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Josh Beckett's problems with runners on base

In his first year with the Red Sox two years ago, Josh Beckett posted a disappointing 5.01 ERA. Last year, Beckett’s ERA improved to 3.27. This year, however, his ERA has shot back up to 4.43. If we look at Beckett’s underlying statistics, we can see that Beckett’s relatively high ERA this year is due Beckett’s penchant for giving up hits and homers when runners are on base. Upon examination, we can see that this is likely attributable to bad luck.

 

Last season, Beckett improved in virtually every facet of his game from the year before: he walked fewer, struck out more, and gave up fewer homers. This year, even though his ERA is higher, Beckett has actually struck out even more and walked even fewer hitters than he did last year.

Beckett currently sports a phenomenal 65/11 K/BB ratio in 61 innings. That’s 9.59 Ks per nine innings this year (as opposed to 8.73 last year) and only 1.52 BBs per nine (as opposed to 1.8 last year). Usually, such an excellent K/BB ratio suggests that the pitcher’s ERA is also going to be low. Beckett’s main problem this year has been the timing of his hits. With nobody on base, batters are hitting .177/.219/.286. However, with runners on base, batters are hitting .379/.406/.690. Predictably, Beckett’s strand-percentage is a very-low 67.9%.

Additionally, Beckett has allowed home runs in 2.9% of plate appearances when no one is on base; however, Beckett has allowed home runs in 7% of plate appearances when runners are on base. Thus, fewer of the homers he’s allowed are solo shots; therefore, the homers have allowed an inordinate amount of runs to score.

Perhaps Beckett is not as good of a pitcher when pitching out of the stretch, leading to his splits. This does not appear to be so: from 2005-2007, with no one on base, batters hit .237/.289/.400; whereas in the same time period, with runners on base batters hit .250/.319/.401 – virtually identical, which is what we’d expect, assuming Beckett possessed the same ability to pitch out of the stretch as he did from the windup. In this time period, Beckett allowed homers in 2.8% of plate appearances when the bases were empty; whereas he allowed homers in 2.7% of plate appearances when there was at least one runner on base.

Therefore, Beckett’s problems with runners on base this season are most likely the result of bad luck: most pitchers can only control the amount of baserunners and homers they allow, not when they allow them. Thus, over a small sample size, it is possible for a pitcher to allow an inordinately high (or low) amount of his hits/homers with runners on base, allowing an inordinately high (or low) percentage of runners who reach base to score.

While it’s certainly possible that some pitchers to struggle from the stretch, Beckett’s stats from the previous three years suggest that he is the exact same pitcher whether he is pitching from the stretch or using the wind-up. Therefore, his struggles with runners on base are unlikely to persist. Thus, his ERA is very likely to improve over the rest of the season.

Josh Beckett is one of the very best pitchers in the American League, and his ERA during the rest of the season will likely reflect that.