Continuing with our look through Zach Sanders’ Second Base End of Season Rankings and scrolling all the way down to number 27 on the list, we find White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, one of the more disappointing youngsters over the last few years. Plucked from the minors and thrust into a starting role at just 22 years old in 2009, Beckham’s career began on a high note as he powered his way to a .270 average with 14 home runs and 63 RBI through just 430 plate appearances. He was lauded as one of the premier up-and-comers and a welcomed addition to a position in need of some life. It has been downhill ever since.
That first season will always be one to remember for Beckham and the city of Chicago. There was joy. There was hope. And there was success. Beckham was welcomed by the fans with open arms and he delivered a season worthy of the praise bestowed upon him. But then something went south for him the following year. In his first full season, it was more than just a sophomore slump. He regressed in every offensive category from home runs to stolen bases to walk and strikeout rates to batting average and on-base percentage. If he wasn’t striking out, he was mashing the ball into the dirt (his GB% spiked to 45.7) and if he wasn’t mashing it into the dirt he was popping it up in the infield (IFFB% rose to 12.3).
To make matters worse, the fans turned on him as quickly as they jumped onto his bandwagon the year before. There were reports that Beckham had an attitude problem and that, after his 2009 success, he became cocky and arrogant. He walked into the 2010 season expecting to be great rather than working towards being great, was what was being said. Things like that tend to fire up a fan base, especially when he’s not delivering at the plate as he should. The year was a disaster. His offensive production was a disappointment, he found himself at odds with Ozzie Guillen at times, he was showered with boos with every unproductive at-bat he walked away from and he finished the year with a .252 average with just nine home runs and 49 RBI.
In 2011, Beckham was looking for a fresh start. He came into spring training with a better attitude and he was saying all the right things. Hope was seemingly renewed. Unfortunately, things didn’t seem to change much at the plate. He was still swinging at too many pitches outside the zone and while his contact rates looked good, he simply wasn’t making good contact. He wasn’t mashing the ball into the dirt as often, but he was popping it up in the infield way too much. In fact, by the end of the season, his IFFB% jumped from 12.3-percent to 21-percennt. And for the second consecutive year, his peripherals were a mess as his walk rate continued to drop, his strikeout rate increased and he found himself batting a woeful .230 with an even worse-looking .296 on-base percentage.
Last season though, there seemed to be a renewed spark. Perhaps he was maturing (after all he was just 25 years old) as both a player and a person. He came in with a good attitude, continued to say all the right things and then actually showed improvement at the plate. He actually began the season struggling, but rather than fall into the same doldrums he found himself in during the two seasons prior, Beckham worked at making on-field improvements. The results were positive. Not phenomenal, but positive.
For the first time in his fledgling career, he took a step forward rather than wilt under the pressure. He lowered his strikeout rate, took a few extra walks here and there, and he cut down on the ground balls and the feeble pop-ups. A dismal .254 BABIP helped keep the batting average and OBP down, but his ISO jumped from .106 to .137 and he very much looked like things were finally getting back on track. His streakiness was a bit cumbersome at time, but 16 home runs and 60 RBI from the bottom of the order kept the fan base relatively quiet and he was left to just do what he was meant to do.
Beckham finished the year on a high note. His September/October numbers weren’t as strong as they were in May or June power-wise, but his walk and strikeout rates were the best they had been in a very long time. He actually looked, at times, like the Beckham we all saw in 2009. Now it’s tough to say whether or not he can or will carry that into next season, but at 26-years old, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think he could. There is obvious risk in going after him next year and taking on a potentially harmful .230 batting average, but with improved plate discipline and maybe some help in the BABIP department, things could certainly turn around. For what he’s going to cost you on draft day, it just might be worth the risk.