Boston Red Sox: Is This the Best Josh Beckett Has Ever Pitched?

Adam MacDonaldAnalyst IIMay 17, 2011

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 10: Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park April 10, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Josh Beckett came to the attention of baseball fans everywhere when he pitched a complete game shutout in Game 6 to win the 2003 World Series over the New York Yankees.

He was in the third season of a five-year spell with the Florida Marlins. That season, he was 9-8 with a 3.04 ERA; in many ways, it was the best season of his career with personal bests in K/9 (9.6), HR/9 (0.6) and FIP (2.94).

In 2006, he and third baseman Mike Lowell were traded to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Anibal Sanchez and shortstop Hanley Ramirez. His first season in Boston was somewhat disappointing. He posted a 5.12 FIP and allowed 36 home runs—more than double his previous high.

Beckett was the dominant ace the Sox had hoped he would be in 2007. He was the majors’ only 20-game winner and had a 3.08 FIP and a 4.8 K/BB ratio. He has yet to hit that high level of performance again with the Red Sox and was plagued with back issues in 2008 and 2010.

That year, Beckett, with the ink still drying on a four-year, $68 million contract extension, had the worst season of his career. His 6-6, 5.78 ERA effort undercut the dominant highs he had reached in the past and had Red Sox Nation worried about four more years of an aging starter well past his prime.

Evidently, someone forgot to tell Beckett he was done.

In 2011, he has been phenomenal. In eight starts, he is 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. He already has more wins above replacement than he did all last year (1.5 to 1.4) and his HR/9 mark is the best of his career at 0.53.

At Fenway Park, he has been especially spectacular. Only Jered Weaver of the Angels and the Rays’ James Shields have better home FIPs (1.65 and 1.56, respectively, to Beckett’s 1.79) and no one can match his 0.34 home earned run average.

Not only has Beckett reminded everyone that he can still pitch at a very high level, he has been so good that one is led to ask whether he has ever been this good.

His improvement this year has a lot to do with his rediscovery of his off-speed stuff.

He has thrown his fastball just 53.6 percent of the time, which is a career-low. His off-speed pitches have been very effective so far in 2011.

He is getting opposing batters to chase pitches out of the zone more than a quarter of the time and they are making contact much less often at both strikes and balls. Beckett’s swinging-strike percentage (which shows how often batters swing and miss) is the highest it has been since he joined the Red Sox.

It was higher when he was with the Marlins, but bear in mind that there is a big difference between the offensive prowess of American and National League hitters.

Josh Beckett is carving up AL lineups at the moment, holding them to a .173 batting average. Even against the Yankees, who had feasted on Beckett in the past two seasons, he has been stellar.

In two starts against the Bombers, he is 2-0 and has allowed just six hits in 14 scoreless innings pitched. He has walked just three while striking out 19.

Compare that to last year, when he had an ERA over 10 against New York.

He made his name as a Yankee killer and now, eight years later, it is his dominance against the Yankees which highlights his return to the upper echelon of starters.

Josh Beckett is not only back, he might be better than ever.