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Just The Sports: Did Beckett Really Get Paid?

Just The Sports

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Did Beckett Really Get Paid?

Yesterday, the Boston Red Sox announced that they had given Josh Beckett a three-year contract extension worth $30 million and a club option for a fourth year. If he meets incentives, which no doubt have something to do with innings pitches and starts made, he can work himself up to $40 million in all. Taking into account that Boston is tied with New York for the biggest baseball market in the country, Beckett at age 26 is supposedly entering his prime, and contracts are getting bigger every year, the contract given to Beckett seems to indicate the Red Sox still have reservations when it comes to his future with the team despite what Theo Epstein might say.

Even when Epstein says that "we (the Red Sox organization) think his (Beckett's) best days are ahead of him," he really cannot be serious because there is no evidence in Beckett's body of work to suggest he is getting any better. Beckett had a reputation for being a brilliant pitcher when he was healthy, but this season that repuation has to have taken a hit because he has been both healthy and bad putting up some of the worst numbers of his career in addition to being the least consistent Red Sox pitcher with at least five starts. Do not pay attention to his 12-5 record because it is a sham and is mostly the result of his teammates giving him an average of 6.62 runs per start. That certainly helps cover up his 5.15 run average and his 5.33 fair run average.

Beckett's expected win-loss record with his stats is 7.6-7.2, right around .500 and demonstrating he has been an average pitcher this year. Since his 2.0 HR/9 is no doubt an aberration, I will not criticize Beckett too harshly for it, but that home run rate is off-the-charts bad.

If his overall season stats were outliers, then maybe I would agree with Epstein about Beckett's future, but they are not. Yes, his strikeout-to-walk ratio increased from 2001-2005 and his walk rate also decreased during the same time span, but lost in getting excited over those two things is his strikeout rate has also been on a slippery slope since 2003 to the present.

In addition, for the large part of his career, Beckett has been a neutral pitcher when it comes to groundball-flyball ratio and still is, but he has become less neutral every year since 2003, become more flyball and less groundball. There is nothing wrong with a pitcher who is a flyball pitcher; these pitchers are usually better than groundball pitchers. However, becoming more of a flyball pitcher is only a good thing when the player's strikeout-to-walk rate is going up, which Beckett's was but is not anymore. If he is able to improve it over the rest of his career, then his flyball-giving propensity will not hurt him, but if it continues to go down, it will not be good for either Beckett or the Red Sox. All you have to do is look at Randy Johnson's last four seasons.

Beckett does have three seasons to regain his control (he has already hit 6 batters this year) by getting his walk rate down again and to prove he is durable enough to pitch in the AL East first and the entire American League in general.


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