In contrast to Jon Lester, Josh Beckett had his best year since 2007 last season. After getting roughed up a bit in 2010, the veteran righty reigned in the walks and the home runs and produced a season very close to his norm by FIP and xFIP, but an extremely low batting average on balls in play made him look even better , with a 2.89 ERA, the lowest of his career. Beckett also led the Boston Red Sox in innings pitched with 193 just edging out Jon Lester, who threw 191.
However, as good as Beckett was in 2011, he has been routinely battered by the media this off-season for his role in the fried chicken and beer scandal that surfaced just shortly after the Red Sox horrible September run, where the team lost 20 of 27 games and missed the playoff by one game. Beckett, like every Boston Red Sox starter, was terrible during the month of September. His ERA for that month was 5.86, though on closer examination he actually didn’t pitch quite that bad. He had his highest strike rate of any month and his lowest xFIP. He allowed a number of extra home runs, hurting his FIP significantly, but his really trouble was his left-on-base- percentage. In September, runners on base scored 12% more often than they did over the whole season. While further study is needed, it seems obvious that in addition to being high in saturated fat, fried chicken severely increases the likelihood that hits will come when someone is on base.
Josh Beckett features five pitches. He throws three types of fastball, a four-seamer, a two-seamer and a cutter. It is unclear if he really differentiates between the four-seamer and two-seamer with his grip, but the two pitches have different actions. Both the four-seam fastball and the two-seam version average around 93 mph and can reach 96 on occasion. The four-seamer is fairly straight and has slightly more “rise” than the two-seamer, which moves in on righties more. He throws both the throughout the zone, but he favors throwing up and away from lefties with the both. He throws the four seam version more than any other pitch, using it around 35% of the time and using the two seam version around 12-15% of the time.
His cutter clocks in around 90 mph and moves in the opposite direction as the two-seamer, cutting away from righties. He relies on the pitch a good deal, using it just over 20% on average in his career, though last season he threw less than ever last season- 16.8%. While it has less downward motion than Jon Lester’s cutter, he employs it in the same way, but from the right side. He tries to locate it almost exclusively to the ctacher’s right hand side, or away from righties. This means the pitch breaks away from righties to the outside of the zone and cuts in on lefties to the inside of the zone. On rare occasions he will throw a back-door cutter to left-handed hitters, usually early in the count.
Beckett has two excellent off-speed pitches in his curve ball and his change up. His change averages around 88 mph and is very close in movement to his two-seam fastball. Like Lester, he uses this pitch against opposite handed hitters almost entirely. He keeps the pitch to the outside of a lefty’s zone and locates it both high and low. If he does throw it to a right-handed hitter, he throws to the same place, making it an inside pitch.
Beckett’s primary out pitch is his curve. The development of his change up has helped to give him an additional offering against lefties, but for the earlier in his career, Beckett relied on just his fastball and his devastating hook. At 78 mph, with excellent vertical and horizontal movement, it is easy to understand why hitter’s rarely swing at this pitch. Hitter’s offered at the pitch just 36% of the time over the past three years and they put it into play just 14.2%. Beckett throws it low in zone most of the time often dropping below the zone. While it has a modest 11.7% whiff rate, it is a highly effective out pitch when Beckett is on. Hitters are frozen by it even more often than they swing and miss.
While Beckett could have trouble repeating his number 4 finish in the AL ERA rankings, he should once again be a top tier starter for the Red Sox. He received some good luck on balls in play last year, but his ability to strike hitters out and his low walk rates will keep his FIP and xFIP in the mid-threes. With him and Lester at the top of the rotation, the Red Sox have a highly effective one-two punch that can take over a three or four game series.