With all of the hype (mostly deserved thus far) being thrust upon the latest young prodigy Stephen Strasburg I couldn’t help but think back to another pitcher who was almost as hyped (relatively) and was certainly scrutinized, that pitcher was Jesse Foppert Josh Beckett. Unbelievably, Beckett turned the big 3-0 this season (where did that last decade go?) and I wanted to take a look back at his career thus far to see if all the hype was warranted and if we should temper our expectations for Strasburg (yes).
Drafted by the Florida Marlins with the 2nd overall pick in the 1999 Amateur draft, behind only OF Josh Hamilton (chosen by the Rays) and ahead of other notable first round selections including Barry Zito, Ben Sheets, Colby Lewis and Brian Roberts. Beckett was the cover boy for this draft class and one of the most hyped draft picks of the past few decades, and this was before the real baseball internet explosion and culture of the past four or five years.
Standing 6’5” and pushing 220 pounds, the big Texan had everything you could ask for in a potential ace in the making. Beckett possessed a repertoire of three plus offerings, a big fastball, a nasty hook and an advanced change-up. Beckett had no qualms in letting people know he had skills, reportedly putting himself in the same category as Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens from an early age and saying he would be an “All-star by 2001”.
Baseball America raved about his stuff and stated he would be a top of the line starter for years to come, he was the BA Minor League player of the year for 2001 only two years later was named the MLB World Series MVP with a historic and dominant post-season run for the Marlins during their 2003 World Series championship run. Clearly the man can pitch, but has his total body of work for his career matched expectations?
First, let me just clarify that I think Beckett has been a solid major league pitcher, with a resume most pitchers would kill for. He certainly hasn’t been overpaid (to date) when compared to what he was produced in terms of WAR each season but I wanted to dig a little deeper to see if he was truly among baseball’s best starters for the past nine years.
Beckett hasn’t been the model of health (what pitcher is?) with twelve trips to the DL and countless other ailments over the past nine years have certainly sapped some of his value. Due to injuries (blisters) and being brought along slowly Beckett’s innings totals were 24, 107.2, 142, 156.2, and 178.2 in his first five seasons in the bigs. However he was fairly effective in the latter three of those years (3.9, 3.0 and 4.0 WAR respectively) and in fact after his first season reaching the 200+ IPs threshhold in 2006 he posted a mere 2.1 WAR (his first year in Boston).
While Beckett has had a few solid seasons, he has never had that one huge outlier year where we just stop and marvel ala Zack Greinke in 2009 or Cliff Lee in 2010. He has never surpassed 10.0 K/9 (9.6 in 142 IPs in 2003) though his career K/9 still sits at a very respectable 8.51 (Roger Clemens career mark is 8.5) so Beckett has still shown plenty of ability to make hitter’s miss. His career xFIP currently sits at 3.61, another very strong mark.
His best season came in 2007 when he went 20-7, 8.9 K/9, 4.8 K/BB, 47% GB, 3.43 xFIP (3.08 FIP) for a robust 6.5 WAR on the season. However, that is a far cry from Roger Clemens 10.0 WAR in 1988, Greinke’s 9.4 in 2009, or, well you get the point. A 3.08 FIP and 6.5 WAR is nothing to sneeze at but for a guy as highly rated as Beckett, is this not a bit disappointing? Since 2003 Beckett has produced 30.9 WAR, while another big right hander out of Texas has produced 31.5 WAR in that same time period, his name is John Lackey. I don’t remember anybody claiming Lackey to be one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past eight to ten years, solid yes, but nowhere near the hype that Beckett has generated.
Beckett has been more John Lackey and Kevin Millwood than Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan. An above average pitcher but not quite the legend we might have all expected, as unfair as that is to Beckett and today with Strasburg. Maybe injuries took a toll on Beckett’s development or maybe he hasn’t had one of those truly magical (and sometimes lucky) seasons we would all remember (like his 2003 postseason run) but for whatever reason I would have to say Beckett’s actual results have fallen short of the expected one’s.
Looking at the above chart I think we can all agree that this would be a pretty solid stretch of pitching for anybody, and especially for a guy who has spent the past five years pitching in the AL East. But let me ask, in nine seasons if this was the chart for Stephen Strasburg, would you be disappointed?