July 16, 2006

Why Josh Beckett Might Not Be As Bad As You (And I) Think

There is no sugar-coating it. Josh Beckett has pitched poorly this season.

(And yet, various media people look only at his 11-5 record and say he's been a plus -- Sports Illustrated's John Donovan believes Beckett has "delivered" and is part of "what went right" for Boston in the first half of this season.) People who did not get their "Understanding Stats" degree from Joe Morgan University know better.

But has Beckett been as putrid as many Red Sox fans believe?

The 26-year-old right-hander has made 19 starts this season:
 IP    H   R  ER  BB  K  ERA  AVG  OBP  SLG
114.1 108 70 65 40 95 5.12 .260 .333 .508
Of the 27 home runs he's allowed, only 14 have been solo shots. He has allowed eight two-run HRs, four three-run HRs, and one grand slam. ... That .508 opponents' slugging percentage? Mike Lowell is slugging .518 this year. Kevin Youkilis (.458) and Trot Nixon (.447) are far below that.

Despite those ugly numbers, Beckett has turned in 11 "quality starts" in those 19 outings, third behind Curt Schilling (15) and Tim Wakefield (12). (Of course, what is defined as a "quality start" -- at least six innings and allowing 3 or fewer earned runs -- can be equal to a 4.50 ERA.)

But let's focus on Beckett's worst games:
              IP   H  R ER BB  K HR
0427 at Cle 3.2 6 9 8 5 6 3
0530 at Tor 4.2 10 7 7 1 7 4
0605 at NYY 1.1 8 8 7 2 1 2
0714 v Oak 4.1 8 7 7 4 3 1
14.0 32 31 29 12 17 10 18.64 ERA
The Toronto and Yankees games were in consecutive outings, as well as being against our main divisional rivals, perhaps furthering the perception of Beckett's suckiness. ... I'm not saying these games do not (or should not) count in looking at his performance, but check out his season stats without those four starts:
 IP     H   R  ER  BB   K   ERA  HR
100.1 76 39 36 28 78 3.23 17
Beckett's record in those 15 starts? 11-1. And that 3.23 ERA would be 6th best in the American League. He'd be discussed as a Cy Young Award candidate by the national media.

Beckett has pitched poorly -- and everything I've said about his over-reliance on his fastball and apparent stubbornness in actually trying to pitch remains true -- but he's stunk up the joint in far fewer games than we think.

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