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« Stephen Strasburg: Awesome at the Plate, Too | Main | Aaron Cook: Human Batting Tee »
Monday
Jul302012

Beckett Lacking High Heat in 2012

Josh Beckett may be on the block, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. But the chances of a Beckett deal actually happening seem slim: The 32-year-old righty can block a trade thanks to his 10-and-5 rights, and he's owed roughly $37.3 million between now and the end of the 2014 season. Plus, the 51-51 Sox still have some some chance at playing postseason baseball (about 17 percent, per Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds).

Any club considering Beckett would also have to gauge the likelihood of "Josh Beckett, Power Pitcher" making a return. With his fastball velocity down, Beckett's whiff rate on high high heat has been more than cut in half.

Beckett averaged 93 MPH with his fastball and topped out at 96 MPH in 2011. Armed with quality velocity and the ability to reach back for mid-90s gas when necessary, Beckett elevated his fastball often. Check out his fastball location last season:

2011

 

Beckett threw 47 percent of his fastballs high in the zone in 2011, the seventh-highest clip among MLB starters and well above the 36 percent average. Batters missed 23.1 percent of the time they swung at Beckett's high heat, comfortably above the 20 percent average for starters.

So at 93 MPH and with 96 MPH in his back pocket, Beckett climbed the ladder with his fastball and got plenty of whiffs. This season, however, Beckett is averaging just 91.6 MPH and hasn't cracked 94 MPH on the gun. When Beckett tries to blow a high fastball past the batter, he's failing. Look at the contrast in his contact rate on high fastballs over the past two years:

2011 contact rate on high fastballs

 

2012 contact rate on high fastballs

 

Opponents have come up empty just 11.5 percent of the time that have swung at a high fastball from Beckett this season. That puts him in the same territory as Paul Maholm and Henderson Alvarez -- not exactly high-K company. Perhaps realizing he can't beat hitters upstairs, Beckett has stopped trying to do it as much. Here's his fastball location this year. Just 35.8 percent of his fastballs have been thrown high in 2012:

2012

 

With hitters connecting more on Beckett's lower-octane high fastballs and Beckett responding by living lower in the zone, his overall miss rate with the pitch has dipped from a Strasburgian 17.2 percent in 2011 to a Maholm-esque 12.1 percent in 2012 (14.8 percent average for starters). Beckett's pedestrian fastball is a big reason why the Sox are potentially shopping him. It's also why teams aren't lining up to buy.

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