Check out Beckett's pitch usage patterns over the past 5 years:
I'd been aware of a drop-off in his use of the 4-seamer, but I never noticed it was this severe. Nor did I notice the gradual increase in his throwing the cutter or the sudden jump this year in deployment of the sinker.
The rubber really hits the road when Dan looks at his usage by inning:
On the one hand, it’s an example of a classic pitching approach: establish the fastball early, and then go to your other pitches. On the other hand, it’s confusing: What’s the use of establishing the fastball, which is still a decent pitch for Beckett, if it’s simply going to be shelved for the rest of the game? It’s possible that this is a mental thing. Without a 70 fastball/curve, Beckett could be worried about using the four-seam and attempting to pitch to contact with his two-seam and cutter instead.
In the first inning, when Beckett has been absolutely hammered this year (10.42 ERA), you see an almost obstinate reliance on the fastball, with very few curves. By the third inning (and throughout the rest of the game), the cutter has supplanted the four-seam fastball. Such an identity crisis from the first inning to the later innings is truly odd.
Later in the comments section, he notes:
I won't lie: the takeaway is a bit schizophrenic. He's been hammered in the first inning when he throws the most fastballs, and yet, his fastball is - from a results point of view - his best pitch. Paradoxical! Is he being hammered on his OTHER stuff in the first inning, or perhaps on his two-seam fastball, which he also throws a ton?
The answer here is yes by the way, the other stuff is getting hammered in the first inning. His first inning curveball, cutter, and sinker are a disaster.
Then there's his eroding velocity on all his fastballs, which have lost 2.5 to 3 mph across the board:
Brooks then takes a look at pitch location. Against RHH, Beckett's missing horrendously on his sinker, leaving it up and over the plate. Against LHH, it's the cutter that's left in batters' wheelhouses.
Next Brooks assesses swing rates generated by each pitch type and discovers some oddities:
In 2012, Beckett’s four-seam fastball whiff percentage ranks 178th of 246 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 four-seam fastballs, but his cutter comes in at 12 out of 59 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 cut fastballs.
When it comes to swings and misses, Beckett’s curve currently ranks 21st out of 55 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 curves—right in the middle of the pack. It’s too bad we don’t have any data on the very early Beckett 70-plus curve for comparative purposes.
Using linear weights Brooks gets down to brass tacks on each pitch, first as rate-based run valuations, then on a conventional 20-80 scouting scale:
Suppose you were to take every starting pitcher in baseball and compute this same number for their four-seamers. Josh Beckett would rank sixth out of 188 starters who have thrown at least 100 four-seam fastballs. And if you were to normalize all their scores into z-scores, multiply by -10, and add 50 (which creates a sort of ad-hoc 20-80 scale), Josh Beckett’s four-seam fastball is a 73.6.
The curveball ranks 42nd out of 128 qualifiers, good for a 56.8 rating. The cutter ranks 50th out of 71, good for a 44.7. The two-seamer ranks 83rd out of 159, good for a 49.2. And the change is 67th out of 125, good for a 50.1.
IMO, the 4-seamer being so highly valued reflects how batters are sitting on his other offerings, knowing damn well he's going to miss his spots. The loss of his curve, once the most devastating pitch in his arsenal in terms of keeping hitters off-balance, is probably the biggest factor in his disrupted approach.
Simply put, even without his ugly stat lines, Beckett's approach and execution have been all over the place and a complete mess, and unless they find a taker the Sox are committed for another 2 years at ~$16M per annum.
Yes, pitchers should be expected to decline as they approach and pass their 30th birthday. My thoughts on Beckett have long been that since he's been a power pitcher in the Clemens mold (using his legs to generate forward drive with a smooth and compact delivery), his loss of velocity would be delayed and not as precipitous as the average MLB starter. Instead, the decline began at around age 28-29. I've also viewed him as a pretty smart guy, one capable of making adjustments to offset certain elements of physical decline. So I'm not quite ready to chalk up the entirety of his epic shitfest to simple attrition and the effects of aging.
I've also been among those carrying the torches and pitchforks decrying his attitude and conditioning, and I still believe the latter has been a factor in his poor performance. But doesn't there really have to be something else at work here? After having a successful 2011 in spite of his continual losses in velocity, why the sudden shift in pitch mix in 2012? And why the consistently abysmal location?
I'd be curious to see if there's been any subtle change in mechanics, such as arm slot or release point, though I suspect Dan would have already ferreted this out if there was anything relevant.
What has been the effect of all the instability in pitching coaches and catchers, if any? I'd like to think that his makeup, experience and intelligence would have made him immune to such things.
Kudos to Jnai for his tremendous work.
Edited by mabrowndog, 21 August 2012 - 10:48 AM.