Is There Hope for Gordon Beckham?

Gordon Beckham has not lived up to expectations. After being selected eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox in 2008, Beckham was expected to be one of the team’s future stars. And after a strong rookie season, it looked like Beckham might achieve that goal. Since then, however, Beckham was struggled mightily. For the 25-year-old, 2012 is a make-or-break year. The early signs do not look encouraging.

While it’s still early, Beckham has been terrible this season. Through 55 plate appearances, Beckham is hitting just .188/.255/.240. He’s also struck out at a 23.6% clip, the worst rate of his career. Since his promising debut, Beckham has turned into one of the worst regulars in the game. On any other team, Beckham’s job security would be in jeopardy.

Problem is, the White Sox don’t have a strong in-house replacement. Brent Lillibridge posted a higher WAR than Beckham last season despite receiving 300 fewer plate appearances, but his breakout isn’t sustainable. Considering Lillibridge struck out 28.7% of the time last year, it was a miracle he hit .258. And while he slugged .505, he had never approached that level of power in his professional career. Marc Hulet may have ranked Eduardo Escobar eighth on the White Sox top prospect list, but his bat won’t play in the majors. He would likely be a non-prospect on any other team. Since the White Sox have no immediate replacements, Beckham should continue to get opportunities to prove himself.

Considering his track record, Beckham may struggle to produce much value. Very few second basemen go on to have strong careers after struggling as much as Beckham has early in his career. Using our age filters, I looked at second basemen over the past forty years who produced similar value to Beckham between their age-22 and age-24 seasons.

Asdrubal Cabrera 1424 8.10% 15.90% 0.284 0.346 0.390 0.327 5.5
Glenn Hubbard 1505 9.40% 12.60% 0.245 0.318 0.357 0.306 4.7
Rickie Weeks 1333 11.10% 22.80% 0.250 0.357 0.411 0.347 4.6
Gordon Beckham 1485 7.60% 18.00% 0.249 0.318 0.386 0.311 4.6
Aaron Hill 1013 7.50% 10.60% 0.284 0.346 0.386 0.322 4.1
Jose Lopez 1903 3.80% 11.10% 0.278 0.310 0.404 0.309 3.4

That’s not a very encouraging list. Aside from Weeks, the other players on the list don’t inspire a ton of confidence. When healthy, Weeks has proven that he’s one of the better second basemen in the game. Hubbard and Lopez had lengthy careers, but neither can be considered great full-time options at the position. And the juries are still out on Hill and Cabrera. Both players have experienced success in the past, but have failed to sustain it. After a strong 2009 — in which he posted a 4.1 WAR — Hill has been an awful everyday player. After a strong 2009, Cabrera collapsed in 2010. While he rebounded back to a 3.6 WAR last year, he’ll have to prove that it wasn’t a fluke.

But Beckham may not even be able to reach that level of success in the majors. By their age-25 seasons, Weeks and Cabrera had each posted one season with a 3+ WAR. While Hill wasn’t that good early on, he didn’t reach the majors until he was 23-years-old. Even though he played one fewer season, Hill still managed to post as much WAR as Beckham.

Beckham just hasn’t shown those same flashes of potential throughout his career. There aren’t many players who go on to have successful major league careers after scuffling as like Beckham. Unless Beckham can defy recent history, his time as a full-time player will be coming to an end very soon.

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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

28 Responses to “Is There Hope for Gordon Beckham?”

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  1. lester bangs says:

    No. Not in this organization, anyway. Needs a clean start. The position switch was so stupid – why push him to a harder position on the defensive spectrum when he’s trying to merely get his feet wet as a hitter?

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    • MikeS says:

      He was drafted as a shortstop and projected as a second baseman from the start. He only played third when brought up because that’s where the bigger need was, although 2B was not being claimed by any future HOF’ers either. I think that defensively he has been a better 2B than 3B. He didn’t look quick enough -especially to his right – to play third. SS was taken by Ramirez so that wasn’t happening.

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      • James says:

        I believe he played short in the minors and switched to third for the callup…

        The issue is that he constantly had to worry about learning new positions for his first two years in the majors, which may have hindered his ability to make adjustments offensively or otherwise learn how to be a professional hitter (to go with getting yanked around the batting order). I don’t believe he was rushed if he would’ve been allowed to stay at one position. If the long-term plan was to move him, they should’ve done that with him in the minors and kept him at the same spot.

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      • lester bangs says:

        Beckham played four games of 2B in the minors (granted, he played just 57 games in the minors, period). I stand behind the idea that it was dumb to burden him with the position switch when they did.

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    • Tim says:

      How did the position switch hurt him? He has been excellent defensively.

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  2. WinTwins says:

    He looks bad on t.v. and on paper. I’m not seeing it.

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  3. Charles Strnad says:

    The rookie-year Beckham was a totally different player than anything since. He showed solid gap power, and was a doubles machine, and very adept at taking the ball to the opposite field, and showed at least decent plate discipline.
    The very next season (and every one since) though, he was/is chasing a lot of bad pitches (particularly high and away, out of the zone), not hitting the ball the other way much, and basically looking nothing like the guy we saw in his rookie year. He looks lost at the plate.

    Something obviously happened to him between year #1 and #2, and it seems to go way beyond just the “sophomore slump”.
    He’ll stay, however, because he has a good glove, and as mentioned, the Sox don’t exactly have any other good options to replace him.

    Seems to me he is a classic case of a guy with a world of talent, who was unfortunately rushed to The Bigs. A couple of years of AAA ball MAY have made a lot of difference- but now we’ll never know.

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    • MikeS says:

      That’s what I have wondered. He had wRC+ of 136/141/206 at A/AA/AAA respectively even though he only had 259 MiLB PA and then seemed to show that wasn’t a fluke by posting a 107 in 430PA. Then all of a sudden he couldn’t hit. I have wondered if he just never had the chance to learn what to do with different pitchers or counts, what the pitcher was trying to do to him. He always had success and never really had to think about it. I have always wondered if he was rushed even though all the early indications were he could hit.

      At this point, it looks like he could have a career, but as a utility infielder. It’s sad because after that rookie year I thought he might be Lou Whitaker. Now he looks like he’s not even Tony Graffanino.

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      • Wobatus says:

        Maybe it’s not that he was rushed but that this is who he would be even if he had an extra year in the high minors. Perhaps once teams got a book on him they could exploit weaknesses.

        Although that doesn’t seem likely. He had an excellent September his first year in 2009, so they hadn’t figured him by then.

        He also had an excellent stretch in July and August in 2010 (albeit in July his plate discipline had started to unhinge). He’s very streaky, since even with those 2 excellent months he was poor overall. And last year worse and his hot streak down to 1 month. I don’t know if I believe much in streakiness, but he certainly was locked in when he came up in 2009 most of the year, and those 2 months together in 2010 he was very good. He OPS’d .950 and .931 those months, so that’s a third of a year bunched together where he was a .940 OPS guy at second. But he wa absolutely miserable otherwise that year, and ever since.

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    • bill says:

      Can you name other “classic cases” of a guy being rushed to the bigs too early? I feel like this is just one of those conventional thoughts that might not have any basis in reality.

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  4. Ben G. says:

    There were rumblings within the organziation that Greg Walker completley undid his mechanics after his rookie year. “Supposedly”, Kenny Williams and Walker got in a shouting match over it. It’s not secret that his mechanics are garbage and aren’t the same from when he first came up. The hope since Jeff Manto, Beckham’s hitting coach in the minors, is now the hitting coach for the White Sox, he can regain his rookie form.

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    • Mike W says:

      Agreed, but he still has the big leg lift and drop and the completely ridculous dipsy-do “(that’s a technical term) with his hands and arms. I can’t believe noone has tried to get him to be more silent at the plate and shorten his trigger, which may be the longest in the majors. When he actually starts his swing, his brain doesn’t know where his hands are – there’s no repeatability possible with him flopping around in the box like that. He’s broken.

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    • Dick says:

      In the last week or so it’s looked like he’s working on trying to take some of the noise out of his swing. Trying to step less, and definitely trying to get that horrible hitch out.

      But he’s been so fouled up that fixing that stuff is only part of the battle. Fixing the hitch doesn’t address the other big knock on him not “adjusting to the adjustments” as they say.

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  5. Wobatus says:

    Another comparison, not a second baseman: Alex Gordon. Not in similarlities of style, but consider that Gordon was a touted prospect who struggled for a few years. His k rate was consistently in the 22% range (and area Beckham is only topping in this season’s small sample; in prior years he was below 20), and he walks more than Beckham.

    But in any event Gordon struggled through his age 25 season and then broke out last year in his age 26 season (whether he can sustain that appears to be a question now, although he’s been picking it up recently). Beckham is still 25. And while overall Gordon was likely a bit better in his pre-age 26 seasons, Beckham had already had a “breakout” season: his rookie year, age 22.

    It may take some time for Manto to undo what was done, if that’s what happened.

    His outside swing percentage is down a tad, although not all the way to rookie levels. His zone swing is also down. He’s swinging less. But not making any more contact.

    At’s at least somewhat encouraging he is swinging less but he is taking some strikes and swinging and missing at others. Hopefully he can right himself.

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  6. Lex Logan says:

    “But Beckham may even be able to reach that level of success in the majors…” The remainder of that paragraph makes it look like you intended to write “not even”.

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  7. jfree says:

    The White Sox have wrecked him by keeping him in the majors. He is not one of those young players who proved everything they could prove or who fixed everything he could fix in the minors. And the notion that he can’t be sent back down now because the team doesn’t have a replacement is yet more excuses by a team that is in complete denial and is organizationally incompetent.

    It is really unfortunate but often the case – the best insights into the overall quality of an organization is how they deal with their past mistakes. And Beckham is evidence that the White Sox are a failure at that.

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    • MikeS says:

      Yeah, I dunno if sending him down can help but at this point what can it hurt? He’s not going to win any ball games for you so you aren’t missing anything and even if you play a stiff with a -4 WAR there, they aren’t making the playoffs anyway. Take a chance that he can get right and you can have a good second baeman next year.

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  8. John says:

    Where on the website did you go to do the age filters and what stat did you use to filter the players?

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  9. JDanger says:

    Click on the “Leaders” tab at the top of the page.

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  10. The Anchorman 2 says:

    Why will Eduardo Escobar’s bat not play in the bigs? How do you know and how do you know this when many other publications think he will bat good enough for his defense to offset it?

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      Escobar hit just .266/.303/.354 in AAA last season. That is not going to translate to the majors. And very few people expect his bat to get better.

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  11. chuckb says:

    Sheesh! Look at all the infield popups! Led baseball last year in IFFB% and it’s 27.8% so far this year! Combine that w/ a 20+% K rate and he’s striking out of popping up in 40-50% of his PAs. No one can be a successful hitter with those numbers.

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  12. Zher says:

    If offense, and not defense is the issue, why would you compare players using WAR? The issue is if his bat will play at the Major League Level, and defense is raising his value.

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    • ben says:

      Because the amount of offense needed to be a productive player is dependent upon his defense…

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      • Zher says:

        Yes, but their not comparable in what they’re going through, for the sake of how those players turned out. Comparing him to a player such as Weeks, has no real predictive value, as Weeks didn’t scuffle offensively as Beckham has.

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  13. Tim Acree says:

    his swing looks awkward and jerky.
    I honestly just think he is trying too hard– the talent is there.
    he needs to relax, stop over-thinking, and just let the game come to him.

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  14. eliasll says:

    He needed more time in the minors…he’s heating up lately…

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