photo © 2007 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)There were plenty of things that plagued the Red Sox last year; Bullpen, injuries, etc. Looking towards this year though the biggest factor is definitely the impact of two pitchers; John Lackey and Josh Beckett. Now I have already discussed in a previous article’s comments why I’m optimistic about Lackey being better in 2011. That leaves Josh Beckett as the big question for the Red Sox and this years X-Factor.
Beckett is an interesting career to observe. He has been a great pitcher with a career K/BB of 3.07 and his control numbers in the AL actually beat his NL numbers (3.38/2.72), but his ERA trails his FIP by a solid margin. In 1500+IP he has a FIP of 3.69, but his ERA stands at 3.96. There is no obvious trouble though as his BABIP is .295 and his HR/FB is at 11 percent. Both near league average and he has a fair, but not great, ground ball rate of 44.7 percent.
His strikeout rate has slowly declined since he entered the league. His walks were getting better until 2008 when they started to decline. Still in 2009 he had his second best season ever, according to WAR, and pitched his most innings in his career.
Then in 2010 we saw some bad luck with Beckett, but also some troubling trends. While his BABIP (.338), LOB (65.3%) and HR/FB (14.2%) all show poor luck his K/9 also was the lowest in his career (8.18) and he had the highest BB/9 since his first year in Boston (3.17). Even if you account for all the luck his xFIP was still 4.01, also a worst since his first year here.
We know he was dealing with injuries and back troubles, which plagued his control near the end of 2009 as well. I did a pitch f/x review in 2009 and found that after the back injury he did have some extra high fastballs that quickly turned into meatball home runs. Based on some comments this March by Beckett to Rob Bradford he said when he came back in July he couldn’t finish with power on his delivery sounding similar to what I saw in 2009.
Let’s take a look at the data and see if he fell into the same situation.
Then after his DL stint.
There is a bit of a change in his secondary pitches and some different classifications on his fastball selections. The velocity is there and there isn’t any huge change in movement though. Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Was he ever healthy in 2010 might be the better question. That’s tough to answer and not something I can really answer with the pitch f/x data I have.
One thing that pops out comparing his 2010 vs all other pitch f/x data is a reliance on the change up in 2010. Based on data from 2008 – 2009 he threw only 1.8 percent change ups, but in 2010 he threw 11.4 percent (Fangraphs data later disputes these numbers, but the point is still the same). While not a terrible pitch it is more of a setup pitch like his curve. Neither gets a strike more than 60 percent of the time and neither gets a swing more than 46 percent of the time.
I wonder if there a reason Beckett has become more reliant on the change up and less on his curve? Going to his Fangraphs page we can get a further picture. I took his available curveball and change up data from 2002 to 2010 and ran a correlation to his BB/9. His change up had a 0.53 r value, which is interesting but nothing ground breaking. On the other hand his r value for the curve was -0.73.*
*Crash course in correlation: r gives a value for how well to groups of numbers compare to another group of numbers. So when I input his curveball and BB/9 it returns a number between -1 and 1 telling how well the numbers relate. The closer r is to 1 the more the two groups seem to have a direct correlation or relationship, but a -1 is when two groups have a negative correlation. That means when one group has a higher number the other has a lower.
This means that when Beckett has a higher rate of curveballs he is very likely to have a lower value for BB/9. This is based on 8 years of data and fairly strong for this type of comparison. The curve has no correlation with his K/9 so no reason for him to be using the change so much and drop his curve according to this.
I think getting Beckett back to a fastball/curve pitcher might be a good thing. He could still mix in change ups, but should not be at the detriment of his curve.
So we can’t get in Beckett’s head or the locker room to hear what he’s going to do this year with pitch selection, but if healthy we should expect Beckett to get much better than his 2010. Looking across the internet his projections are varied when it comes to his ERA.
Bill James: 11 W, 8.30 K/9, 2.63 BB/9, 3.86 ERA
Marcel: 9 W, 8.07 K/9, 2.67 BB/9, 4.31 ERA
Fans: 14 W, 8.52 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 3.93 ERA
ZiPs: 10 W, 8.60 K/9, 2.39 BB/9, 4.16 ERA
Oliver: 10 W, 8.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 4.38 ERA
Obviously the win projections are nothing to worry about since that is largely out of his control. The control numbers are pretty consistent and don’t project the walk rate to repeat at the level of 2010, but the home run rate is what gives most of the ERA swing.
If healthy Beckett is still a solid contributor, but no longer the elite pitcher of 2007-2009. In those years he had great control and limited his walks. Each season he totalled more than 5 WAR and a contender for Cy Young with a 6.5 WAR in 2007. Now he projects more as a 2.5-3.5 WAR player depending on his health.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in his curveball and change up rates as that could be a huge key to his success. Beckett no longer needs to be the ace of this staff, but they need one thing from him in 2010 to be the X-Factor. They need him on the field. If he can’t stay healthy not only is our pitching lighter, but that contract is quickly turned into an albatross. On the other hand if he stays on the field and pitches 180-200 innings he should help this team head back to the playoffs.
Categories: Boston Red Sox