Josh Beckett and DIPS Theory

Last year, Josh Beckett posted a 5.78 ERA in 21 starts, and his struggles were one of the main reasons the Red Sox missed the playoffs. This year, Josh Beckett has a 1.86 ERA in 14 starts, and his dominance is one of the reasons that the Red Sox have the best record in the American League. A look beyond ERA, however, shows that Beckett is the poster boy for why metrics like xFIP were created in the first place.

Last year, Beckett had an xFIP of 3.86, 8% below league average. This year, Beckett is posting a 3.69 xFIP, 8% below the league average. In fact, his K/BB ratio is almost exactly identical (2.58 last year, 2.63 this year) to what it was a year ago. His ERA has been slashed by over four runs thanks to huge reductions in two factors that are counted in xFIP – BABIP and HR/FB.

Last year, Beckett had the third worst BABIP (.338) of any starter who threw at least 100 innings. Only Brandon Morrow and James Shields were worse, and Aaron Harang posted the same mark over in the National League. In addition, Beckett posted the fourth worst HR/FB rate in the majors, behind only Jorge de la Rosa (who pitched in Colorado), Manny Parra, and Kevin Correia. Beckett gave up a lot of hits and a lot of home runs, and that’s a lethal combination for a pitcher’s ERA, even if he’s not walking guys and racking up a decent amount of strikeouts.

This year, Beckett has the lowest BABIP (.217) of any starter in baseball, and his 3.9% HR/FB rate is the fifth lowest of any qualified starter. He’s regressed right past the mean, and now his performance in 2011 is as unsustainble as his 2010 performance was, just in the other direction this time. Just like Beckett was a great pick to improve upon his struggles last year, he’s a good bet to regress in the second half of this year.

I know it’s tempting to look at guys who have both high BABIPs and HR/FB rates simultaneously and assume that they must be doing something wrong that allows hitters to tee off on them with regularity. Last year, we had this same conversation about Dan Haren after the Diamondbacks got tired of a “too hittable” pitcher and shipped him to the Angels. At the time of the trade, Haren had a 3.19 xFIP, but his ERA was 4.60 thanks to a .336 BABIP and a 13.9% HR/FB rate. Upon arriving in Anaheim, those numbers immediately dropped, and have stayed below the league averages ever since.

Beckett (and Haren, and James Shields, and many of the other names on the list of guys we noted who were hit hard last year) are seeing dramatically different results this year than they did last year. In a few cases, they are pitching better, though the improvements aren’t anywhere close to the same scale as ERA would suggest. Beckett, though, looks to be almost exactly the same pitcher as he was a year ago, just now he’s on the other side of the results fence.

If you look at Beckett’s 2010-2011 data as one complete season, as he’s started 35 games since the beginning of last year, his line for that “season” has him putting up a .292 BABIP and a 9.8% HR/FB rate, almost exactly average in both categories. For his career, Beckett has right around average marks in both categories.

Besides the sequencing, there’s nothing all that weird about the last 35 starts of Josh Beckett’s career. He had a run of bad luck and a run of good luck, but they’ve nearly canceled each other out, and over the course of 220 innings, his line looks to be pretty close to what you’d expect given his underlying walk rate, strikeout rate, and batted ball stats.

Josh Beckett was never terrible, and he’s not amazing now. More than anything else, he’s an example of why ERA isn’t a good tool for projecting future pitching performances.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


83 Responses to “Josh Beckett and DIPS Theory”

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  1. While it’s true he was unlucky at times last year (and has been luckier this year), the fact that Beckett’s back isn’t bothering him has been a huge plus. Last year, his back kept him from commanding his curveball well, forcing him to rely on his fastball more. The curve is his best pitch, and sometimes his performance will live and die with it. He was, in fact, “hittable” during certain starts last year because of this — even bad hitters can do something when they know a fastball is coming, especially when they fastball isn’t spectacular.

    The last time he struggled like he did in 2010 was in 2006 with the Red Sox, when his curveball also was nowhere near as effective, thanks to the blister issues.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      You obviously saw Beckett a lot more than I did last year, but I will point out that Beckett only threw his fastball 55% of the time last year, the second lowest mark of his career. He’s actually throwing his curveball less this year than he did last year.

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      • It’s how effective it has been that’s the major difference. Depended on the day of the year. It wasn’t much fun trying to figure out which Beckett was showing up to the park that day, but you could usually tell early on based on his curve command.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        That seems like something we could test with Pitch F/x data. Might be worth a follow-up post – thanks for pointing it out.

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      • Jack Nugent says:

        This may not be totally conclusive, but FWIW– Beckett’s CB/C last year (-0.54) was as bad as it’s been since 2004, a season in which he threw just 156.2 innings. So far this year, Beckett’s CB/C is 1.49, so apparently he’s had some success with it.

        Again, this may not close the book on this argument, but seems like it’s worth considering.

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      • Jack Nugent says:

        Also, even throw he was throwing even harder last year than he has been in 2011, Beckett’s fastball was by far the least effective it has ever been (wFB/C: -1.23). So that also seems somewhat consistent with Marc’s hypothesis.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        Pitch Type Linear Weights are not fielding independent, so it’s not as simple as saying that those pitches are better this year. He has gotten better results on those pitches, but we already knew that.

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      • joe says:

        His curve wasn’t doing that great last year, so it took more pitches to put people away. In the deeper two strike counts he’s less likely to throw a fastball.

        So he threw less fastballs last year because he wasn’t finishing people off.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        No doubt he’s gotten very lucky so far this year. But last year had more to do with injuries/stuff than with simple bad luck.

        All of his offspeed stuff was crap last year. Not only was there less movement, but he couldn’t control anything. The result was that he’d fall behind in the count and throw meatballs down the middle, and get hit hard. This year, his curveball in particular has looked awesome.

        I don’t know much about pitch f/x (where that kind of thing would be more quantifiable), but I do see that this year his SwS% is the best of his Sox career, while last year it was the worst.

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      • jwb says:

        Mike Bielecki was another pitcher like this, albeit at a lower level of overall success. He had chronic back issues and you could tell by his follow through on his first five pitches how his game was going to go.

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    • Ryan says:

      With a fuller repertoire of pitches, I would think his strikeout rate would go up and even a possible uptick in the walk rate. His K/9 is down and BB/9 is down from 2010.

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      • Buzzy says:

        His swinging strike % is way up though.

        I have posted about this a few days ago on OverTheMonster (see:http://www.overthemonster.com/2011/6/16/2226851/2011-josh-beckett-fluke-or-different-pitcher)

        There I point out all of the points Dave does here. On the otherhand one thing that is missed in this discussion that is touched upon there is that Beckett is a completely diffeent pitcher now (and actually in 2010) than he was in 2007. He throws 4 pitches now, and basically only 2 then. I know one should not read too much into 92 innings (or his results in 2010 for that matter) but one can believe that some aspect of results are not random and related to these changes-including equal splits, lots of infield popups, higher swing strike %, lowe LD%…of course we will have to wait and see, and no Beckett cannot continue this, but I don’t think it is complete and total fluke either.

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      • mattinm says:

        His K% and BB% are up and down, respectively, however. The problem with using per-9 statistics has been described in depth here and around the interwebs. If you are facing more batters per inning (higher BABIP and/or BB-rates), you will naturally strike out more batters per nine, even if you are striking about batters less frequently.

        Here’s Beckett’s K% and BB% the past two seasons:

        2010:
        K% – 20.1%
        BB% – 7.80%

        2011:
        K% – 22.32%
        BB% – 8.47%

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      • mattinm says:

        * up and up

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      • RC says:

        “With a fuller repertoire of pitches, I would think his strikeout rate would go up and even a possible uptick in the walk rate. His K/9 is down and BB/9 is down from 2010.”

        Which is exactly what happened, if you look at stats that are actually DIPS. K/9 and BB/9 are shitty stats.

        2011:
        k% = 22.3
        BB% = 8.4%

        2010
        K% = 20.1%
        BB% = 7.8%

        He’s striking out more guys, not less. He’s also walking a tick more guys.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      As soon as I read this excellent article, I knew someone would come up with “reasons” for the difference.

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  2. Person says:

    I think it’s time for a “John Lannan and DIPS Theory”-type post again.

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  3. David Ross says:

    Beckett’s tERA last year was 4.85, this year it’s 3.00. Additionally, his SwStr% is .9 higher than any rate he’s had with the Sox (since moving to the harder AL) and 1.5 higher than last year.

    Is his luck better this season than last? Certainly. Is he also pitching a better? I think so.

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  4. Grant says:

    What do you make of his SwSt% jumping 1.5% and his contact% being the lowest since he joined the Red Sox?

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  5. Valentine says:

    Beckett’s ERA by inning last year:
    2.57
    4.71
    4.29
    6.75
    5.68
    7.80
    13.97

    Offense is non-linear. If the hits are bunched, you allow many more runs than if they are spread out evenly. Last year Beckett was tiring around the 4th inning, at which point opposing teams piled on the runs. Beckett is surely getting lucky with his results this year, but last year’s flop was largely his fault.

    I tend to read DIPS results as a “pitcher with potential”. Easier for a pitcher with a quality K/BB to fix his game than it is for one whose xFIP matches his mediocre averages.

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  6. Jonathan says:

    One thing I theorized last year was making a big difference and I’m almost certain of this year: defense.

    Last year, for the bulk of his starts, Beckett was pitching with an outfield consisting of the likes of Darnell MacDonald, Bill Hall and Daniel Nava. Up the middle in the infield he had Marco Scutaro with a busted shoulder, Jed Lowrie and the occasional Bill Hall start with Mike Lowell spending time at first.

    This year, he’s got Ellsbury who’s no defensive whiz, but a good deal better in the outfield than anyone Beckett had behind him not named J.D. Drew. There’s a drop in third base defense going from Beltre to Youkilis, but Pedroia’s back and at his usual defensive levels and Gonzalez has been a rock in the field.

    Additionally, Beckett’s been pitching to contact a lot with his fastball velocity continuing to drop. I absolutely hate to cite the “eye test,” but he’s been getting a lot of weakly hit balls and with a stable defense behind him as opposed to a defense in disarray like last year, the results have been a significant improvement.

    Is Beckett pitching over his head? No doubt, in my opinion, but I think he’ll continue to outperform his peripherals all season considering the factors I’ve noted.

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  7. William says:

    This is a great example of why k/9 is just unreliable at this time of year. Beckett’s babip has actually reduced his k/9 because he is facing less batters, and has less of an opportunity to strike them out. His K% ranks 12th in the AL while his k/9 ranks 16th. Also, people have pointed out that his swinging strike rate is his highest mark in the AL. This suggests that his strikeout rate has nowhere to go but up, somewhat mitigating the effects of the increase of hits and homers he will allowing the future

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    • Hank says:

      Great point, I know people are comfortable with K/9 and BB/9, but you’d think this would evolve like other statistics when there are obvious limitations and it’s just as easy to use K% or BB%

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  8. Beaster says:

    This excellent season was predicted by sullybaseball using the correlation of Beckett’s career to that of the Star Trek motion picture franchise

    “So where does this leave Beckett for 2011?
    The good news is that Star Trek VI was the best written film of the series other than Wrath of Khan and gave the crew a great send off. So things look good for the Sox and Beckett.
    Bad news is the NEXT Star Trek film, Generations, blew a great chance to have Kirk and Piccard team up. The film was a mess. Which means Beckett will probably flop in 2012. ”

    http://sullybaseball.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-josh-beckett-and-star-trek-films.html

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      LOLz!

      After reading for an entire year about how Beckett was done, especially from sites such as FG, but me believing he was one of the best starters in baseball (no, I’m not a Sox fan), but with a back that was causing issues, I wanted to rip this Cameron “luck” shit to pieces. I won’t now because your post put everything in proper prospective.

      Beam me up, Scotty! LOL!

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    • Beaster says:

      Yeah its definitely a must read for any Trekkie baseball fan

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    • Jason B says:

      “After reading for an entire year about how Beckett was done, especially from sites such as FG”

      Did you read those here? Any articles you care to cite?

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  9. state school grad says:

    anyone here watch vogelson and beckett???????? just curious if you watch all their starts. i been watching beckett since his spring training game at minute maid, knew he was going to do well.

    vogelson is good too. ;)

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  10. Bill says:

    It’s also less surprising if you don’t subscribe to the popular/lazy theory that he is an “every other year pitcher.” He’s been great in every season in Boston minus 06 and 10.

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  11. Matt says:

    I just got offered Beckett,Heyward and LoMO for my Verlander and Choo in a standard 5X5 non keeper. Would you take that? I keep waiting for Choo to bounce back which is why I’m so hesitant about it.

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      What the hell’s a LoMO? Beckett and Heyward, straight up, are better than Verlander and Choo, so unless this ‘LoMO’ carries negative value, I’d take that trade in a heartbeat.

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    • Jason B says:

      I would take that in a heartbeat. The pitchers are close (slight edge to Verlander I would say, but Beckett is nothing to sneeze at), so beyond the pitchers who are close enough to be pretty equivalent, you get Heyward AND Morrison for Choo? Jump on that. Now. Quickly. Go…GO! We’ll wait. :)

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  12. Dan in Philly says:

    How about a similar article on how Reyes’ .373 BABIP this year is totally unsustainable (his career norm is .313), and all the talk about him becoming a highly paid FA this year is just talk?

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    • Norm says:

      That’s assuming GM’s care about babip.
      In Reyes’s case, as long as his OPS + R + SB – CS is up there, he’ll be sittin pretty

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      So Reyes BABIP is unreasonable high during a contract year when he would wish his production to be at its best. Interesting.

      But batters don’t control BABIP, right? Like, it has nothing to do with how focused they are and how hard they hit the ball because of dedicated offseasons. Nope, just luck. Beam me up, Scotty!

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    • Jason B says:

      “all the talk about him becoming a highly paid FA this year is just talk”

      False. You really think he won’t get paid handsomely, with the year he’s having, sustainable or not? There’s a 9-figure payday just around the corner…

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  13. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Dave, seems like this is one of the flaws in looking at K/9 vs. K%. He’s striking out 7.73 per nine in 2011, where that rate was 8.18 in 2010. You’d think he’d be striking out less according to this, but he’s striking out 22% of all batters faced this year removing iBBs while that number was a lower 20% last year. I can say that after facing him two nights ago that he’s a different animal this year and I think Normy hit the nail on the head above that he’s healthy this year and nasty.

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  14. Dave says:

    The paragraph referencing Haren seems very relevant to Zack Greinke right now. Already, the chorus has begun to assert that he just throws too much in the zone.

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  15. Jim Lahey says:

    Disclaimer: personal observation

    Beckett was up in the zone and his pitches weren’t moving much when he was getting killed last year. I feel he’s moved back down in the zone with more movement again this year. Course actual stats may say different but I think it’s all about his back health

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  16. razor says:

    I’d like to know how many times Varitek caught Beckett last season and compare that to this season. I know Varitek doesn’t provide much offense, but I don’t think it’s my imagination that Beckett pitches a lot better with him behind the plate than with someone else.

    On that same note…Ubaldo sure seems to miss Olivo calling his games. I’m sure there are a zillion other factors, just saying. I think the quote above about DIPS being useful for a “pitcher with potential” sums it up best. Very good analogy in my opinion.

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      Opposing batters had a higher OPS with Varitek (.851) catching than they did Martinez (.823) last year, and this year’s immaterial because Salty has caught just one Beckett game.

      Oh, and Varitek had the 5th best OPS for catchers last year, and is 11th, to date, this year, so it’s not as if he doesn’t provide any offense. He does as long as his 40 year old body is given appropriate rest, apparently.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      It’s all in your imagination. Unfortunately, it’s also in Terry Francona’s imagination.

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      There are 6 catchers in all of MLB who maintain an OPS above .800, and three of them can’t even catch. Varitek was .766 last year and is .692 this year. Reportedly, the catcher Boston pitchers prefer is Varitek, and with Beckett, Lester, Buchholz and Lackey, we’re talking of some guys Boston would prefer feel comfortable.

      I will guesstimate that Boston would have lost 5 wins if Boras represented better.

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      • RC says:

        Buchholz prefers Salty to Tek, and preffered VMart last year to Tek. Lester doesn’t seem to care.

        Beckett is the only one with a strong preference toward Tek.

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  17. state school grad says:

    i too saw the vmart theory, vmart was not good ( near bottom of the list in ERA while vtek was 8th on the list but did not qualify for innings caught )

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  18. syoung says:

    How ironic that someone here made some obscure connection between Beckett and Star Trek because this article and most of the comments are just begging for the kind of response William Shatner famously gave to the Trekkies on that long ago SNL skit. But instead of shouting “Get a life!” I’d ask “Do any of you ever actually watch baseball games? Do you ever actually follow the MLB standings?” To make the argument that Becket in 2010 was essentially as good as he’s been this year except for some bad luck is absolutely absurd and absolutely pointless.
    As a casual “fan” of Fangraphs and of sabermetrics in general, I think you guys do a great service and no question you’ve advanced our knowledge of the game. I read your articles every day. But I’ll just say it: Beckett sucked last year and he sucks much less this year and your careful measurements of how that somehow isn’t the case are meaningless. I watched him pitch virtually every game last year and watched how the team sunk under the weight of his troubles. You could see it in his face, in his demeanor and in the standings the next morning. So sorry to say this but In terms of relevance and importance, this article could have ended with the first sentence.

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    • Sultan of Schwing says:

      Well said.

      And beam me up, Scotty!

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    • Internet20 says:

      Agreed. I hesitate to offer a subjective observation here, but… there’s a palpable difference in the quality of the pitches he’s throwing and there’s just no way you can claim that Beckett is the same guy this year as he was last year. And if you’re someone who wants to make a conclusion but is without the the benefit of having… actually seen enough of the pitcher in question to tell the difference, please dig into the pitch f/x data.
      Is Beckett the beneficiary of some luck? For sure. Eventually the hits will start dropping and the fly balls will start carrying out and people who still look to ERA will despair. But subtracting xFIP from ERA and then building your entire conclusion around the fact that the result is a negative number is silly. And the idea of combining this year’s stats with last year’s and then saying that they average out, therefore Beckett “looks to be almost exactly the same pitcher as he was a year ago” is laughable. That’s just classic “lol Dave Cameron” material.

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    • Josh Shepardson says:

      I always love the statement, “do you guys even watch the games?” It’s always followed by a fan’s, I stress fan’s, scouting analysis. Sorry if I’m more inclined to lean toward Dave’s analysis than yours. Perhaps if your name were Kevin Goldstein, Jim Callis, Keith Law etc. I’d be willing to take your analysis a bit more serious. Unfortunately, you’re a fan, making your analysis likely jaded by some team loyalty, whether it be to the Red Sox or someone else, making it nearly impossible to be unbiased.

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      • RC says:

        Its impossible to be unbiased, even for Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, or Jim CAllis. There is not a single human being that is unbiased on any single subject. Its just not how the human mind works.

        The key is knowing what the bias is. Not finding people who you can pretend who don’t have one.

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      • Josh Shepardson says:

        Ha, I’d agree that it’s impossible not to have some form of bias, but the difference in biases of a person paid to offer their scouting take on a player and a fan is rather large.

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      • RC says:

        That depends on the fan.

        Also, are you arguing that scouts are not baseball fans?

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  19. mgonzo777 says:

    I don’t know how to show evidence of this with stats, but Beckett is pitching smarter and more effectively this year by leaps and bounds than I have ever seen in the past. He’s been pinpointing his fastball to both sides of the plate, and though he doesn’t throw as hard as he has in the past, he is varying the speed on his fastball from 88-94 and sometimes 95. He’s cutting and sinking his fastball more than he ever has and all this really has the hitters off balance and making poor contact with the baseball which is going to give you those low HR/FB, low line drive, high IFFB, and low BABIP rates. His change up is sharper as well. He’s not doing it with just stuff like he used to. Anyone know how to find out how many of his K’s are looking as opposed to swinging? I’ve seen him locking guys up a lot more this year which to me is more impressive than a swing and a miss. If you punch out a guy looking that means you fooled him and not just blown him away with power stuff. That is what the great ones do. I agree he is pitching above his head but if he can maintain this sharpness and focus I think he keeps his ERA under 3.00 or close to it by season’s end. I can’t put my finger on any one key part of Josh’s game to explain the results. Maybe he just finally realized that he has to back off the velocity and focus more on changing speeds and location to stay healthy and truly become a great pitcher and not just a guy with stuff and amazing potential.

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  20. pft says:

    Hitters seem more uncomfortable at the plate this year, and as a result Beckett is inducing weak contact which results in a lower BABIP and HR/FB. Also, he has Tek as his designated catcher while V-Mart caught most of his games last year, so he may be mixing pitches up a bit better and getting some more called strikes (Tek frames pitches well).

    Beckett may have been unlucky last year, but he also pitched poorly. The opposite is true this year, and would be clear if you watched the games.

    The assumption that pitchers have no control over BABIP and HR/FB is unproven and may be false, at least for some pitchers.

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    • Eric M. Van says:

      Actually, it’s perfectly well established that they have control over BABIP. I proved that on rec.sport.baseball within months of Voros’s initial DIPS paper; Tom Tippett and many other followed.

      It’s the noisiest of pitching stats but it’s easy to demonstrate that it would be hard to show a statistically significant difference between a .260 BABIP guy and a .280 BABIP guy without having many years of data. *That does not mean the difference does not exist*. I had to explain to Voros that the strength of a correlation does not measure the size of the effect, it measures the size of the effect minus the noise. *** That BABIP correlates weakly does not mean the true range of values is small. ***

      There has been less work on HR/FB but I’m pretty sure it’s pretty much the same story.

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  21. RC says:

    If you think the way Beckett is pitching this year is similar to last year, you’re an idiot. This article is a complete misunderstanding of DIPS stats (And FIP and xFIP aren’t DIPs), and a complete misunderstanding of what BABIP means.

    I watched most of the redsox games last year, and have seen most of them this year. Beckett was hurt for about 2/3 of the season last year, and was grooving pitches over the plate. That high BABIP wasn’t a case of an unlucky pitcher, it was the case of a pitcher throwing meatballs.

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  22. Matthew Cornwell says:

    So the general consensus is: there is very likely a lot of luck and some skill going on at this point for Beckett, and as the sample size gets larger, we will see Beckett regress, but not all the way since his skill is probably influencing BABIP and HR/FB to some degree, albeit maybe a smallish degree.

    Sound familiar? Glavine, Wang, Zito, Cain, Hudson (last year), Cahil, anybody?

    Same debate. Different pitcher. Different day.

    We aren’t still trying to figure out if BABIP is highly influenced by luck at a seasonal level or if there is any BABIP pitcher skill at all, are we? I thought those were battles won years ago.

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    • RC says:

      “We aren’t still trying to figure out if BABIP is highly influenced by luck at a seasonal level or if there is any BABIP pitcher skill at all, are we? I thought those were battles won years ago.”

      We know BABIP is highly influenced by luck. What people have assumed from that is that it is completely based on luck, which is not correct, and has never even been attempted to be proven. Fangraphs seems to ignore this.

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      • Josh Shepardson says:

        And others assume that a pitcher’s BABIP being high MUST be the result of throwing meatballs because they watch the games. I can some this stance up in a pretty concise immitation of the “meatball theory,” folks.

        “I watch all the games. My recall is perfect, and I remember all pitches thrown by pitcher “x” last year. If you don’t believe me, you must not watch the games. To even suggest that the occasional meatball thrown by pitcher “x” would stand out more than the other hundreds of pitches they threw all year is outrageous! Grrrr I’m going to discredit anything and everything that even suggests luck may have played a part and throw insults at those people.”

        That pretty much sums it up right?

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      • Ron says:

        Meatballs are pitches down the middle of the plate. The BABIP of pitches down the middle of the plate is far higher than pitches on the corners.

        Pitchers that aren’t able to control their pitches, either because of injuries or lack of talent, will have higher BABIPs.

        I don’t know why so many people ignore this fact.

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      • Josh Shepardson says:

        It’s not that people don’t recognize that the BABIP on a grooved fastball is higher than that of one on the black, it’s that anytime a pitcher has a high BABIP, the counter argument is that the high BABIP is entirely the result of meatballs and the author must not watch the games. The truth is, if he were tossing meatballs essentially every other pitch as some suggest, it’s likely he wouldn’t have been taking the ball as frequently as he was last year. Sure, he probably wasn’t as sharp last year thanks to his injury, but I’m going to guess some of his high BABIP was the result of bad luck.

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      • RC says:

        “black, it’s that anytime a pitcher has a high BABIP, the counter argument is that the high BABIP is the result of meatballs”

        I’ve seen the BABIP is luck argument made a whole lot more on this page than any other one. I think you’re putting up strawmen.

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  23. TribeFanV says:

    2010: 19% LD, 45.8% GB, 35.3% FB, 9.2% IFFB

    2011: 16.1% LD, 40.3% GB, 43.6% FB, 14.6% IFFB

    While his success this year in terms of ERA is probably unsustainable, the fact that his BABIP is down probably has something to do with his batted ball profile. I’m not saying his BABIP will always be .217 if he pitches like he has been this year, but it probably won’t be .338 over the long haul, either.

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  24. Matty Brown says:

    Josh Beckett’s player page currently has over 19,000 views. crazy.

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  25. Matthew Cornwell says:

    Not sure what you mean that “nobody has tried to prove it.” V. McCracken tried to prove it and came up with the theory that most pitchers do not have BABIP skill. Some other people like Tippett said that there may be a bit more BABIP skill than V. MAC suggested. Guys like T. Tiger tried to “prove” how much skill exists and at what sample size we need to see it.

    We pretty much do know the range of true talent ( +/- .25 from the league average) and the amount of BIP needed to reach the r=.5 mark (3,700).

    And we know what characteristics can influence BABIP skill: being left-handed, throwing knuckelballs or cutters, high K rates, allowing high FB rates (or being an extreme GBer), throwing high and inside or low and away a disproportionate amount of times, etc.

    Very, very few people hold on to McCracken’s original hard-core theory; not sure what we are still debating about.

    Yes, Fangraphs ignores BABIP at a seasonal level. I am okay with that. The problem is, at a long career level, I would much rather know a pitcher’s career BABIP than to assume league average. This is why almost everybody uses Sean Smith’s WAR over FG WAR for career data. Well, that and the fact that it is on BR . They have decided to ignore BABIP, WP, GIDP, controlling the running game, LOB%, situational splits, etc. at the career level in order to get completely fielding/luck independent at a seasonal level (well, minus the whole HR/FB thing).

    Okay, I can see that, but I would still rather see those things included for pitchers with long careers.

    The other issue is, that despite ignoring BABIP 100% for pitchers, FG credits hitter BABIP 100% to the hitter…not very consistent, despite the fact that batter BABIP is more stable. Why not regress pitcher and hitter BABIP to their career averages?

    Bottom line, if a pitcher has only been in the league 3-4 years and their BF sample size is small, I wan’t to look at FG to see how much skill the pitcher has. When a pitcher gets to 5-10 seasons, I like to look at the two methods and come to a consensus. When you get over 10 years, rWAR is my preference, easily.

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    • RC says:

      +/- .25 is a HUGE range. Thats the point.

      IIRC, .300 is about normal BABIP. That means he range is .275 to .325. Thats HUGE. Looking at a guy like Tim Wakefield (14K batters faced, .275 Career Babip, only one season over .300) and then comparing him to a guy who has a natural .325 BABIP, and regressing them both to .300 is a HUGE mistake.

      A guy with Wake’s periphrials who can keep a .275 WAR is a consistent 2.5 WAR guy. A guy with Wake’s periphrials who has a natural .325 BABIP? Doesn’t make AAA.

      There are clearly guys (like Tim Wakefield) who demonstratably have skill in controlling Babip. The fact that most guys don’t display that skill doesn’t mean its not valid.

      Fangraphs writers, and FIP (which is a terrible stat.. Its not a DIPS stat despite claiming to be, and it regresses things to league average that are skills), continually state that BABIP is completely luck. Its not.

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      • Matthew Cornwell says:

        .25 is small compared to other talent ranges, and very few guys are at the extremes compared to other skills. Most casual fans, however, think that inducing weak or strong contact is mostly the responsibility of the pitcher and is heavily influenced by all pitchers. That is what DIPS proponents are trying to get the world to see. Unfortunately, there are a few around who take the extreme approach, but most do not.

        I already stated my issues with FG handling of BABIP and WAR, but I have no problem looking at Jamie Garcia’s FIP to get a quick fix on his value and skill, since 1.5 seasons is not nearly enough to tell if he really has BABIP (or sequencing or any other secondary) skill. FIP is not a terrible stat..it just becomes less useful as sample size increases. To quote Eric Clapton, “Its in the way that you use it.”

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      • RC says:

        FIP is not a DIPS stat. Period. Its not. I don’t understand why people don’t get that.

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  26. RC says:

    These sorts of articles are exactly the sort of reason why people make stupid comments like “[Sport] isn’t played in your mother’s basement,” and why the mainstream has such a hard time accepting sabermetrics.

    IE, stats articles that are clearly wrong if you’ve actually been watching the performances in question.

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    • Jason B says:

      What is “clearly wrong” within the body of the article, pray tell?

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      • RC says:

        The entire premise that a guy who is throwing a couple miles of an hour faster this year, throwing a different pitch makeup, and is now healthy, is entirely the result of luck.

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  27. Eric M. Van says:

    Matthew Cornwell and RC get it. I would make a semantic quibble in that every pitcher has innate BABIP and HR/FB skills. For a good many of them, their skill is close enough to league average to be ignored, but for a good many of them, it isn’t.

    Since these stats are so noisy, we need to develop better methods of estimating them when the SS is small.

    I’ve watched and scored every pitch Beckett has thrown the last two years, and looked at a lot of the pitch/fx data. To say he’s the same pitcher is close, except for the part where he’s actually night vs. day better.

    This winter over at SoSH I looked at the odd year / even year pattern and (using pitch count rather than innings) in the off years, found consistent evidence for the fatigue factor that Valentine cited. Since Beckett was reported to be in much better shape, I predicted a much better season, both at SoSH and right here (and here I was predictably mocked for putting faith in the “best shape of his career” meme. Well, it’s not nonsense if there’s evidence that being in or out of shape has been a factor).

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  28. Matt says:

    Just a few other numbers which may contribute to Beckett’s bounce-back season:

    2010: SB% 94.8 DP%GB:4.1
    2011: SB% 71.4 DP%GB:8.2

    It’s hard to tell if he is doing a better job of holding runners on or if he is somehow pitching differently with runners on 1st base. This is most likely a SSS result.

    I was thinking that his HR/FB, xFIP and BABIP may be indicative, to some degree, of his pitching lower in the strike zone this season (thus allowing fewer ‘hard hit’ balls). However his much weaker (.69 to .90) ground G/F rate would indicate otherwise.

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  29. pft says:

    Glad everybody agrees Beckett is a much better pitcher this year than last year, despite the xFIP.

    This leads me to wonder a bit more about what happened last year. Many people forget that Beckett had labrum problems with the Marlins. It was serious enough that the Marline wanted him to have surgery, which he refused, and his MRI gave the Red Sox a bit of concern before pulling the trigger on the trade before the 2006 season. At least thats how I remember it.

    With the Red Sox, he had a poor 2006 and was given an extension that he signed. His reason for signing the extension which sacrificed some FA years was he needed insurance, given that his shoulder was uninsurable (that was reported in the Globe several years ago as I recall but is archived now, I guess he was talking about personal insurance in case his career is shortened by injury ).

    In 2007, Beckett was awesome, and while he was good in 2008 and 2009, he finished poorly at the end of both years due to various ailments.

    The Red Sox picked up the option for Beckett in 2010 and offered Beckett an extension at the start of the 2010 season, as he was a FA after the season ended. A good season by Beckett in 2010 would have allowed him to look for a lot more dollars and more years than the extension. Yet again, Beckett took the “insurance” that the extension offered him. I remember saying then that this could be a sign that Beckett was not all that confident in having a good season, and may not be 100% healthy. This is well before he injured his “back” in May taking swings in preparation for interleague play.

    Curiously to me at the the time, Theo mentioned without anyone asking that the team was able to get insurance on his shoulder. Apparently enough time had lapsed without labrum problems to make him insurable.

    In 2010, he continued where he left off in 2009, pitching poorly, up until he injured his back in May. Pre-back injury, Beckett had made 16 starts going back to 2009 with a 6+ ERA.

    His velocity was down and also his command in 2010, both before and after his back injury . And while it is said he came to ST out of shape for 2010, it’s hard to imagine a pitcher coming to camp out of shape in a contract year.

    His “back injury” caused him to miss 2 months, and there was never any mention of an MRI or structural damage. Tito did mention one time that pitching through the back injury in his start against NY caused him to strain the labrum. The labrum was never mentioned again, A pitcher with a SLAP (labrum) lesion for which surgery is not conducted will also require about 2 months resting the shoulder and then rehabbing and strengthening it. This is what he did after his first diagnosis of a labrum injruy with the Marlines where he did not have surgery, and it worked very well.

    In 2011, despite being in the best shape of his life, Becketts velocity is still down from his pre-2010 days, yet he has more command and movement (since he is throwing over the top more). This suggests the back, which is fine now, or his conditioning was not the cause of the velocity drop..

    There is no way to say for sure that Becketts problem in 2010 was related to his labrum, but if it was, it will be interesting to see if Becketts shoulder holds up for the entire year, or if he suffers the same fate as in 2008/2009 where a non-labrum related injury (back, neck, etc) is announced after his performance declines..

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  30. miffleball says:

    it’s interesting that you cite haren as a comparable as his pitch types have completely changed from last year. This year, his FB, CB and split finger have all decreased in usage drastically and he primarily throws cutters (42%). it might be suggested that his improvement has to do with him being a different pitcher as he recognized that he was too hittable last year.
    likewise, beckett has thrown more cutters and changes this year in place of fastballs and curves. It is possible that as pitchers age, they struggle as their stuff changes and the good ones adapt and the bad ones disappear. it would appear as though haren and beckett are adapting well

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  31. grady says:

    “Last year, Beckett had the third worst BABIP (.338) of any starter who threw at least 100 innings. Only Brandon Morrow [...]”

    Morrow’s babip is even higher this year. Is there anything that can explain this other than luck dragons chewing him up two years in a row?

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    • Matt says:

      Wouldn’t pitch type/placement be a major factor here?
      Belt-high fastballs, for instance, are more likely to be hit hard and drop-in for hits.

      And don’t forget defense. According the fangraphs, the Blue Jays have the 7th worst range rate in Baseball over the last two years (-29.4).

      Another stats to show that defense may be an issue:
      career IFH%: 7.3
      2010 IFH%: 8.7
      2011 IFH%: 14

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  32. james wilson says:

    Anyone fool who has seen Beckett pitch this year knows that his command is far better with all his pitches.

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  33. bob says:

    you really, really have to have been drinking the xFIP kool-aid to believe that luck explains the difference between 2010 Josh Beckett and 2011 Josh Beckett. The obvious, common sense questions are why does xFIP not work, and what is Bekett doing differently this year?

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  34. Bryan says:

    His cutter has been much much more effective, represented in his cutter pitch values. If you think that’s fluky, his cutter’s horizontal movement according to Fangraphs own pitch FX page is drastically improved. He now has a go-to pitch that prevents batters from making solid contact. I love xFIP but this is a drastic oversimplification.

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