The Maturation of Josh Beckett
Has Boston’s Ace learned how to pitch like one of the greats?
In case you havenâ€™t heard, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series last year and hosted a Championship banner raising ceremony for the second time in three years on Tuesday April 8th. This event, formerly reserved for the likes of the New England Patriots and Boston Celtics, marked the teams 107th opening day.
Much of Bostonâ€™s success in 2007 was due to the pitching of Josh Beckett. Beckett rebounded after struggling to maintain his brilliance for much of the 2006 season. His re-found success can be largely attributed to the adjustments he made to the way he pitched. Something he failed to do the year before.
Beckett fell under heavy criticism throughout most of 2006 for refusing to shy away from his fastball. What had worked in the National League wasnâ€™t cutting it in the American League. To have success in the AL you need to do more than throw the ball hard, you need to know how to pitch. In the NL, Beckett could simply blow the ball past opposing hitters while mixing in his curve and change up. Beckett would learn that the AL lineups, lacking a weak number 8 hitter and hitting pitcher, were a lot tougher than what he was used to in Florida. This realization wouldnâ€™t come easily for Beckett as he surrendered more home runs in 2006 (36) than the previous two seasons combined (30).
There is clear evidence in the numbers. Beckettâ€™s pitch selection changed during the 2007 season from what it had been in 2006 and during his time with the Marlins. It seems that Beckett finally took the advice of writers, fans and perhaps even Jason Varitek. Here is a break down in the change from 2006 to 2007:
Beckett make an adjustment to the way he pitched, throwing 272 less fastballs than he did in 2006, dropping the total by 6%. Beckett increased the number of curveballs by 92 (4%) and changeups by 49 (2%). Through mixing in more curves and change ups, Beckett was able to become, in essence, a true pitcher. The adjustment also allowed Beckett to return to the dominant pitcher he was with the Marlins. As you can see below, Beckett was able to reduce the number of runs allowed to a rate that was even better than when he was in the National League. Although he pitched 18 more innings in 2007 than he did in 2005, he was able to do so while only increasing his runs allowed by two.
Beckett was also able to improve upon the number of innings in which he was able to dominate (shutout innings) and also reduce the number of innings in which five or more runs were scored.
The increase in almost every category during the 2006 season was largely attributed to the increase in home runs allowed. Beckett seemed to combat this problem in 2007 through the adjustments he made.
Beckett made other adjustments to the way he pitched in 2007 in the way he faced right and left handed batters. In 2007, Beckett increased the number of curveballs he threw to left handers by 111 (7%) and the number of changeups he threw to right handed batters by 44 (3%). Here are the splits for RHB vs. LHB for 2005, 2006, & 2007.
So far in 2008, Josh Beckett has made three starts. The splits have been more similar to the 2005 and 2006 season than they were to the 2007 season. He has been throwing his fastball well, and mixing in the curve and changeup when needed. Itâ€™s a small sample size and its tough to try and compare a few starts to the course of an entire season, but there is some value to the information.
Beckett has pitched himself to a 2-1 record so far in 2008 and has faced the New York Yankees in his last two starts, allowing 3 earned runs in each. He has been able to increase his innings pitched in each start, finishing the 8th in his last at Yankee Stadium. Beckett’s numbers are improving with each start and the trend should continue as the season goes on. Here is an analysis of this innings pitched so far in 2008.
It’s safe to say that Josh Beckett will remain the anchor that the Red Sox need to lead the pitching staff in the years to come. Beckett provides Boston with a true Ace at the top of its rotation and gives them a huge advantage in the playoffs. Beckett has truly learned how to pitch.