Suffice it to say, Josh Beckett is not the most popular man in Boston right now. Beckett, who lugs career worsts in strikeout rate (6.8 per nine innings), home runs allowed (2.3 per nine) and ERA+ (71) into his start against the Mariners this afternoon, was booed off the mound at Fenway last Thursday after the Indians knocked him out of the game in the third inning. His defensive, devil-may-care comments after the game about playing golf a day after he was skipped in the rotation due to a lat injury only added to Red Sox Nation's ire.
But the real story regarding Beckett's 2012 season isn't Golf-Gate -- it's that the formerly flame-throwing Texan has lost a few ticks of velocity on all of his pitches. With the exception of his cutter, Beckett's lack of zip has led to a serious drop in swings and misses:
|Pitch||2011 Velocity||2012 Velocity||2011 Miss Pct.||2012 Miss Pct.|
Beckett's declining fastball is especially alarming. He has sat about 1.5 mph lower on the gun this year, with his miss rate more than cut in half. His miss rate with the pitch is well south the 14 percent average for American League starters this season. The change is most striking in the upper third of the strike zone. Check out hitters' contact rate on high fastballs from Beckett in 2011, and then 2012:
Opponents missed 23 percent of Beckett's high heat in 2011, above the 19 percent average. This year? Just nine percent. With Beckett unable to reach back for a few extra ticks (his fastball maxed out at 96.3 mph last year, but just 93.9 mph in 2012), hitters are hammering the pitch. They slugged .372 against Beckett's fastball last year, far below the .438 average for AL starters. In 2012, they're slugging .544.
Even after a four-game winning streak, Boston still sits in last place in the AL East and has a slightly better than 50/50 shot at making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds Report. If Beckett can move past the media maelstrom and start resembling the power pitcher of years past, the Sox' postseason chances should become higher than that of a coin flip.