Has Josh Beckett learned to pitch without elite velocity?


Dodgers starter Josh Beckett is one of many high-risk, high-reward types of players coming into 2013, and at the time of his acquisition, he was seen as somewhat of a throw-in. This was partially because of his contract, but the fact is that both the statistics and the scouting reports matched up to say that he looked more like a #5 than a #1.

The velocity he once had (as high as 94.7 mph in 2006) is now generally gone (91.4 mph in 2012), so my primary concern was whether or not he was going to be able to adjust to not having his go-to gas anymore. Given his reputation as a hard-head in Boston, the fact that he gained a reputation for pumping fastball after fastball into the strike zone (as high as 69%/top 5 in MLB), and that his fastball performed so miserably in 2012, I had my doubts about whether he was even willing to adjust, much less able to make the transition successful.

However, recently during Spring Training, he acknowledged his loss of velocity and that he’s been working on adjusting to his new reality.

Instead, as Beckett has learned in recent years, he must do things differently. His velocity has declined, so he’s throwing more cutters and curveballs, fretting more about location than at any point before.

“I think velocity is something that leaves you at some point in your career,” Beckett said. “It’s a game of adjustments anyway. We all have to make ‘em. I think I have to rely more on location instead of trying to throw it through a wall. That’s something where you have to set your ego aside. You still have the same mentality. You go about it the same way. But there are certain times where you think, ‘I’m going to throw this ball by this guy.’ Then you think, ‘Wait a minute, I can’t do that. All right, I’m going to throw the ball off the corner and have it work just off the corner.’”

I found this interesting because: 1) he specifically mentioned putting ego aside to do the right thing for success and 2) he seemed aware that some type of adjustments were necessary, which made me take a look at his past pitch distribution.

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Basically, how he attacks hitters has been a work in progress since at least 2010, which is when his fastball usage came down to about league average. Granted, that’s not all positive, as he’s had up and down results in spite of his efforts, posting FIPs of 3.63, 4.54, 3.57, and 4.15 over the last four years.

The promising thing though is that I don’t think getting him to mix pitches will be as significant of a task as I originally thought, because it’s clear he has already bought in. Thus, if he can stave off further fastball regression, and given the success of his curve in 2012, I feel a lot more comfortable with him potentially achieving his #3 upside, or at least remaining a solid rotation piece, either of which is what the team really needs due to the ticking time bomb in Chad Billingsley‘s right elbow.

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