Thursday, September 28, 2006

Josh Beckett: Year One

Well, that sucked. Beckett made his last start of the season last night, getting shelled by the Devil Rays and closing the book on a forgettable 2006. By coughing up 8 earned runs in 6.7 innings, Beckett upped his ERA to 5.01 for the season, although he did crack 200 innings for the first time in his career. I hope that this is a "get your feet wet in the AL" kind of year for him, and that now that he's been able to stay healthy for a full season, he'll be able to shoulder more of the load next year as the number two guy in a playoff rotation. I hope.

But I'm tempering my expectations. I know that making the jump from the NL to the AL is tough, especially this year, but his 2006 ERA was a run and a half higher than his lifetime ERA through 2005. His strikeouts were down (6.9 K/9 compared to 9.0 through 2005), too, although his walks stayed the same (3.3 BB/9).

The big problem, though, was the home runs. Before 2006, Beckett had given up 0.8 HR/9; this year it doubled to 1.6 HR/9. That's way too large a gap to be explained by league or park effects, so there's got to be something else going on here. It was well-documented around mid-season that he was throwing too many fastballs and frequently shaking off Varitek when he called for a change-up, which doesn't leave much to the hitter's imagination. That would seem to make sense, but why, if straight heat after straight heat wasn't working, would he continue to throw the gas?

I haven't heard a good explanation yet, but my theory is that he was afraid of his blister problem cropping up again, and he thinks his change-up puts the most stress on his fingers. It is strange that he didn't have a single blister problem all season, and the one time he did have a finger problem was during a start against the Angels after throwing six shutout innings. I didn't see any of that game because I was eating at the top of the Space Needle that night, but you have to assume he was mixing up his pitches a little more than usual.

So the $30 million question is, of course, can he get over this fear of his blisters? Or, assuming that his fear is legitimate, and the change-up is what's causing the blister problems, which Beckett would the Red Sox rather have? The one that can be dominant at times, very good overall, but that will spend a few weeks on the DL every year, or version 5.01?

Personally, I'll take the former, and I think Epstein and Francona would too. I'm not sure it's up to them, though. This is Beckett's decision to make, and he's got his long-term contract, so I don't see why he'd feel the need to baby himself. But he was pretty stubborn about it in year one. If the Red Sox are to go anywhere in '07, he'll need to loosen up.

1 comment:

Warren said...

One somewhat optimistic sign for the next year is that Beckett pitched much worse this season with runners on (.266/.366/.514 versus .233/.287/.414) and that will probably tend to even out over time.

Beckett was always one of my favorite players to keep track of as he was coming up through the minor leagues. He put up a crazy line in 2001 between High-A and AA: 14-1 with a 1.54 ERA with 203 strikeouts in 140 innings.

He just needs to piss on his hands more, or whatever you're supposed to do to deal with blisters.