I spent this morning eating breakfast, washing dishes, and doing some general house keeping after spending all weekend relaxing. I had the Dodgers game on, but after Justin Turner’s second inning home run put the Dodgers up 2-0, I was mostly using the game as background noise. I knew Josh Beckett had a shutout, that he was mixing his pitches well, but he didn’t seem dominant. No-hitter never crossed my mind, not until Charlie Steiner mentioned it to end the sixth inning. That seems to be the story of Josh Beckett this year. He is having a great year, but because of the pitcher he once was, he has not been confused with dominant.
When Beckett came up with the Marlins in 2002, he was a big Texas flame thrower, getting the usual comparisons that all pitchers who throw in the upper 90s from Texas get to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. His fastball was so good and he was so confident in it, that he threw it 75% of the time that year. And as he continued to pitch in the big leagues, the fastball was his pitch. He could reach back, touch 96 if he needed it, using his off speed pitches to set up a fastball later in the at-bat. However, like every pitcher who gets older, Josh began to lose something off of his fastball and as he did he looked more and more vulnerable. In 2010 his ERA skyrocketed to 5.78, in 2012 it was 4.65, and before having surgery last year, he had a 5.19 ERA in 8 starts. Going in to 2014, he wasn’t even guaranteed a spot in the rotation. Needless to say, it was hard imagining what the Dodgers were going to get from Beckett in 2014.
From 2010-13, Beckett may have been plagued with an identity crisis. Many power pitchers who suddenly lose velocity try to get by on reputation, and even when their fastball doesn’t have what it used to, they still think they can pitch the same way, even when the radar gun is blatantly telling them that they can’t. Aside from injuries, that was probably Josh Beckett’s biggest problem the past four years. Even he admitted to this, saying “I still fight myself from time to time thinking this is 2003”. He credits his turn around to becoming more of a pitcher, especially after AJ Ellis showed him how poorly hitters perform against his curveball. Now Beckett spends his outings mixing his pitches and focusing on keeping hitters off balance, rather than trying to throw the ball past them.
Beckett is using his curveball 30.6% of the time, by far the highest of his career. He is throwing his fastball and cutter 53% of the time, but has been willing to go to the curveball in any count, whenever he feels like he needs a strike. What has this done for him so far this year? Batters are hitting a meager .213 against Beckett in 2014, the second lowest average against of his career.
After the game ended today, and Beckett had thrown 9 innings without allowing a hit, he admitted that “I don’t think I had no-hit stuff. I just kept them guessing”. And while I too didn’t think he had dominant stuff, I do know that the next time he pitches, the dishes can wait.