There’s quietly some chest-thumping out there, after Josh Beckett kicked off his latest 3-0 season yesterday with a 7-2 win over the Angels, as if this is the comeuppance for those who lauded him on the verge of a breakout prior to the season.
The Red Sox pitcher was the “dark horse” candidate of so many preseason pundits to win the AL Cy Young Award, though so many used the term “dark horse” it really started to lose any semblance of meaning. Kind of like “cult hit” American Idol.
In preseason odds, Beckett was +1100 to win the award. Johan Santana at +300 was the overwhelming favorite. Of all Boston pitchers, Daisuke Matsuzaka had the best odds, +700. Oddly enough, Ervin Santana, Beckett’s opponent yesterday, possessed the same +1100 odds, and he was rocked to the tune of seven runs in just four innings.
Which, of course, reminds us to warn you to likely expect the same from Beckett too.
What’s most concerning about Josh Beckett’s stellar start to 2007 is that it is exactly how he started the season in 2006, when he went on to go just 13-11 the rest of the way. Beckett did win 16 games in all, not a bad feat for his first season in the AL, but it is his 5.01 ERA that the critics like to point to as a sign of concern. What’s worse, his ERA after that 3-0 start was nearly a half-run higher, 5.45 the rest of the way.
"I'm not worried about last year; I'm worried about this year. I'm worried about keeping my team in games, trying to help them win this year," he said after yesterday’s game. "There's nothing I can do about last year. I've just got to go out and continue to make pitches when I need to. I think that's been the key to my success."
Beckett’s next start this weekend against the Yankees will certainly be a barometer for some in determining just how good the righty can be in 2007. And it was in Beckett’s fourth start last season that a trend began, when he was hit hard by the Blue Jays – a team he’d have a difficult time against all season to the tune of five runs. The next week, the Indians got to him for nine runs. Then, of course, there was that ugly June night in New York when he couldn’t get out of the second without giving up eight runs.
All told, seven times on the season did Beckett allow seven or more runs in a game. Seven times in his last 30 starts, in which he allowed all 36 home runs on his stat sheet. Twenty-three percent of the time that he walked to the mound after that 3-0 start, there was a solid chance he was going to be spanked.
Of course, the past does nothing to dictate the future in this case, so to openly suggest that Beckett is going to immediately begin another seesaw season would be daft indeed. But so would suggesting that the Cy Young future is intact thanks to three solid showings against the Royals, Mariners, and Angels.
But, there is a pattern.
Here is how Beckett has started off his first three starts in each of the last four seasons
2007: 3-0, 1.50 ERA, 18 strikeouts, 1 home run allowed
2006: 3-0, 1.29 ERA, 12 strikeouts, 0 home runs allowed
2005: 2-1, 0.45 ERA, 23 strikeouts, 0 home runs allowed
2004: 1-1, 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 2 home runs allowed
The point is not to predict a dropoff from this point on, although a consistent docket of the same work for five-plus more months is likely unreasonable. But it isn’t like we haven’t seen this before out of the arm of Beckett. And yes, it means a few more of those seven-run debacles are likely going to come.
The less there are, the more we can talk about Beckett and Cy Young.
But please. Not quite yet.