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Entries in Josh Beckett (7)


Beckett Leans to the Left

Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox showed great success against the Yankees this season, particularly against the New York left-handed batters.  The lefties combined for a .156/.239/.219 slash line, striking out 31% of the 71 batters he faced.  What is the secret of his success?

First, Beckett stays in the strike zone:

Josh Beckett, pitch frequency vs. Yankees LHB, 2011.More importantly, he's throwing different speeds to different parts of the strike zone.

Josh Beckett, release velocity vs. Yankees LHB, 2011.He works his fastball higher in the strike zone, and often out of the strike zone.  He's showing fastball where lefties don't like to swing, and the off-speed pitches where they like to chase.  That's resulting the Yankees hitters not swinging at many good pitches:

Josh Beckett, swing rate by Yankees LHB, 2011.The Yankees lefties are giving Beckett the inside part of the plate.  They are also chasing pitches down and away, pitches that likely don't result in good outcomes.  His location, change of speeds and pitch types keep these batters totally off balance.  It's a text book case of how to pitch to batters who have the platoon advantage.


Beckett and DIPS

FanGraphs makes an interesting point about Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox in terms of Defense Independent Pitching (DIPS).  His xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), a number that takes into account strikeouts, walks, home runs and batted ball type rates is almost identical to last season's number:

I know it’s tempting to look at guys who have both high BABIPs and HR/FB rates simultaneously and assume that they must be doing something wrong that allows hitters to tee off on them with regularity. Last year, we had this same conversation about Dan Haren after the Diamondbacks got tired of a “too hittable” pitcher and shipped him to the Angels. At the time of the trade, Haren had a 3.19 xFIP, but his ERA was 4.60 thanks to a .336 BABIP and a 13.9% HR/FB rate. Upon arriving in Anaheim, those numbers immediately dropped, and have stayed below the league averages ever since.

Beckett (and Haren, and James Shields, and many of the other names on the list of guys we noted who were hit hard last year) are seeing dramatically different results this year than they did last year. In a few cases, they are pitching better, though the improvements aren’t anywhere close to the same scale as ERA would suggest. Beckett, though, looks to be almost exactly the same pitcher as he was a year ago, just now he’s on the other side of the results fence.


In the case of Beckett, this argument does not hold water.  The big difference between Beckett in 2010 and 2011 can be see in the results on his fastball.  In 2010, batters hit .311/.382/.536 on his fastball, good for a .392 wOBA.  In 2011, those numbers are .203/.319/.294, a .287 wOBA.  If this was a good luck streak and a bad luck streak, as FanGraphs suggest, then Beckett's fastballs should look the same in both years.  That's not the case.  The following mosaic shows three views of Josh's fastball, 2010 on the left, 2011 on the right.  From top to bottom, the heat maps display location in the strike zone, spin, and movement across the plate.  Click the graphic for a larger version:

Three views of Josh Beckett's fastball, 2010 on the left, 2011 on the right.

The pitch location row clearly shows Beckett less wild in 2011 than in 2010.  Note both graphs show the septum, a separation in density between the left and right halves of the plate.  The septum is much more pronounced in 2011.  The second row, the spin on the ball, clearly shows Josh is coming more over the top in 2011 than in 2010.  Josh suffered through an injury in 2010, and you can imagine that injury made it more difficult to get on top of the ball.  In addition, the smaller area of the spin in 2011 leads me to believe that Beckett is better at repeating his mechanics this season.

Finally, the third row shows that Josh delivers more lateral movement on his fastball this season.  His fastball in 2010 came in fairly straight.  That's not the case in 2011.  It seems that the extra side spin on his fastball in 2010 was canceling out some of the lateral movement that we see in 2011.

To sum up, Beckett exhibited less control of a straighter fastball in 2010. Batters hit that pitch harder.  Beckett's bad luck seemed more due to an injury hurting his mechanics that balls finding holes on good pitches.

DIPS is often right, as it was on Dan Haren.  In the case of Beckett, however, there is reason to believe that his improvement is more than just regression to and past the mean.  Sometimes pitchers make their own luck.


5 Facts with Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett has had an impressive start to the 2011 season and his curveball has been a big factor.

1. In 2011 opponents are hitting .188 versus Beckett (326 plate appearances). That's 21st overall across all MLB active pitchers. Jonny Venters (ATL) is leading the league as his opponents hit only .137 (142 plate appearances).

2. Beckett has the 7th highest strike out rate  (28.4%) when there are runners in scoring position (sample size 67 plate appearances). David Robertson of the New York Yankees is number one in the league with a 40.7% strike out rate (sample size 59 plate appearances).

3. In 2010 Josh Beckett had a homerun rate of 3.9% (HR/AB). So far in 2011 Josh Beckett's homerun rate is down to 1.4%. 

4. In 2010 Josh Beckett had 37 called third strikes. In 2011 he already has 23 called third strikes. 

5. During the 2010 season 22% of Josh Beckett's called third strikes were curveballs. In 2011 the curveball is responsible for 35% of Beckett's called third strikes.