Expect Beckett to Come Up Big for Sox in 2011

When a team finds their guy, it’s usually pretty easy to spot. You can see it when a team chooses one player, perhaps multiple times, over comparable alternatives. In the winter following the 2005 season, it looked pretty clear that Josh Beckett was the Red Sox’ guy. They traded Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez, their Nos. 1 and 5 preseason prospects, for a pitcher who, through the first four years of his career, had spent 222 days on the disabled list. Teams don’t do that for ordinary players. The Sox clearly saw something in Beckett that they couldn’t find in another pitcher obtainable for the price of Ramirez and Sanchez — which probably would have been plenty.

That trade appeared to backfire on the Red Sox from the start. Beckett had plenty of problems in his transition to the AL, the long ball not least among them. His strikeout rate dipped, his walk rate rose, and, despite a career-low .270 BABIP he still allowed more hits per nine than he had since 2003. All the while, 1,500 miles to the south, Ramirez stepped into the Marlins starting lineup and immediately started fulfilling his potential. While his defense was shaky he still produced a .364 wOBA and 4.1 WAR, good enough to earn him NL Rookie of the Year honors. With Boston missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002, it was easy to second guess the trade. But Boston remained confident in Beckett’s ability to rebound.

They were so confident of Beckett’s abilities, in fact, that during his beleaguered 2006 campaign they signed him to a three-year, $30 million extension with a $12 million club option for 2010. The announcement came at an odd time in that it happened during a postgame press conference with manager Terry Francona, but it also came at an opportune time in that Beckett had just completed eight shutout innings against the Royals. Prior to that he had a 5.12 ERA and 5.57 FIP — which means, of course, that the Sox signed him when he was at his lowest. Even after that start against KC he didn’t fare well, a 5.36 ERA and 4.41 FIP the rest of the way.

In 2007, of course, the league finally realized the full potential of Josh Beckett. The National League had its fits with him from 2002 through 2005, but never had they experienced a full 30 starts of Beckett dominance. That’s what he unleashed on the American League in 2007. In those 30 starts he struck out 8.7 per nine while walking just 1.8. He also halved his home run rate, which was probably the single biggest difference between his first two seasons in Boston. The result was a 3.27 ERA and 3.08 FIP through 200.2 innings, good enough for second in the AL Cy Young voting. Much to Boston fans’ collective delight, he then led the team to its second World Series in four years with 30 brilliant innings.

While Beckett hasn’t repeated his 2007 greatness, he has still been Boston’s ace ever since. Some bad luck on balls in play, plus some time off in September due to injury, hurt his 2008 a bit; his 3.24 FIP and xFIP looked a lot better than his 4.03 ERA. In 2009 he reached a career high 212.1 innings, though his strikeout walk, and home run rates all trended in the wrong direction, though it wasn’t an overly significant change.

Still, it didn’t seem like the Red Sox were very concerned. They had so much faith in Beckett that they signed him to a four-year, $68 million extension in early April. The contract calls for a $15.75 million salary from 2011 through 2014, which is half a million more each year than John Lackey will earn in that span. It might seem, then, like Beckett has some type of contract aversion. He tripped and stumbled after signing his first long-term deal with the Red Sox and pulled a similar act the second time. But the relapse was quite a bit worse. In his first eight starts Beckett pitched just 45.2 innings and allowed a 7.29 ERA, which included uncharacteristically high hit and walk rates. His FIP, 4.31, looked a bit better, but it was clear when watching him that a lack of command played a large role in his high hit and walk rates. After he allowed five runs in 4.2 innings against the Yankees on May 18, he hit the DL with back issues, not to return for two months.

Sox fans might have winced upon Beckett’s return. He did put together a few good starts right after the comeback, just five runs during his 20.2 innings against the Mariners, Angels, and Indians. But those are three below-average offenses. In his next two starts, against New York and Texas, he allowed 13 runs in 9.2 IP, and then let up six against the Angels in 6.1 IP. It looked like another downhill slide for Beckett. Again, as was the case after the first time the Red Sox signed him to a long-term deal, it was easy to second guess this move.

Lately, Beckett has turned things around a bit. He’s not his dominant self from a few years ago, but that can’t really be expected at this point in the season. But even without top-notch stuff he’s still managed to strike out 28 in his last 25.2 innings, walking just nine in that span. Five of those walks came in yesterday’s six-inning, three-run performance against Oakland. His hit and walk rates, plus his BABIP, are all still above his career averages, signaling a continued lack of command. But he certainly looks better on the mound than he did earlier in the season. It’s an encouraging sign for 2011.

Josh Beckett is always going to spend some time on the shelf. He has, in fact, spent time on the DL, 115 days, in every season with the Sox except 2006 and 2009. But the Sox have done a good job of limiting that time, and have for the most part kept Beckett a healthy and effective pitcher. He hit a road block in 2010, but that’s one that can be overcome with a winter’s rest. Given the way he bounced back last time he experienced a poor season, I expect that 2011 will be yet another quality one for Beckett and the Sox.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

23 Responses to “Expect Beckett to Come Up Big for Sox in 2011”

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  1. Regis says:

    I had expected 2010 to be a good year for Josh because it was his walk year.

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  2. Locke says:

    Beckett’s first two starts of the 07 postseason were absolutely amazing. I think he commanded the zone as good as he ever did in his career that week. Whenever I see him pitch I think back to those games and wonder why he can recapture that command…

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  3. Dante says:

    I am with you on this one Joe. I am really thinking next year is going to be a big year for Beckett. He is slowing making his way back this year – which is a good thing. He walked four batters in a row yesterday – yet was able to finish the inning with no additional problems and then bounce back. He was getting the outs when he needed to and that is a really good sign. Maybe he has a pattern going. 2003 World Series – 4 years later 2007 World Series and a dominating year – 4 years later brings us to 2011. I think it is going to be a good one for Beckett.

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  4. mbrady16 says:

    From an observer’s standpoint, Beckett isn’t dealing “without top-notch stuff”. It’s the same to my eye as one would expect: a hard, low to mid-90s 2-seam fastball, high 80s/low 90s cutter, his curveball, and an occasional changeup. It’s his control that hasn’t been top notch, even if it doesn’t show up in the box score with BBs. He’s been very inconsistent at locating his pitches in my opinion, and it has cost him since he’s been back.

    Good article, I agree that Beckett will probably come back next year and be pretty good. Not sure if he can sustain that throughout the contract, however.

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  5. Joe says:

    I am not saying that Beckett won’t have a strong 2011. But I am saying that he has not been the Ace since 2007. That has been Lester. As good as Beckett can be, he is really a number 2 now in my mind, until he proves otherwise.

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  6. Mr Punch says:

    There are really a lot of pitchers who’ve had one great year (but never got a single Cy Young vote any other time). Beckett appears to be one of these. At this point, he’s unlikely to have a career as good as Derek Lowe’s – and nobody’s ever considered Lowe an ace. Yeah, yeah, 2007, and he used to be able to beat the Yankees….

    Beckett in his (brief) prime was more dependent on his fastball than any starter except Brad Penny. He doesn’t have that fastball any more, and he hasn’t added anything else. Now it could be that his back is the problem, and that it’ll get better. But I’d like to know the basis for the Sox’s $68m bet: do they expect him to get fast again, or to learn to pitch?

    This year they would have been better off if they’d traded Hanley Ramirez even up for Lowell, and kept Sanchez.

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    • Locke says:

      I think you’re way off base here. Beckett’s career xFIP is .09 better than Lowe’s, and he’s had several year’s that I’d qualify as in the hunt for the CYA. He’s by no means a one-hit wonder, and in fact, despite his odd fluctuations in results, he’s managed to be pretty consistent in his performance throughout his career, sans ’06 and some injuries.

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    • Evan Kirkwood says:

      “This year they would have been better off if they’d traded Hanley Ramirez even up for Lowell, and kept Sanchez.”


      Derek Lowe has 43.7 career WAR and is 37. Beckett has 33.4 career WAR and is 30. Even if he only plays 5 more years, Beckett is VERY likely to accumulate more WAR than Lowe.

      Also, considering he’s still averaging over 93 MPH on his fastball (and he’s throwing a 2-seamer which is bringing down his overall velocity; his 4-seamer is still at 94 MPH), I think you might want to rethink your statement on him losing his fastball.

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    • this guy says:

      It’s quite simple really.

      These moves were made under the Theo Epstein regime. Theo is considered “saber-friendly”, so this site supports him wholeheartedly as their crediblity is seemingly aligned. Had Omar Minaya made the same decisions, Beckett would be lambasted here.

      In a society like ours, it is most important to understand biases in determining the quality of the source. Generating a narrative based on one’s agenda is far less intellectually taxing than a critical analysis of reality. More importantly, we are raised to be petty, insecure children, so imposing our biases “feels better”.

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      • nmh says:

        The Beckett deal was done while Theo was on sabbatical from the organization, making it more of a Lucchino move. These claims are not just inaccurate, they are downright disrespecting to a site whose content is consistently non-biased.

        Beyond that, this article is saying that Beckett is the Red Sox “Guy”, making this most recent contract far less “saber-friendly” that “this guy” is making it out to be. What is “saber-friendly” about a long term signing of a guy whose peripherals have declined in each of the past 3 seasons? Had Omar Minaya made the same decisions, maybe the Mets wouldn’t be languishing in overpriced mediocrity.

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      • this guy says:

        He was extended under Theo and the brain trust that made the move was the same.

        You think these guys sit there in a dark room by themselves conjuring up these moves? There’s a whole support team in place, particularly for the “saber-friendly” guys. Theo doesn’t do his own math. You guys have conjured up a fantasy of how the business works, and all of you sound like asses everytime you comment.

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  7. jay destro says:

    did you really post that? lol

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  8. no says:

    two words, curt schilling. call me impressionist, but before 2007, beckett was pitching like the typical fireballer, and then suddenly he’s a k/bb diety like the aforementioned. since then, hes pitching like his early self with the approach of curt, and its not working, from my eyes. if he were coaching, we may see the good beckett again.

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  9. Josh Beckett says:

    Too bad I am a total douche who throws at the next batter every time I get hit hard.

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  10. James says:

    Thank you. I’ve felt this way after looking at Beckett’s stats. His peripherals are the same as last years when he was a valuable pitcher for the Sox. I don’t expect him to put up an ERA near 3.00 but mid 3s is all the Sox need from their #3 guy (though I expect regression from Buchholz).

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  11. pft says:

    Beckett has lost a couple of miles off of his fast ball and has command issues.
    His last 4 starts have been against the Mariners, Orioles, White Sox and Athletics. Not factoring in quality of opposition when looking at stats is a mortal sin, at least it should be.

    He finished 2008 and 2009 poorly, in 2008 due to injury. In his last 9 starts
    in 2009 he put up an ERA over 6. This year has been a disaster, of the 66 AL pitchers who have made 18 or more starts, only 3 have a worse ERA.

    Beckett has a history of labrum issues with the Marlins and refused to have surgery, and this was a concern at the time the trade was made. While he overcame his labrum issues with shoulder strengthening, he never threw a lot of innings until he joined the Red Sox and last year was his career high. When he signed his extension, Theo made a point of saying it was insurable, which I thought curious at the time (a couple of years earlier it was not insurable according to Beckett, but apparently enough time has passed without having any reported labrum issues).

    Beckett signed a contract short on years and dollars despite being 1 good year away from a bigger and longer contract. The fact he took the conservative approach might suggest he was not feeling all that great, and this was before he hurt his back. It’s a good thing he signed it because he would get nothing close to what he received as a FA after this year.

    Now, I don’t know exactly what is Becketts problem, but I would not be surprised if that bad back was just a cover for a labrum issue. In fact, shortly after Beckett went on the DL, Tito said he strained his labrum pitching through his bad back. Never any mention of a MRI on his shoulder or back (that kept him out 2 months), and he never mentioned the labrum again (slip of the tongue?) .

    I would not be all that optimistic about next year. Of course, his next 2 starts are against Toronto and the Yankees, and if he performs well against them I might be somewhat more optimistic.

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  12. Noseeum says:

    I have to say I really don’t get the point of this article. This seems like it was written for the Boston Globe, not Fangraphs.

    Your evidence for a Beckett resurgence is:
    -he looks better now than he did earlier
    -he seems to pitch poorly the first year after he signs a contract and well the second year after? Seriously?

    I’m not stating my own opinion on Beckett for 2011, but whatever my beliefs, this article is weak sauce. I expect a lot more from you guys.

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  13. Noseeum says:

    And really with a headline like “Expect Beckett to Come up Big…” on Fangraphs? There’s not even any digging into the numbers here. Just weird. A title like that I expect some in depth analysis from fangraphs. This just feels like having to meet a deadline.

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  14. Cliff Lee's Changeup says:

    Yea I’m still not sure why we should expect Beckett to be better then your average starter. I feel like this is an article you read on Boston sites after each of his seasons except maybe 2007. He has pitched better, but recently he’s not been amazing, I suppose he has potential, but most pitchers in the league have potential, that doesn’t mean they’re going to come through on it. Beckett did once, will we ever see it again? Maybe, but his numbers this year don’t suggest anything fantastic. Given his past, he’s more likely to miss a month then get a top 10 cy-young placement.

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  15. John says:

    Anybody that believes Beckett is the ace over Lester is beyond misinformed.

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    • pele says:

      anybody who cares who the ‘ace’ is on the team is worrying about idiotic issues. josh would be the ‘ace’ on most MLB teams but he pitches for the red sox, so he isnt….who cares? i love how people need to point out who the actual ace on each team is as if it adds some magical value to a starters ability. call him (or lester or buchholz) whatever you want, they are still what they are, one low 3 fip pitcher and two medium to high 3 fip pitchers….all three of them are capable of being called ‘aces’ and all three are capable of playing second or third fiddle (put lester on 3-4 teams and hes suddenly not the ace anymore, which shows why worrying about whom the ace is or why projecting a young player as an ace or a mid rotation starter is dumb practice. it just doesn’t matter as your role is subjected to the variance of what team you pitch for).

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      • John says:

        The ace is the best pitcher on the team. Josh Beckett is not the best pitcher on the team. Jon Lester is. Jon Lester is the Red Sox ace. Nice rant though.

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