A few weeks back there was an article in the Boston Herald written by John Tomase called Mound of facts against Josh Beckett in which he intimated that not only was John Beckett possibly done as a top level performer, but that the situation might even be more dire than that. Forgive me Mr. Tomase, but I think you’ve got your facts wrong, and I’ll lay out the case as to why Beckett still should have plenty of success in his future (to be fair, Mr. Tomase does end his piece with the following caveat: “It’s hard to fathom that Beckett could experience a similar fate, but for whatever it’s worth, the game’s entire history is working against him.”).
Fact: There have been 66 pitchers, who have produced 69 seasons, with an ERA above 5.75 in a season of at least 125 innings when the hurler was at least 30 years old.
Becket had an ERA of 5.78 over 127.2 innings in 2010 and he was 30 years old (injuries limited his innings).
Fact: History says that this list of hurlers failed to ever truly recapture their previous form, at least as a starting pitcher.
According to Tomase’s research, only three of the 66 hurlers “…managed to regain something even remotely approximating their form, at least as starters.”
This is the kind of trouble people get into all the time. It’s not that their facts are in error, it’s the interpretation of the data where the problems arise.
Here are the “facts” that people should pay attention to.
Fact 1: The history of hurlers being able to recapture their previous glory has no baring, absolutely none, on whether or not Beckett will be able to return to his previous form.
Fact 2: Beckett posted a K/9 rate of 8.18 in 2010, the 4th straight season that mark has been over eight, and the ninth time in 10 big league seasons that he has been over eight strikeouts per nine innings.
Fact 3: Though his walk rate was a bit elevated at 3.17 (career 2.77), his free pass rate was still better than the league average of 3.28.
Fact 4: His GB/FB ratio was 1.30, slightly better than his career average of 1.25, and the 8th straight season that mark has been above 1.20.
Fact 5: Beckett allowed a line drive rate of 19.0 percent which is slightly better than his career rate of 19.7 percent. Moreover, his ground ball rate was one percent above his career rate while his fly ball rate was a match for his career level.
Does any of that sound like a pitcher who is doomed to fail because history says he will? Of course not. The truth is that Beckett’s 2010 effort, despite his whopping 5.78 ERA, wasn’t that different from his “normal” effort. So why did he post an ERA that approached 6.00? I’ve got a couple of obvious explanations for the struggles, but here is the main point – flat out, he was unlucky.
(1) Given that his LD/GB/FB rates were all nearly identical to his career levels, it simply isn’t possible to explain why his BABIP rate was a career worst at .349, a full .044 points worse than his career average, unless we hang our hats on bad luck.
(2) When batters did hit the ball in the air it flew over the fence far too often. Becket has often surrendered gopher balls in bunches, but his career HR/9 mark of 1.01 isn’t awful, an in fact, it’s an almost dead on match for the league average. Somehow that mark jumped to 1.41 last year, this after 3-straight years between 0.76 and 1.06. Bad luck strikes yet again.
(3) Beckett allowed a HR/F ratio of 14.2 percent, the second worst mark in his 10-year career, and well above his career 11.0 percent rate (the big league average is usually 9-10 percent). Moreover, 2010 was only the third time in his career that he posted a mark over 10.5 percent.
(4) Beckett had a left on base percentage of 65.3 percent. Mind you the big league average is about 70 percent and that Beckett owns a career mark of 71.5 percent. Given that data you might have guessed that Beckett’s 65.3 percent mark was a career worst. If you came to that conclusion give yourself a pat on the back – you were correct.
Fact or Fiction: Beckett will return to being a top of the rotation arm?
Despite the interesting historical data in the Herald piece, I’m not buying the position that Beckett is finished. His underlying skills remain stable despite his terrible ERA from 2010, and there was clearly a whole heaping ton of bad luck tossed his way last season. With Beckett the key will be the same as it always is – can he stay healthy? If Beckett is healthy enough to throw 180+ innings in 2011, his performance will be strong despite the fact that history says he is fighting an uphill battle.