There’s too many of you crying: Josh Beckett edition

August 20th, 2006 → 12:12 pm @ // 4 Comments

Before yesterday’s game, one of the Yankees coaches came up to A-Rod as he was on the field during batting practice. “It’s 96 miles-per-hour,” the coach said. “And straight.” A pithy — and completely accurate — description of Josh Beckett’s fastball. I’ve said before that I think one of Beckett’s problems is that he can’t blow fastballs by hitters in the AL the way he could in the NL. So is the difference between a total disaster and a potential ace as easy as learning how to throw the splitter?

I hope so. And while the numbers aren’t encouraging, they’re not completely bleak, either.

***

In his nine starts since July 8 — roughly between a quarter and a third of a pitchers’ season — Beckett has lasted an average of exactly six innings. His ERA over that span is 6.83. In 5.2 innings yesterday, Beckett allowed nine walks, the most of any pitcher this season and the most of his career. He added to his baseball-leading HR total. Things have gotten so bad that people trying to make an argument that Beckett doesn’t blow are reduced to parsing out stats to the point of the absurd: before yesterday’s game, the Fox broadcasters were talking about how Beckett was 5-0 in daytime starts and had only given up 8 dingers at Fenway.

There’s no easy answer to why Beckett’s been so horrendously crappy as of late. Five of those starts came before Jason Varitek landed on the DL, while six of them came before Dave Wallace returned as pitching coach. Indeed, the only trend this year seems to be that when facing a winning team, Beckett becomes a loser: he has a 6.80 ERA in his 15 starts against teams over .500 and a 3.61 ERA against those below.

Put together, all of this doesn’t look good. A ruler-straight fastball combined with a horrendous record against winning teams does not a $30 million contract make.

But there is reason to think we’re right now witnessing the worst that Beckett has to offer.

There are plenty of pitcher who don’t have a whole lot of movement on their fastballs who are successful major league pitchers — like, say, Curt Schilling. And it’s not like Schilling doesn’t rely on the heat: he’s usually leading the majors in first-pitch strikes while throwing fastballs to start off hitters around 75 percent of the time. But overall, Schilling throws fastballs just 65 percent of the time, which makes it that much harder to sit on his 92-mph pitches; when he’s ahead in the count, that number is 56 percent; when he’s behind, it stays at 65 percent.

Beckett doesn’t throw an enormously higher percentage of fastballs — this season, he’s at 71 percent. But when he gets in trouble, that figure jumps to 78 percent.

After more than a month of throwing batting practice, it looked like Beckett took the mound yesterday running scared. He was nibbling, almost as if he was afraid to throw strikes (hence the nine walks). When he’d get in trouble, he’d either keep on throwing out of the zone or he’d try and whip one down the pike. The Yankees are too good (and too patient) a team for that kind of crap, and all afternoon they’d just wait for a ball in the zone and then smack it.

But, unlike Matt Clement’s start against the White Sox in last year’s playoffs, Beckett didn’t seem as if he had no idea where his pitches were going to end up. And Beckett has shown he can throw knee-buckling curves to compliment his fastballs. Throw in a good splitter — which can be taught — and you’re back to an ace-in-waiting. And as much as Beckett’s recent struggles seem to have put him into a spiral, he’s shown that he can thrive off his own success.

I wouldn’t bet on a Beckett transformation this year. But he’ll have one more year working with Schilling, and three more years in Boston. There’s no need (yet) to think of the 2003 World Series MVP as a reclamation project. There certainly is cause to hope he learns how to become more of a pitcher.

EDIT: Monday morning thoughts. Last night, Papelbon showed how to use the splitter as an out pitch. Beckett, take note.


Post Categories: Curt Schilling & Josh Beckett & Oblique references to Marvin Gaye lyrics

4 Comments → “There’s too many of you crying: Josh Beckett edition”


  1. giantglass

    11 years ago

    Here’s hoping you’re right. Say, throwing the split doesn’t cause blisters, does it?

    Josh’s clearly throwing with as much velocity as he had in Florida, but is he more over-reliant now on his fastball than in years past? I couldn’t cycle back to 2003-5 on the ESPN link you provided. It would be heartening, in a way, to see that he had become more fastball-happy as an AL pitcher — it’s something that he could readily change (either now or in ’07).

    Reply

  2. s1c

    11 years ago

    What he needs is not a splitter, but a circle change that is 10 or so mph slower than that fast ball and for him to get the curve over on a consistent basis.

    Reply

  3. Ogie Oglethorpe

    11 years ago

    Schilling already taught Papelbon to throw the splitter and he has used it well.

    Reply

  4. Carson

    11 years ago

    I don’t buy the argument that Beckett is flailing because AL hitters are so much better. After all, the main reason the Red Sox signed him was the memory of him mowing down the Yankees. (Why they gave him that extension, however, is another matter).
    Beckett is flailing because the Red Sox don’t have a major league-level pitching coach. Beckett’s got a great arm, but he’s a bonehead with one pitch. He needs coach to show him how to manage hitters and vary his pitches. I give him three more of these scared-stiff starts before the fans turn ugly. Not that it takes much in Boston.

    Reply

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