Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Red Sox MVP No. 4: Josh Beckett

(A five-part series about the players most integral to the success the Red Sox enjoyed this season. Previously appearing on the countdown -- No. 5: Closer Jonathan Papelbon.)

The Red Sox will have to decide pretty quickly whether they see Beckett as a break-the-bank ace or as a very good pitcher who might not be worth what he'll probably get on the open market.

Beckett came into last season as the team's undisputed ace, a hard-throwing righty coming off a Cy Young-caliber season in 2007. Two years later, Beckett didn't even make the Game 1 start when the Red Sox met the Angels in the American League Division Series -- and he faded in the seventh inning of that start, surrendering a two-run triple to Erick Aybar that proved to be the difference in the Angels' win.

After a spectacularly dominant tear through the playoffs in 2007, in fact, Beckett has looked completely ordinary in his last two postseason trips: He has a 7.71 ERA in his last four playoff starts, hardly the stuff of legend he demonstrated in his first two ventures into October.

Don't misunderstand: Beckett is a terrific pitcher capable of shredding opposing lineups. Between May 1 and Aug. 15 this season, in fact, Beckett went 12-2 with a 2.17 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.38. He faded badly down the stretch, though, missing a start with back spasms and putting up a 6.02 ERA in his final nine starts of the season.

With Beckett now one year away from hitting the open market at the age of 30, both he and the Red Sox will have to figure out if he's the type of elite pitcher worth the investment the Yankees made in CC Sabathia last winter ($161 million for seven years) or if he's closer in value to the contract the Braves lavished upon Derek Lowe ($60 million for four years).

Here's a look at how Beckett stacks up with some of the best starting pitchers in the game over the last five years (min. 50 wins from 2005-09):

1. Chris Carpenter, 2.76
2. Johan Santana, 2.91
3. Roy Halladay, 3.01
4. Jake Peavy, 3.13
5. CC Sabathia, 3.27
22. Josh Beckett, 3.92

(Also among those ahead of Beckett: Mark Buehrle, A.J. Burnett, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey -- and Derek Lowe.)

Adjusted ERA+
1. Carpenter, 1.55
2. Santana, 149
3. Halladay, 147
4. Brandon Webb, 141
5. Sabathia, 135
17. Beckett, 117

K/BB ratio
1. Halladay, 4.56
2. Santana, 4.23
3. Dan Haren, 4.16
4. Carpenter, 4.02
5. Javier Vazquez, 4.00
14. Josh Beckett, 3.41

1. Carpenter, 1.057
2. Santana, 1.072
3. Halladay, 1.106
4. Jake Peavy, 1.125
5. Haren, 1.153
8. Beckett, 1.200

The Red Sox make it a practice to place a value on a player based both on his production and on the market and to stick to that value. Beckett signed a contract extension three years ago that eventually will pay him $42 million for four years, a contract widely described at the time -- and since -- as below market value.

(Fangraphs.com has Beckett being worth an average of $24.3 million over the last three seasons based on his 5-6 wins above replacement with which he's been credited. Fangraphs' value numbers, however, don't necessarily reflect market conditions: The median player on the Fangraphs leaderboard was valued at $12.95 million this season, and it's a stretch to say the average non-Yankee major league team can spent that type of money on players like Martin Prado or Orlando Hudson and still keep their payroll under $100 million.)

Beckett undoubtedly will be out to make up the difference when he hits the open market. Unless he has a year that catapults him into the Carpenter-Halladay-Santana stratosphere, however, he's probably not going to get that type of contract from the Red Sox.


dbhammel said...

Let me guess where this goes...youk, pedroia, lester?

floydiansea said...

I'd definitely put Lester up there.