Ask Beckett and the Red Sox, and they’ll say he’s having a down year. Ask analysts and fans, and you’ll get a mix of groans, criticism, confused shakes of the head and mentions of last year’s clubhouse atmosphere. Another word they like very much lately is “trade.”
The bottom line is this: Beckett has called his stature with the team into question with his poor start to this season. He’s 5-9 with a 4.57 ERA and a multitude of personal statistics headed heavily south.
He’s been so bad that people are not only questioning his $68 million, four-year extension from April 2010 (which puts him with the team through 2014), but they’re also unsure if he has the same competitive presence that ensured World Series wins with the Marlins and the Sox. Last year’s 13-7, 2.89 ERA performance — putting him among the best pitchers in MLB — now looks like more of a fluke than something that can be expected out of Beckett every year.
But the Red Sox brass have said they’re sticking with Beckett, and Beckett himself seemed pretty surprised when he was told of rumors that he’d be going. The trade deadline has come and gone, and he’s still in Boston.
With the question gone of whether the Sox should move Beckett, the only question that remains is, if Boston is keeping Beckett through thick and thin, what Beckett can do to salvage the year — and the fan base.
This isn’t the first time the Red Sox have given Beckett a vote of confidence. Manager Bobby Valentine has been behind him all year, and Beckett’s contract in 2010 was one of several gestures from the team that show the Sox value what Beckett can bring when he’s on.
Now, Beckett needs to acknowledge the support from those times — and not being on the trade block now — and answer the crowds that have fixated on him and Jon Lester as the reason for the Sox’ woes this season.
With general manager Ben Cherington saying the Red Sox are still in it to try for the playoffs this year, Beckett has to be one of the players taking them there.
It’s not impossible to think Beckett can change the course of his season. He’s had rough stretches before. Two things point to this year being more of an aberration than the new norm.
First, Beckett tends to alternate between great years and mediocre seasons. He was a rock for the Marlins in the 2003 World Series, with 10 strikeouts in one game and then a complete-game shutout to win the championship coming off of three days’ rest. In 2005, also with the Marlins, he went 15-8 with a 3.38 ERA. In 2007, his second season with the Red Sox, he posted the only 20-win season of his career. In 2009, he was 17-6 — the second biggest win-loss divide of his career. And, as noted, he was very strong in 2011.
The years in between, however, have been less than exemplary. Beckett was 9-9 in 2004 with a 3.79 ERA. His ERA in 2006 was 5.01, although he had 16 wins. He was just 12-10 in 2008, and in 2010, fresh off his new contract, he went 6-6 with a 5.78 ERA in an injury-shortened season. Now, 2012 is horrible.
As frustrating as it can be, Beckett is due for a rebound. Whether it happens this year is what’s in question.
The second factor that suggests this could be just a down year is that Beckett has had some great starts this season that really made it look like he would be fine. In the midst of heavy criticism about possible injuries and his off-day activities, he pitched several stellar games. On April 13, he went eight innings and allowed just one earned run. On May 15, he went seven scoreless frames and gave up only four hits. That began a string of six straight starts of seven or more innings pitched, with 13 earned runs over the five games.
Beckett has also had the bad luck of being on the mound during games when the Sox can’t get more than a run across. He’s had plenty of high-run outings on his own, but he’s also playing on a team that’s been uneven at best.
But, overall, Beckett hasn’t been able to keep runs off the board consistently, and he’s not striking out as many guys as before. Unquestionably, his skills are deteriorating, with his resume of digging deep for answers the only thing keeping him from being a complete bust.
Furthermore, the hardest part of Beckett’s year has been how he’s responded to his poor starts. He’s been surly and uninspiring on the days he comes up short. At this point, it’s less about how bad Beckett has been. It’s more about how Beckett needs to show some fire in the face of his skills letting down those leaning on him.
Beckett needs to post strong starts and come up big. Short of that, he at least needs to channel his passion into showing that he cares about the team. He may be due for a bounce-back year next season, but the team needs his support right now.
Beckett has been given plenty of backing from fans and management through his low points. Even if he doesn’t have his best stuff this year, he can acknowledge the support behind him and start showing that — his production cooperating or not — he cares that he’s still with the Red Sox.
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