Top of the Heap: Josh Beckett's Isn't Good, He's Elite

abc defContributor IJune 4, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 05:  Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates the final out of the sixth inning against the New York Yankees on May 5, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 7-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Every baseball fan knows who he is. But few appreciate him for what he is.  He’s an ace.  He’s one of, if not the best postseason pitcher of this decade. He’s won two World Series rings, including a World Series MVP and an ALCS MVP. He has won 20 games in a season. And he’s not even 30.

He represents his home state of Texas in archetypal fashion. Similar to his hard-throwing predecessors, Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan, this right hander isn’t afraid to pitch inside, or even plunk a batter or two.  If he disagrees with a call, he has no problem scolding an umpire for a minute. 

Off the diamond, he’s also been linked to two celebrity romances.

His name is Josh Beckett.

No mystery really.  Every reader probably caught on by the 4th sentence, if not then, definitely by the 5th.  Either way, not many appreciate Beckett for what he is: an elite pitcher.

That’s right. I said it. Josh Beckett is an elite pitcher. 

Elite meaning first-tier. First-tier meaning, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and Zack Grienke. That elite.

Beckett’s coming out party was last night.  And boy, did he put on a show.

His fastball, precise with movement, consistently clocked 95 mph. His breaking balls marveled some hitters, while his change-up frustrated others. In other words, he possessed what some like to call “no-hit stuff.”

After he walked Placido Polanco with one out in the first, Beckett retired the next 18 Tigers hitters, eight via strikeout.  It wasn’t until the seventh inning that Curtis Granderson erased the no-hitter.

For the game, Beckett struck out nine, while walking only two and giving up only one run. 

It was impressive, but it’s also been the norm.  In the month of May, Beckett was on par, if not better, than those in the elite class, sporting a 3-0 record with an era under 2.50.  Limiting batters to a .222 average, he remained consistent.  In his five outings, the hurler never surrendered more than three runs, while always lasting at least six innings.

This wasn’t versus the bottom feeders either.  Four of the five teams (Yankees, Rays, Mets and Twins) actually exhibit a top ten offense.

When judging Beckett, throw away every stat from last year. It wasn’t his skill that diminished, bu instead his health.  Along with recurring back spasms, Beckett suffered continuous inflammation in his right elbow.  Then, in late September, he suffered a strained oblique, which can sideline players up to a month. Instead he played through the pain, and struggled as a result.

Let’s remember the last time he was healthy: two years ago. In that year, he posted 20 wins, while finishing second in Cy Young voting. More importantly, in October he hoisted the World Series trophy.

And now, this year, he’s healthy again.

Unlike others in the elite class, Beckett’s track record isn’t lackluster in the playoffs, like Santana’s, nor is it non-existent, like Halladay’s and Grienke’s.  Instead, it’s legendary.  

Two years ago, he was unhittable in October, boasting a ridiculous 1.20 ERA and an even more ridiculous, 35:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 2003, he was named the World Series MVP, throwing a shutout (on three days rest) in Game Six to seal the series.  Overall, in that postseason, his ERA was 2.11 with 47 strikeouts and only 12 walks.

Maybe you forgot who Josh Beckett was.  It’s understandable; baseball has developed into a “what have you done lately” sport.  But last night should have reminded you. 

He’s elite.


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