Boston Red Sox: Can Josh Beckett Win the American League Cy Young in 2011?

Adam MacDonaldAnalyst IIJune 22, 2011

Boston Red Sox: Can Josh Beckett Win the American League Cy Young in 2011?

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    In 2007, Josh Beckett was the MLB's only 20-game winner, led the Boston Red Sox to their second World Series championship in four years, and finished second in the Cy Young voting to CC Sabathia, then of the Cleveland Indians.

    After a disastrous 2010 campaign in which Beckett posted a 6-6 record and 5.78 earned run average, the general consensus was that he was done. This year, he has proved the doubters wrong and has become one of the best starters in the game once again.

2011

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    In 14 starts he is 6-2 with a Major League-best 1.86 ERA. In his last start against the Tampa Bay Rays, he had 'perfect game' stuff, throwing a one-hit, no-walk complete game shutout on just 97 pitches.

    He has allowed more than two runs in an outing just three times this season and has given up more than three runs only once.

    Beckett is allowing only 5.4 hits per nine innings—best in baseball—and has a sick 0.924 WHIP.

    If he can continue this level of performance, 2011 will end up being his best season ever. But can he keep it going and win the Cy Young?

The Lineup

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    We know from the 13-12 Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young last year that the voters no longer view wins as the sole measurement of a pitcher's performance. But they still help.

    The Seattle Mariners ace's low win total prompted such discussion and debate that a quarter of the voters felt he should not win, despite leading the league in almost every other major category. Wins are still important, and this Red Sox lineup has no problem at all racking up the run support.

    They have scored 14 or more runs in six of their last 30 games—the first time a team has done that in over 80 years. Boston leads baseball with 5.49 runs per game despite averaging just over four in April.

Fenway Park

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    Josh Beckett has been great this season.

    He has been otherworldly at home.

    In six starts at Fenway Park, he has pitched 38.1 innings and allowed only five runs. That equates to an incredible ERA of just 1.17. He has struck out nearly three times as many batters as he has walked (34 to 12) and held opposing hitters to a .162 batting average.

Pitches

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    One of the biggest factors in Beckett's dramatic turnaround has been his offspeed stuff. He is less reliant on his fastball than ever before—throwing it just 52.1 percent of the time—and is throwing his changeup and cutter more often than in any other season. He has a good mix of complimentary pitches to keep batters guessing.

    And guessing they have been. Hitters are swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone more often than in any other point in his career (28.8 percent). His contact percentage is the lowest it has been in six years, and he is inducing weak fly balls and pop ups.

    For the first time since his rookie season, he has been getting more fly balls than ground balls, but only 3.9 percent of them are leaving the park for home runs. For comparison, last year's mark was 14.2 percent.

Regression?

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    Despite all this, Josh Beckett is a prime candidate to regress as the season goes on.

    His earned run average might be 1.86, but his xFIP is 3.69. Expected fielder-independent pitching is used to predict how a pitcher will perform as the season goes on. The difference between the two numbers should be enough at least to raise concerns that Beckett will not be able to keep this run going.

    He has not shown any signs that this dominant run is coming to an end, though. His last start was a one-hitter, and he is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in three games in June. Hitters cannot figure him out this season. If they continue to fail against him, he might be winning his first Cy Young Award this October.