Josh Beckett was strong once again Monday night, going seven innings while allowing only one earned run on six hits while striking out five and walking one. Through seven starts, Beckett now sports an outstanding 1.99 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 40/13 K/BB ratio.
It would take a lot for Beckett to continue deep into the season with an ERA around 2.00, but clearly the tide has turned in the right direction for Beckett this season.
How good can he be?
Interestingly, many of Beckett’s peripheral stats look extremely similar to where they did at the end of last season. He has struck out about eight per nine through 45,1 innings this season and he struck out 8.2 per nine last season. His walk rate looks a bit better, standing at 2.6 BB/9 currently compared to 3.2 BB/9 last season. However, one huge difference between this season, so far, and how 2010 ended up is Beckett’s BABIP against and strand rate.
Before last night’s ballgame, Beckett had a BABIP against under .200 and strand rate of 80.5 percent. Last season, Beckett ended with the highest BABIP against of his career and the lowest strand rate of his career. Clearly, Beckett’s current BABIP will not stick, but then again, there’s no reason why he can’t end 2011 with a BABIP below .300 if he continues to limit line drives.
BABIP aside, Beckett has done a better job of keeping the ball in the ballpark overall, which is something that has haunted him on-and-off since joining the Sox. If that trend continues, there is no question his results will reap the benefits. A lot of that depends on pitch location, but some of it has to do with keeping hitters off-balance. With a four-seamer, cutter and curve that are all featuring improved sink from last season, to go along with a swing-and-miss changeup, Beckett has done just that. Not only are opposing batters swinging and missing a bit more frequently than they were last season, but they are swinging and missing about seven percent more on pitches outside the strike-zone right now, a trend that can certainly stay the course.
Something that may be going overlooked is Beckett’s performance from the stretch so far in 2011. Last last season, I took a look at a few of Beckett’s season-long issues, including his struggles pitching from the stretch. So far this season, Beckett has been great from the stretch, actually walking fewer batters than with no one on base — his BB/9 with runners on base in 2010 was 4.7. However, Beckett has allowed all three of his 2011 home runs while pitching from the stretch. Still, we have seen a definite improvement in this area so far.
In some ways we are seeing the same pitcher we saw in spurts last season. The difference has been consistency with his pitches in both movement and location. Health played a negative role last season and Beckett hasn’t hit a major road block yet in that regard so far in 2011 (knock on wood). While there is no way Beckett continues on with a BABIP against close to .200 and a strand rate almost twice his career average, if he stays healthy he’s going to be an extremely valuable pitcher the rest of this season.
I’ll guess and say, if healthy, Beckett ends the season with a 3.65 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 190 Ks to 71 BBs in 205 IP.
What’s your guess?