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In Defense of Josh Beckett

Josh Beckett (Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

Talking about Josh Beckett is nothing new in Boston.

In 2006, Red Sox fans were excited and unsure about acquiring him. We knew what he was capable of after watching him dispatch the Yankees in the World Series when he was only 23 years old. However, the Red Sox were forced to give up the most promising prospect at the time in Hanley Ramirez. When it comes down to it, the trade was necessary, as pitching wins championships. You need to give up a little bit of the future in order to win in the interim, and that is exactly what they did.

The Early Years

Not many people were sold on Josh Beckett after his first season in Boston. That season he finished 16-11 with a whopping 5.01 ERA and gave up a career high 36 home runs. People were ready to call the trade a bust and were clamoring to have Hanley back.

That was until the very next season when Josh Beckett completely did a 180-degree turn. He posted a 20-7 record with a 3.27 ERA, and only gave up 17 home runs. Beckett narrowly lost out to CC Sabathia for the Cy Young Award. To top off his phenomenal regular season, he continued his sheer dominance in the playoffs. He had a record of 4-0 with just a 1.20 ERA. During those playoffs he also pitched against and beat John Lackey once and Sabathia twice. His outstanding pitching performance no doubt played a major role in the team’s regular and postseason success, and some may even say he put the team on that valuable right shoulder and pitched the Sox to a championship.

Injuries, Beer, Chicken and Transition

His production has seen some minor drop off due to some injuries in 2008 as well as 2010. His performance this season has come under particular scrutiny because the bad taste of the “Beer and Chicken” scandal is still fresh, and most people attribute Beckett as the ring leader of the operation.

I would have to disagree with most people’s perception of what “Beergate” really was. The idea that the Red Sox blew a 9-game lead with one month to play because some players decided to eat some chicken and have a few beers is absolutely ridiculous. The Red Sox blew a 9-game lead because they did not show up to play. They blew the 9-game lead because on more than one occasion, their starting pitcher wouldn’t make it out of the third inning, thus taxing an already exhausted bullpen. The “Beergate” scandal was just something to use as a scapegoat for why they missed the playoffs.

Before this season even started, Beckett was already in a negative light. Every move he made, every word he said, every thought that popped into his head would be subject to intense criticism. If people think he is having a down year, they need to realize that Beckett is in a transition stage in his career. He was primarily a fastball pitcher relying heavily on the pitch that would regularly hit 97 mph. Naturally, Beckett is getting older and losing some zip on that fastball. This is forcing him to rely on his secondary pitches: the cutter, curveball, and changeup.

Similarities to a Former Great

This season reminds me of the 2004 season for Pedro Martinez. That season, a 32-year-old Pedro (Beckett is 32 this season) came out of the gate firing a whopping 89 mph fastball and this drew some serious questions from the media and the fans. Everyone was saying he was all washed up, and he wouldn’t make it through the year.

The stats between the two through their first 10 games are eerily similar. So far this season, Beckett is 4-5 with a 4.26 ERA. He has 46 strikeouts, 16 walks, and has given up 9 home runs through 63.1 innings. Through the first 10 games of the 2004 season, Pedro was 4-3 with a 3.68 ERA. He had 64 strikeouts, 17 walks, and had given up 7 home runs through 63.2 innings.

Pedro gets the edge statistically, but you also have to remember that Beckett has never been the consistently dominant pitcher that Pedro was in his career. What needs to be noticed is the fact that Beckett is still having success as he goes through a huge change in his pitching style. No longer is he trying to burn a 98 mph fastball by a hitter, now he is trying to outsmart them and utilize location.

Beckett’s Future

Those of you who think now is the time to trade or release Beckett, realize first how expensive it would be. Including this year, he has three years left on his deal with just over $46 million left on his deal. If the Red Sox were to trade him, they would need to pay for a substantial amount, if not all of the money remaining on his contract. If the Sox were to straight out release him, they would have to pay all of that money as baseball contracts are guaranteed.

Getting rid of Beckett is not the answer, nor is it a good idea strategically for this team. No replacement we would get for him would put up the same amount of production that he does, because there are no comparable options on the market.

Fans want Beckett gone because they associate his apathy for what people think as apathy for his profession. While he may or may not care what the fans and the media think about him, he has shown that he cares about performing on the mound. The fire is still there and maybe in the form of proving people wrong. If this team is going to have any sort of success this year Josh Beckett will play a key role. Sox fans need him to.

(Statistics provided by www.baseball-reference.com)

About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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