the AL. He just needs to mature and realize he isn't that much better than most AL hitters. Once he gets over that hump-a hump Tek will be sure to toss him over if necessary-look for Beck to be a reliable 20+ game winner.
Did you guys that said Beckett was shaking off Varitek last night actually watch the game? Varitek hasn't caught in about two weeks. Javy Lopez was the catcher--he is new, so Beckett may have a better idea of what the hitters are doing.
You judge greatness only after it has been attained. Prior to this there exists only potential. Can anyone deny the fact that Beckett has potential to be great? Let's have this conversation again in a couple of years - then the question will be moot - one way or the other.
As a red sox fan..I'm not worried. It's an adjustment year. Beckett will be fine.
As for the comparisons to Clemens, they're valid--in terms of stuff. Clemens, even early, was a smarter pitcher than Beckett is. But Beckett has similar stuff to Clemens, he just has to learn to utilize it better.
Whoever commented that Schill should teach him his splitter is right on.
He's overthrowing. He's underestimating 7,8,9 hitters He wants badly to succeed in Boston (good thing) but is afraid to fail (bad thing) which leads him to overreliance on the fastball. This allows weak hitters to "sit" on fastballs and foul them off (25 foul balls/100 pitches last night)and run up his pitch count. He pitches better in day games He eats too much before night games
Fenway is a good park for him but it may be part of his road problems. Who knows how many wall-ball singles have been hit off him at Fenway?
Beckett's problem is his cockiness. Everyone says cockiness is a crucial trait of a good starting pitcher, but honestly, it can hinder a pitcher's mental game. He gets all jacked up and likes to rear back for a "screw you" fastball way too often (and then promptly gets shelled).
Having said that, if he were to fine tune his offspeed and maybe add a splitter, a lot of hitters would come expecting straight heat and get thrown off. You simply cannot get by on power pitching alone in the AL. Clemens is nothing without "Mr. Splitty" and Pedro wouldn't have been dominant without all of his speed shifts and arm angles.
I think comparing anyone to Clemens is unjust. The only thing Beckett and Clemens have in common is that they are both tall right-handed fireballers from Texas who have pitched for the Boston Red Sox. That's it.
There will probably never be a pitcher quite like the Rocket.
He really could go either way, the one real positive (so far at least) is that he has been healthy, which is a major major concern , as long as he stay healthy at least he won't go down the path of Jaret Wright, could he dominate though? thats all in his head, and not exactly something stats could predict.
The games I've seen Beckett pitch in where he has been successful have been when he gets his curve over. When he does not, the hitters sit on his fastball. I can't say if he only gets his curve over against lesser teams, but when you watch the games, it's the curve that makes the difference. Until he can get it over consistently, he'll get hit.
I'd like to know if he's throwing fewer this year to avoid the blisters of the past, and if that's why he has not gone on the DL and why he's less effective, and giving up more HR.
The other teams already know this. Does anyone have a source for finding out?
I asked how many pitchers who were not great after 4 (actually 5) full seasons in the majors became great, and the answer seems to be one, Curt Schilling, who has had exactly 4 great seasons in his career, total, beginning at the age of 33. If he's "exhibit A" good luck with the wait.