What’s Happened to Gordon Beckham?

Once hailed the savior of the White Sox, Gordon Beckham has suffered from the dreaded “sophomore slump” in 2010. In 430 at-bats as a rookie, Beckham put up a slash line of .270/.347/.460. In the off-season, Beckham was shifted to second base, where he was expected to make a bigger impact with both his bat and his glove. While Beckham has provided value with his glove in 2010, as a hitter he has completely collapsed. Beckham’s current slash line of .206/.283./252 has left many White Sox fans wondering about the future of their former top prospect.

A look at the advanced metrics reveals some troubling trends. Beckham’s solid walk rate has dropped from 9.5% to 8%, while his strikeout rate has risen from 17.2% to 19.6% in 2010. His swing rates reveal that Beckham has chased pitches out of the zone with more frequency in 2010. His O-Swing% (or percent of pitches he has swung at outside of the zone) has risen from 24.7% to 30.4% this season. While Beckham has actually made more contact with pitches out of the zone in 2010, they are leading to an increased number of infield flies. Beckham’s 16.1% infield fly rate is currently the 11th highest rate in baseball. Also troubling, is Beckham’s poor 15% line drive rate. While BABIP is typically a good indicator of luck, in Beckham’s case, it’s hard to argue he’s been unlucky. Beckham’s current BABIP of .250 would typically suggest improvement, but with such poor line drive and infield fly rates, it’s hard to imagine a big improvement if his rates stay the same.

During the season, some Chicago writers have suggested that Beckham may be pressed after experiencing failure for the first time in his career. While I cannot assess the mental state of Gordon Beckham, his current rates are so out of line with what we would expect that, as a fan, you have to wonder if Beckham is pressing. Last season, Beckham slugged 14 home runs in 430 at-bats. This season, his slugging percentage is actually lower than Juan Pierre’s (.258-.272). Another troubling aspect of 2010 is Beckham’s inability to hit a fastball. Beckham feasted on fastballs last season, hitting them for 4.8 runs above average (per FanGraphs). In 2010, that number has plummeted to -5.7, meaning that batters are able to blow their fastball by Beckham. Looking at Beckham’s pitch values is quite depressing. As a rookie, Beckham hit four types of pitches for a positive value (fastballs, sliders, change-ups, and curveballs). In 2010, Beckham has a negative pitch value rate against every one of those pitches. While his struggles against fastballs are the most pronounced, his ability to hit sliders and change-ups have dropped substantially as well.

Are these the symptoms of a player struggling to cope with failure for the first time in his career? While the answer to that is unclear, this has certainly been a “lost” season for Beckham’s development. His numbers, particularly his infield flies, home runs, and complete loss of pitch recognition seem to suggest a complete breakdown in 2010. In the same way that Alex Rios’ numbers last season were not an accurate reflection of his true ability, it’s fair to say that 2010 has not been an accurate reflection of Gordon Beckham’s true ability. Unfortunately, there isn’t much the White Sox can do to rectify the situation right now. The Sox are hesitant to send Beckham down to Triple-A, and would prefer that he work out his issues at the major league level. Unless Beckham can rebuild his swing and regain his confidence, Sox fans might have to wait until 2011 before they see “the real Gordon Beckham” again.

*This article was originally published on my personal sports blog FoulPole2Foulpole.com

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. 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.

5 Responses to “What’s Happened to Gordon Beckham?”

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  1. Kirsh says:

    I don’t think we really know what Beckham is yet. Last year, he had a .94 GB/FB ratio, and this year it’s 1.46. Those are two pretty extreme ends of the spectrum. Where this rate settles will probably have a lot to do with his BABIP and home run totals. My guess is that he’s somewhere in the middle — probably a 10 HR, .265/.330/.400 second baseman.

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  2. nolan says:

    Beckham was considered one of the best hitting prospects to ever come out of college. He had a great run of success in Arizona and I think that yes, he might be pressing and might be dealing with this slump in a negative way.

    The White Sox have a problem in that they can’t really drop him down to AAA without hurting his confidence or taking a PR hit even though that might be the best course for him now.

    He simply has too much talent to slug less than Juan Pierre, but I think you are right in that this might be a lost season for Beckham and the Sox as a whole.

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  3. Paul says:

    I think with an established college player like him who hit with wood and had the rookie season he did, supported both by the metrics and scouts/coaches, we know exactly what he is. He is a potential All-Star caliber 2B. He has an adjustment to make and he’s not making it. Maybe he still doesn’t realize he’s not Vlad and can’t just hit any pitch he wants with authority. Or maybe he finally does realize it and he just hasn’t been able to make the adjustment. What we know for sure is that opposing pitchers will keep pounding outside off the plate early in the count as long as he’s willing to keep getting himself out.

    I totally disagree with the notion that a demotion will hurt the guy’s confidence. Frankly, if it does I don’t want the player. If a demotion hurts the confidence of a utility player, so be it, you go get another one. If it hurts the confidence of a guy you drafted that high and promoted that quickly, you need to re-evaluate him. On the contrary, it should motivate him and make him better. For me this is really simple. Tell the guy to stop rolling over the outside fastball early in the count – i.e., getting himself out – or he goes to the bus league and you give Nix another shot.

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  4. macseries says:

    casual watcher, but hope for a good beckham performance is better than starting nix. i’ would just say “sophomore slump,” but it seemed to me (without stats) that he fell off heavily at the end of frosh.

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  5. Stu says:

    AAAA player…..will never hit major league pitching–needs to be sent down and rather quickly

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