Saturday, August 19, 2006

Josh Beckett: Buyer's Remorse

I wanted to kick this off with hyperbole because it is the only fair way to reach fans who consider their stars "the greatest __" and their opponents as "most overrated ___"; the average Red Sox fan. It is fair to say that the Josh Beckett experience is a frustrating one of amazing potential offset by a lackluster reality. The business world would say "overpromising while underdelivering". What do the Red Sox have to look forward to for the next few years? As it looks now, frustrating years of 4.50 ERA pitching and sore necks from the long ball.

Several years ago, Josh Beckett was pitching for the Portland Sea Dogs, the Marlins AA affiliate, and I watched him in person. He was Bull Durham come to life as he struck out many batters but also walked a handful and beaned a hitter. His fastball jumped from his hand, and one could see what might coem of him with MLB coaching. training and conditioning. Beckett is 26 now, having recently signed a 3 year, 30 million dollar extension, and it is fair to wonder if Beckett was worth the cost.

Beckett was acquired from the Red Sox for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and other considerations. This trade would not be so painful for the Red Sox, if they had not blundered into signing Edgar Renteria to a 4 year contract when two of their best minor league prospects were shortstops. Renteria slowed up Ramirez or Pedroia's possible probing of the MLB scene. The Sox managed to pawn Renteria off on the Braves, but rather than keeping Ramirez, bringing him up to grow in the comfort of a Ortiz-Ramirez led lineup, they turned him over to Florida for Beckett. Putting around with Cora and Alex Gonzalez was a better idea than using Cora and Ramirez or Pedroia??? Ramirez is providing some speed on the bases, which the Sox lack, and is a whopping 22 years old. Sanchez has had some issues with walking batters, but is aagain, a whopping 22 years old. Two pieces of a great group of young players the Sox have drafted and developed were traded away for a pitcher who would help now? Did the Sox not consider the possibility of using Ramirez, Youkilis, Andy Marte (not theirs but acquired) and Pedroia as an infield with Manny and Ortiz as anchors in the lineup? The infield would have all been under 27 and cheap. No, no, no way to rationalize that to baseball's smartest fans. I think they would understand. The need to win now trumped this idea, similar to the *damn* Yankees.

Beckett could make up for this if he were living up to the "Clemens potential" hype. Problem is, he has never lived up to the hype except for a 3 week period (playoffs of 2003). Beckett has yet to pitch 200 innings in a season. Beckett has the problem of hitting the disabled list. Correct me if I am wrong, but the Red Sox did not sign Pedro to an extension because of concerns about durability. Let's look at Beckett's 2006 splits. Notice these ERA figures: 7.50, 7.50, 10.80, 8.71, and 2.35. Those are his ERA numbers versus possible playoff foes (ChiSox, Tigers, Yankees, A's respectively). His 2.35 is versus the Mets, kings of the NL. He has 15 quality Starts, but only 3 are against the foes stated above. Beckett reminds me of Kevin Brown a few years ago, when he was tearing up the Devil Rays and crap teams but being trounced by superior foes. Brown did not have a good postseason.

The scary part about Beckett is that he has given up a major league leading 32 home runs. This is the AL east, and it is a power hitting division. Still, this season has seen a lower amount of home runs at Fenway than normal. What would Beckett's numbers be like in a normal Fenway season? We will never know. Red Sox fans should look at Beckett's similarity scores on baseball reference, and look for the Hall of Famers. Better yet, count the names they can recognize (Mark Prior is not a positive right now). With the club option in 2010, it protects the Sox from being stuck with a mediocre pitcher for $10 mil. Hold on, the Sox have Matt Clement on the hook already. Beckett was acquired for top line prospects because of intangibles, potential, and the 2003 postseason. If the Sox do want to surpass the Yankees and become the dominant AL East force, they have to stop making trades like the Beckett trade, and start holding onto their young talent. The AL East is not for the weak. The success of pitchers who have left the AL East for the NL and the problems of NL pitchers coming to the AL East should be sign enough how difficult it is to pitch in the AL East. The Red Sox have several more years to enjoy watching Sanchez and Ramirez grow and develop in Florida while they turn away from inconsistent Beckett starts. Sox fans, more than other baseball fans, exhibit a blind eye and in a split second turn on their players. I wonder how many seasons they will let Beckett get away with this before they turn.... maybe they already have?

*****Side note: I am not going to feel bad for Roger Clemens gettign no run support from the Astros when he spent several years getting PLENTY of run support fromt he Yankees to bail him out of games he was losing, and to allow him to be 21-3 in a season where he was his team's second maybe even third best pitcher. Stop crying for him Sportscenter.

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