2010 Red Sox Preview: How Will Josh Beckett Respond?

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IFebruary 18, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Starting pitcher Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox on the mound against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the first inning of Game Two of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Angel Stadium on October 9, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

One-time Red Sox ace Josh Beckett enters the 2010 season knowing that he does not have a deal in place for 2011. He arrived in camp yesterday with the knowledge that he’ll need to have an excellent season if he hopes to land the kind of contract that former teammate A J Burnett signed with the NY Yankees last winter (five years, $82.5 million) and current teammate John Lackey signed this winter (five years, $85 million).

This year will be the 10th big league season for the soon-to-be 30-year-old and his fifth with the Red Sox. In his first four years with Boston, he is 65-34, with a 4.05 ERA and 1.205 WHIP. After a brutal start to 2009, he was on his way to a pretty solid season when he endured a stretch of homeritis, ultimately surrendering 25 home runs—the second-highest home run total of his career (36, 2006).

Overall, his 2009 performance (17-6, 3.86) was better than his 2006 (16-11, 5.02) and 2008 (12-10, 4.03) campaigns, but nowhere near 2007 (20-7, 3.27), when he finished second in the Cy Young voting.

His 2009 splits really provide no hint as to what we can expect from him in 2010. He went 9-3, 3.86, in the first half, while going 8-3, 4.03 in the second half. The difference in ERA is readily attributable to the homeritis in the second half (his HR/FB ratio spiked to 16 percent). The individual metrics are hopeful, as many were better in the second half of the season: xERA (3.33/3.19), WHIP (1.23/1.16), K/BB rate (2.9/4.8). He pitched a career-high 212 1/3 innings.

Regardless, the team and Red Sox Nation seem uneasy as they look towards the future with Beckett. He has been surpassed by Jon Lester as ace of the team. He has compiled a four-plus ERA in his four years in Boston—not exactly the kind of numbers you expect from someone widely considered to be among the best in the game.

Yet he remains a workhorse atop the rotation. He’s averaged 16+ wins and nearly 200 innings pitched, with 181 strikeouts, annually.

It doesn’t seem to me Beckett will remain in Boston beyond this year. GM Theo Epstein’s track record of retaining free agents has not been especially good, recalling the defections of OF Johnny Damon, RHP Derek Lowe, RHP Pedro Martinez, and OF Jason Bay. The one recent free agent who he retained, 3B Mike Lowell, took less money to stay here, and now the front office is doing a hand-stand in an effort to dump him on another team.

You can bet Beckett is paying attention to the Lowell situation and that he’ll remember how the Red Sox treated their third baseman next winter. And you can bet he will NOT take a hometown discount to remain with the Sox. If he is healthy and has a BIG season, it will cost the ball club similar money to what they paid Lackey, and frankly, I don’t see them doing it. They seem willing to overpay to lure someone here but reticent to pay market rate to keep their own players.

So what kind of numbers will he put up in 2010? As I’ve mentioned previously in this series, I am not a devotee of the most widely-used projection systems: CHONE, Bill James, and PECOTA. They all have problems. CHONE projections tend to be strong for hitters but weak for pitchers. The PECOTA system has the opposite problem—it is strong for pitchers but weak for hitters. And while Bill James is well-known and an employee of the Red Sox, his annual projections are consistently overly-optimistic.

I prefer the work done by Ron Shandler (who is the godfather of "fanalytics") and Mike Podhorzer (the new kid on the block).

Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster is must-reading for any baseball fan, especially if he/she is a fantasy baseball aficionado. Shandler and his minions do great work. They can be found at BaseballHeadquarters.com .

Podhorzer’s predictions at fantasypros911.com went 42-0 when compared head-to-head with other projection systems last year. Seriously, folks, if you don’t know about fantasypros911.com , it’s time that you take a look. Great stuff!

So what do these two systems project for Beckett for the upcoming season?

Shandler: 17-8, 3.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP… 210 IP, 199 K
Podhorzer: 17 wins, 3.35 ERA, 1.15 WHIP… 210 IP, 198 K

I think these projections are too optimistic. As I said earlier, the majority of his metrics have remained relatively consistent; thus I don’t see a tremendous fall-off in his performance in 2010. With that said, the native of Spring, TX has endured nagging injuries, suffered performance letdowns, and worn down during each of the last two seasons.

He has the second-best ground ball ratio on the team (47 percent), so it seems likely he’ll benefit from the new and improved defensive alignment the front office has constructed; but his fly ball rate spiked in the second half of last year (to 34 percent), and that is a harbinger of bad things from a pitcher who gave up too many home runs in the second half of last year.

I predict a 15-9 record, with a 4.08 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP, over 28 starts (NOTE: I foresee a stint on the 15-day DL during the second half of the season).