It hasn’t exactly been a great return to the Red Sox rotation for Josh Beckett. With a 6.82 ERA in August and a fresh four-year/$68 million dollar contract extension on his shoulders, Beckett has been a major source of frustration for Sox fans.
Yesterday, Beckett had a “better” outing, going 6.1 innings while allowing three runs on four hits with seven strikeouts and only one walk. However, one of his big issues, the home run ball, was present once again. Beckett ran out of gas after his first six innings. Having thrown in the 93-95 MPH range early on, his fastball had tailed off to the 91-93 MPH range by the seventh. That’s when trouble struck. Russell Branyan took a poorly located 93 MPH heater over the right field wall for a solo shot. Then, after a Jose Lopez single, Casey Kotchman took a hanging changeup over the right field wall for a two-run shot.
Beckett has not gone a single game this month without allowing at least one home run and of the eight home runs he has allowed only one has come before the fourth inning. Which brings us to issue number two…
This season, Beckett has had a problem maintaining his stuff deep into games.
Note: I left off innings 7-9 due to the fact that Beckett has only pitched a total of 7.1 innings past the six-inning mark.
The most telling and most damaging part is the AB/HR ratio. Not only does Beckett sometimes lose velocity as games go on, but he also loses just about all command of his pitches as was the case in the seventh inning yesterday. He starts to leave way too many pitches up in the zone. Beckett’s strikeout rate goes down in innings 4-6 and hitters have no problem tagging him for extra bases (.610 SLG).
Now compare the numbers above to what he did last season.
On just about every level, Beckett got better late in games in 2009.
This issue could be a direct result of the back injury that kept him out for almost two months. As a matter of fact, we can see a similar trend in Beckett’s 2008 performance, though to a lesser extent. That season, he dealt with a similar back issue for just about the entire year.
At least this gives Red Sox fans a sufficient “excuse” as to why Beckett has been so ineffective this season. Still, this doesn’t really explain issue number three…
Beckett has been horrible pitching from the stretch in 2010. Sure, the 32.1 innings sample size is way too small, but the difference between his numbers from the windup and the stretch are quite significant.
Basically, he’s has been a completely different pitcher when a runner gets on base. This goes beyond losing command within the strike-zone, which is a problem as he gets late into games, it shows a loss of control over his offerings. In general, starting pitchers lose some effectiveness when they pitch from the stretch, but Beckett hasn’t shown this type of disparity over his career, except for 2006, his first year with the Sox. However, that season has been the outlier of his career numbers wise.
What can improve?
The only suggestion I can offer up in this case is maybe Beckett should try and ease up a little at the start of games. Even if he’s not throwing 95-plus MPH, his stuff still has great movement and is still extremely affective. Command is the key here. The longer Beckett can maintain his command of the strike-zone, the better off he’ll be and that’s a fact. Beckett has never been a pitcher who throws easy. That has helped him be dominant at times, but has also caused inconsistencies throughout his career and could be the cause of some of the injury issues. Perhaps a little less focus on velocity and a little more emphasis on command could go a long way…as in past the sixth inning.
If there is a silver lining here, it’s that Beckett still has the pure stuff of a dominant ace. Since returning from the DL, he has a 41/10 K/BB ratio in 42 innings pitched. He has given up 45 hits, but at least some of those can be chalked up to bad luck as his .352 BABIP against would suggest. If it holds, that BABIP against would represent a career high. Also, his strand rate (runners left on base) is extremely low (just under 60 percent), which means that an abnormal amount of runners on base have come around to score this season against Beckett. His career strand rate is over 10 percent higher. This should mean fewer runners on base come around to score in the future.
As of today, that four-year/$68 million dollar extension looks like an extremely bad investment. It still may end up being a bad deal, but it won’t be because of Beckett’s pure talent. The main key is health. When Beckett has been healthy he has been an ace-level starter. However, given his track record, health is not something we can rely on. The other key is that Beckett remain focused on his command. When he keeps the ball on the corners, his stuff is so good that it’s hard for the opponent to make solid contact. When he leaves pitches out over the plate, well, just ask Casey Kotchman and his career .397 SLG.
Down the stretch
As I wrote the other day, even Johnny Damon, or any bat really, wouldn’t be enough to help this team catch the Yankees and Rays. The Sox need their pitching staff to come up big.
Beckett could be a major factor down the stretch, as long as he can improve from the stretch and maintain his command deep into games. To expect that to happen, however, could in itself be a stretch.