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Red Sox Nation is coming down hard on Josh Beckett because of a golf outing and an awful Thursday start following it. Roto Nation has been pissed at him for weeks because of his 5.97 ERA in six games (34 2/3 innings).
Coming into this season, enough variables had changed - or were in danger of changing - for Beckett that folks should've been uncomfortable paying for his 2011 marks (13 wins, a 2.89 ERA, an 8.16 K/9 and a 2.42 BB/9 in 30 starts). He hasn't been the most reliable hurler from year to year, and it takes him awhile to find his comfort level, whether it's with his environment, his evolving pitch repertoire or his battery-mate.
In 2011, Jason Varitek (2.62 ERA in 28 appearances) was essentially the right-hander's personal catcher. Terry Francona avoided pairing him with Jarrod Saltalamacchia (7.36 ERA in two outings). Bobby Valentine allowed Beckett to work with Salty once this year, in the pitcher's first start (4 2/3 frames, seven earned runs, five home runs allowed). Since, it's been all Kelly Shoppach (4.80 ERA in five games).
Beckett's struggles in 2010 were tied in part to his trouble commanding and his stubbornness in utilizing the cut fastball he'd added. Last season, that offering was an important part of his success - along with health, another element that isn't always in agreement with the soon-to-be 32-year-old.
This year, it appears that any of his fastballs (that cutter, his four-seamer and his sinker) just doesn't have the same spunk that it did last season or the one before. FanGraphs' Dave Cameron goes into detail about the lack of juice in Beckett's arsenal and wonders if the righty just isn't healthy enough to answer the bell.
It's an easily supported theory, considering that the BoSox skipped Beckett one turn ago because of what they believed was a mild lat strain. Perhaps it has nagged at him for weeks and has prevented him from really letting it go. He came up with a couple of good starts in April, for sure, and Boston's camp said on Friday it believes that he may have been tipping his pitches in this week's disastrous appearance against the Cleveland Indians.
Those things could easily explain a 6.75 K/9 that is noticeably astray from Beckett's norm, despite the fact that he's generating swinging strikes. This season's 2.86 BB/9 isn't a red flag, but he's missing the strike zone more often than he did in any season prior to this one. He might very well be ailing, gutting it out without his best stuff but not confident enough in it to challenge hitters or not in control enough to hit his spots consistently.
Of course, the home run ball has killed this hurler (2.34 per nine, 18.4 percent HR/FB), but that's nothing unusual when he struggles. His arsenal has gradually turned him into a fly-ball pitcher, as well. If his pitches lack the zip that last season helped him induce infield flies on more than 11 percent of the fly balls hit versus him, hitters can get on top and take him deep.
Beckett was extremely unlikely to produce like he did last year, but there was a reasonable expectation that he would do so somewhere near his lifetime standard (3.72 ERA). The pitcher and his team have a hypothesis for his latest start, but it doesn't explain his mediocrity otherwise. It isn't difficult to see that something isn't right.
The barter market on him is probably lukewarm at best, so if you're in a deep league, you might want to root for a DL stint. Otherwise, you're probably sitting tight. In shallow mixed leagues, it may seem rash, but there are probably too many good pitchers available to wait for Beckett to work through his difficulties. If he begins to sort it out, you may have a chance to come back to him.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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