Off-speed stuff the difference for Beckett

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
11:46
AM ET
Josh Beckett faces the Angels on Thursday seeking his third straight win. He didn’t pick up his third win of 2010 until Aug. 3.

The biggest difference is health, but even that can’t explain the current stretch in which Beckett has allowed one earned run in his last 17 innings.

So what’s made him so dominant?

It starts with the off-speed stuff.

So far this season, opponents are 0-for-26 with 12 strikeouts against Beckett on at-bats ending in a curveball or changeup.

Last season, opponents hit .256 against Beckett’s off-speed pitches, well above the league average of .226 on off-speed stuff. Related to that ineffectiveness, Beckett also wasn’t using those pitches as often, just 27.6 percent compared to 33.5 in 2009.

Thus far in 2011, his curve and changeup have accounted for 35.8 percent of pitches.

Nowhere has Beckett’s off-speed effectiveness been more welcome than against left-handed hitters.

Last season, lefties hit .310 with 15 home runs and a .566 slugging percentage. That was the fourth-highest slugging percentage by lefties against a Red Sox pitcher over the past 35 seasons (min. 125 batters faced).

This season, lefties are hitting .171 with a .244 slugging percentage.

A big part of that is 0-for-19 on at-bats ending in off-speed pitches.

But perhaps equally important is that faith in those pitches has allowed Beckett to throw fewer fastballs.

Last season, lefties hit .335 with a .625 slugging percentage against Beckett’s fastballs, which accounted for 70.0 percent of his pitches to them.

So far in 2011, lefties are hitting .318 against his fastballs, but they account for only 59.2 percent of pitches.

Streak of excellence

For the first time in his career, Beckett has won back-to-back starts with nine or more strikeouts and one earned run or fewer. That is, the first time in the regular season. Beckett’s final two starts of the 2007 postseason also match those criteria.

On Thursday, he looks to be the first Red Sox pitcher to make it three in a row since Pedro Martinez in 2002, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He actually did it twice that season.

In fact, Pedro had four separate streaks of three straight wins with nine or more strikeouts and one or fewer earned runs. Over the last 90 years, the only other Red Sox starter with a streak like that was Ray Culp in 1968.

Two key matchups

Beckett’s career numbers against the Angels (3-4, 4.52 ERA) are rather nondescript. However, he has a fascinating history against two hitters in their lineup.

Bobby Abreu is 14-for-75 (.187) with 25 strikeouts in his career against Beckett. That’s both the most Beckett has fanned a batter, and the most for Abreu against any pitcher. Since he went to Angels, Abreu is 1-for-13 with five strikeouts against Beckett.

Vernon Wells gave Beckett a rude welcome to the AL East back in 2006. Twice that season, he had multi-homer games against Beckett. He finished the year 7-for-15 with 4 homers and 6 RBIs against Beckett. Since then, he’s 5-for-23 with 1 homer and 2 RBIs. However, Wells’ 5 homers are still the most Beckett has allowed to any hitter.

Jeremy Lundblad

ESPN Stats and Information

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