Josh Beckett Uses Mediocre Season as Motivation for Turnaround Year in 2011


October 5, 2010

Josh Beckett Uses Mediocre Season as Motivation for Turnaround Year in 2011 The phrase "Wait ?Til Next Year" has most often been affiliated with the Chicago Cubs, and the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1940s and 50s when they could not overcome the New York Yankees.

It?s a phrase we could understand coming from the mouth of Josh Beckett, but for him he would only have to utter it every other year.

After continuing his career-long trend of having issues during even-numbered years, Beckett sets his sights on a rebound in 2011. Given that it?s an odd year, perhaps he will.

The one troubling aspect of this roller coaster ride is this: never before has Beckett had such a hill to climb. Throw in the facts that he?ll be 31 early next season and will make $17 million each of the next four years, and one gets a sense at just how pressing it is for the tall Texan to turn it around.

At the very least, he seems as motivated as ever.

"It reminds me a little of 2006 and right towards the end of that 2006 season which was a bit of a disappointment for him he really took responsibility for it," Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein said. "The last thing he said on his way out the door was, 'I?m going to take a look in the mirror and fix this,' and that?s exactly what he did."

Beckett went 16-10 but had a 5.01 ERA and gave up 36 home runs in 2006, his first year in Boston. He was 20-7 with a 3.27 mark the following season, finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting.

Epstein is hoping that history will repeat itself.

"The past is usually a good predictor of the future and the last time he had an off year he really bounced back and that?s what we?re looking for again," Epstein said.

So how does 2010 compare to 2006 for Beckett? Despite having an ERA 0.77 higher and 10 fewer wins, there are indications that he was even more effective now than then, but perhaps a bit unlucky.

Beckett was 6-6 with a career-high 5.78 ERA in 21 games, his fewest since becoming a major leaguer for good in 2002. No matter how you slice it, the numbers do not stand up to his Red Sox norms.

But the numbers within the numbers do, which suggests that a turnaround is indeed a possibility.

The 30-year-old had a better groundball rate (45.8 percent) and lower line drive rate (19.8 percent) than his career norms. His rate of strikeouts per nine innings after he returned from the disabled list in July was 8.34, on par with his history in Boston. The walk rate of 2.85 in the same period was about the norm as well.

And each of those figures, as well as his home run rate and his Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP), a statistic used to analyze ERAs without accounting for defense, was notably better than in 2006, a year in which injury was not an issue, as it was this season. Additionally, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a figure which tends to normalize closer to .300, was an astounding .079 higher in his fifth year with the Red Sox than his first.

With a back injury preventing him from having a full season, that number stayed high throughout 2010.

None of this offered solace to Beckett.

"Results matter because winning and losing matters. That?s what you base the results on," he said after his final start of the year. "Can you get some tough-luck losses or tough-luck wins? Yeah, but the bottom line is, the results matter and that?s kind of what you?re stuck with."

Where Beckett struggled was when runners got on. He was unable to throw his fastball, or the cut fastball, with effectiveness in the zone when pitching from the stretch. The result, as was the case in 2006, was a tendency to allow big rallies.

Stopping the bleeding was never easy.

Opponents hit .343 and had a .952 OPS against Beckett with runners on base, compared to his .259/.748 career averages.

Those results often turned five strong innings into afterthoughts when the opponent scored three or four times in the sixth, and left him searching for some form of consistency.

Like 2006, he maintained accountability.

"He?s taken responsibility for it, he?s not dodging questions and he?s going to fix it this winter," Epstein said.

There is evidence that Epstein?s promise will ring true.

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