Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beckett turns the corner

The Globe's Adam Kilgore went above and beyond and stuck around until the very end a night ago and was rewarded with an informative interview with Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. Among the tidbits:

1. "The way he threw the ball tonight was consistent with the last four innings in Tampa and pretty much through the White Sox game. I wouldn’t single out the five-plus innings he threw tonight. I think it’s a continuation of what’s been happening."

2. "He’s commanding the bottom of the strike zone with his fastball more consistently. By leveraging the ball downhill, it also gives him the appropriate shape and finish to his curveball as well."

3. "He doesn’t have to overthrow. He can lose a little bit of location. Over the past three games, he’s been more consistent repeating his delivery and executing his pitches in that regard."

One item to note: Beckett's velocity certainly seemed diminished on Saturday night. A pitcher who normally averages 95 and 96 miles an hour on the radar gun topped out at 95 and averaged closer to 93 miles an hour against the Rays. When it comes with improved command and sharp breaking pitches, though, a 93-mile-an-hour fastball can be plenty effective -- as Clay Buchholz has demonstrated.

But let's talk specifically about the curveball.

As outlined here, Beckett had seen his curveball look more and more like a slider over the course of the season, its horizontal movement growing and growing as the season progressed. When he allowed five runs in five innings against the Blue Jays on Aug. 28, a curveball that normally has five or six inches of horizontal movement had stretched out to more than seven inches.

(This is a pretty technical description, but the idea should be pretty clear: Beckett throws more of a 12-to-6 breaking ball than, say, a side-to-side breaking ball. The more horizontal Beckett's breaking ball gets, the less 12-to-6 it gets, and the less effective it becomes.)

Against the White Sox on Monday, Beckett threw 24 curveballs (12 for strikes) with an average horizontal movement of 6.79 inches. He threw the pitch with pretty good consistency, too: Other than three outliers, he kept his curveballs well grouped on the movement charts.

What he didn't do, though, was keep his curveball down. Check out the pink dots:

Contrast that to Saturday.

Beckett threw 11 curveballs (five for strikes) against the Rays with an average horizontal movement of 6.84 inches. Even better, he attacked the strike zone with the pitch, throwing the pitch either for a strike or down and out of the zone to try to induce swings and misses:

Check out the pink dots again. As Farrell said, pitching down in the strike zone isn't just about the fastball. When Beckett can command the bottom of the strike zone with all of his pitches, he's tough to hit -- and he did just that on Saturday.

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