Monday, November 28, 2005

And Now A Word On Beckett

I’ve waited a bit before commenting on this whole Beckett to Boston transaction, mainly because I wanted the dust to settle before doing something no major newspaper columnist will ever dare try: bring in statistics for analysis. I know, I know, that makes me a “stathead,” and I’m just putting up arbitrary numbers to make a point that apparently doesn’t exist. Obviously, stats are inferior to the observations of Mike Lupica, (for example) because he surely watched all of Beckett’s starts and can provide a better assessment than statistics can provide.

I will now switch the sarcasm meter to “light” and continue with some analysis.


Notice the most prevalent trend here is that Beckett has progressively pitched more innings each year, and has seen, other than 2002-2003, a decline in his strikeouts per nine. For further analysis:



* indicates a month he spent significant time on the DL

Right away, we can throw out the argument that he burns himself out with longer innings, since his K/9 ratio doesn’t dip come September. When graphed with the injured months removed, his trend would resemble a dilapidated reverse bell, as he always seems to start strong in April and finish strong in September. Both years he has had a bad August in terms of strikeouts, but in both years he was pitching his first full month after two marred with injuries.

This trend even goes back to 2003, when his best months (in K/9 terms) were April and September, with August being the low point. His injuries actually can be used to explain these trends. Of course, pitchers are fresh in April, and Beckett shows it by hurling a dominant month. He continues along a normal trend until he gets injured. But in being injured, he isn’t putting more wear and tear on his arm, therefore giving him a bit more firepower in September, when hitters are showing signs of fatigue after a long summer. The August dip makes sense in this scenario, since he is usually coming back off an injury and taking time to adjust. When this is combined with hitters still going full speed, it translates to an off month.

Beckett’s seasons have been cut short due to shoulder and blister problems. Now, I can’t say much for the shoulder problems, but I can remember a player who had constant blister problems early on in his career: Nolan Ryan. While I hate making such a comparison, I just can’t ignore this kind of data from Ryan’s first few years with the Mets.


Sure, there are a few discrepancies, but it looks like Beckett actually holds the upper hand in these comparisons. It should also be noted that Ryan and Beckett were just about the same age over the course of the four years evaluated. Ryan’s statistics for his fifth year, after being traded to the California Angels:


Ouch. There are two factors that separate Beckett and Ryan at this point (other than the fact that Ryan was MUCH wilder). 1) Ryan moved from neutral Shea to pitcher friendly Anaheim Stadium, while Beckett is moving from pitcher friendly Pro Player Stadium to hitter friendly Fenway, and 2) it’s not a given that Beckett can solve his blister problems the way Ryan did.

So this was a risky move, yes, but a calculated one. There was no way the Red Sox would escape this transaction without sacrificing a pitcher, and thankfully for them the Marlins bit with Anibel Sanchez and didn’t demand Jon Lester. Hanley Ramirez was semi-expendable, since the Red Sox still have three years and $30 million committed to Edgar Renteria. The most interesting aspect of this deal may be in Mike Lowell, whose aberration in 2005 made his contract (2 years, $18 mil remaining) seem ridiculous. But he’s not likely to repeat the dismal performance of 2005. Still, he presents a conundrum for the Red Sox, since his acquisition means that Bill Mueller certainly won’t be retained, and more importantly a decision will be imminent on prospect Kevin Youkilis, who was slated to take over for Mueller in 2006.

In his Ten Things I Like About Josh Beckett column, Bill Simmons declares that it’s always a good idea to dish prospects for proven stars, citing Peter Gammons’s past positive assessments of prospects that didn’t work out. The problem with this statement is that most of us don’t know what Gammons was basing these comments on (and I’m sure Simmons doesn’t either). With modern technology, we have newfound access to a plethora of statistical evidence. Here is the main chip the Red Sox dealt over his minor league career:


He’ll only be 22 when the season starts, and is reportedly going to be slated as the Marlins starting shortstop. Yankees fans can only hope that he’s the monster that he has the potential to be. The other chip in this deal, Anibel Sanchez, split time between Advanced A Wilmington and AA Portland. His 2005 season:


Not too shabby. Now let’s compare him to the guy that could have been in the trade, Jon Lester:


Barring a few minor inconsistencies, these guys were pretty equal in 2005. I’m not making a bold prediction on either prospect, but it seems like they have similar potential. Once again, as a Yankees fan, I’m praying the Sox traded the wrong guy.

I could comment on the rest of the players involved, but they are two low-level minor leaguers from the Red Sox, and Guillermo Mota and Mike Lowell from the Marlins. The only thing I can say about Mota is that he had exactly one good year, and former Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta made the smart move by dishing him while he still had value. Mike Lowell’s 2005 was such an aberration that he’s going to have to re-prove himself in 2006. As of right now, it’s really a coin flip.

This was a deal of potential, which are the riskiest deals of all. Beckett has the potential to be a dominant ace, Ramirez has the potential to be a superstar shortstop, Sanchez has the potential to be a solid top of the rotation starter, and Lowell has the potential to bounce back from 2005. Peter Gammons must be frothing at the mouth for the upcoming season, since he’ll be able to gratuitously use his favorite word, “if.”

That’s all I have for today. Join me tomorrow when I bitch about the Knicks (probably more so after tonight’s game with the Heat). Here it is, your moment of splits:

Josh Beckett

Nolan Ryan

Take from that what you will…