Monday, October 13, 2014

Bye Bye Beckett

Beckett had Hall of Fame talent but couldn't stay healthy (WashingtonTimes)
Josh Beckett, one of the best big game pitchers of his generation, has thrown his last pitch in the big leagues.

Beckett is retiring after an effective but injury-plagued 2014. He made 20 starts and two trips to the Disabled List before being shut down for the season in early August because of a (career-ending) torn labrum in his left hip. One of those starts was a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 25th, the first and only no-no of his career.

And what a career it was! It could be said that Beckett didn't quite live up to the early promise that made him the second overall pick of the 1999 draft (behind some guy named Josh Hamilton) and World Series MVP at age 23. A lot of that can be chalked up to health, as Beckett topped 200 innings in a season just three times in his 14-year career. He barely made it to 2,000 career innings despite being a frontline starter for the better part of a decade and a half.

But when he was healthy enough to take the mound, Beckett was usually pretty good. FanGraphs estimates he was worth 39 wins above replacement over the course of his career with an ERA that was 11 percent better than average after adjustments for league and park. His 3.02 K/BB ratio ain't bad, either. He made three All-Star teams and was the 2007 AL Cy Young runner-up to CC Sabathia despite leading the majors in wins (with 20) and AL in FIP (3.08).

As good as Beckett was during the regular season, he was even better during the postseason, positively Bob Gibson-esque. He dominated the first two playoff runs of his career, leading his teams to World Series championships each time. His initial claim to fame came was shutting out the Yankees in the decisive game of the 2003 World Series as a member of the Florida Marlins, holding the Bombers to five hits and two walks while striking out nine.

Four years later he was lights-out in October again, this time for the Boston Red Sox. By then an established star, Beckett's reputation preceded him, but did not preclude him from pitching the best baseball of his life. He won all four of his starts that month, allowing only four earned runs in 30 masterful innings (1.20 ERA) while posting an absurd 35/2 K/BB ratio. He was named ALCS MVP after pitching Boston back from the brink of defeat with a key Game 5 victory in that series.

That sparkling playoff performance capped the best season of his career. He was only 27, still at the peak of his powers, but after that his career began to go downhill. He slipped in 2008, rebounded in 2009, and suffered a lost year in 2010. In 2011 he returned to form, only to pitch terribly down the stretch and go down in infamy as one of the beer and chicken guzzling 2011 Boston Red Sox. The following year he struggled and became reviled in Boston, drawing the ire of both fans and media before he was shipped out of town along with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto. The Red Sox won the World Series without him in 2013, with Beckett making just eight starts for his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

While I'm sure 2014 was a frustrating season for Beckett, especially towards the end (he failed to pitch beyond the fifth inning in any of his final five starts), he has to be happy with his performance. Most starting pitchers don't get to go out with a 2.88 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. It was classic Beckett, showing us how good he could be, but not healthy enough to do it for very long.

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