The easy notion is that Josh Becket has not been himself these past two games, but that’s not completely accurate. During his two beatings at the hands of the Blue Jays and Yankees, Beckett’s strikeouts per nine innings sunk to 6.1, down by about two from his season average, but he compensated by walking one batter over 13 1/3 innings. Nothing is all that startling in his pitch pattern when you look at his Pitch F/X game charts from the past two smackdowns.
Beckett, it seems, has been pitching like Beckett except in one area. He allowed 12 home runs in the first 23 starts. He has allowed eight in his past two. Tonight, facing the Blue Jays again, his task is to turn back into the pitcher who gave up a scant 0.7 home runs per nine innings, not the cowboy from 2006 who allowed 36 homers in 33 starts.
The diagnosis is simple: Ten of the past 15 runs yielded by Beckett have scored on home runs. If Beckett has not changed his approach, does that mean his opponents have changed theirs? With help from MLB Gameday, here are the pitches and situations in which Beckett allowed his dingers:
1. 1-0, 4-seamer (Randy Ruiz)
2. 2-2, 4-seamer (Travis Snider)
3. 1-0, 4-seamer (Rod Barajas)
4. 0-0, 4-seamer (Derek Jeter)
5. 0-0, 4-seamer (Hideki Matsui)
6. 2-2, curveball (Robinson Cano)
7. 3-2, curveball (Alex Rodriguez)
8. 2-2, cutter (Hideki Matsui)
What to make of that? Of the four home runs he allowed early in the count, all of them came on four-seam fastballs. Of the four home runs he allowed with two strikes, two of them came on curveballs, one on a cutter, and one on a four-seamer. The outlier seams to be Snider’s, the one home run hit on a four-seamer late in the count.
It’s probably not enough to conclude anything, but one theory emerges: The batters who hit home runs against Beckett the past two games have been sitting on four-seam fastballs early in the count and looking for something different late in the count.
Again, there’s nothing hard and fast about this exercise. Feel free to disagree. Beckett himself would probably tell you he made eight bad pitches.
One certainty about Beckett’s long ball barrage: too many home runs have raised Beckett’s ERA more than a half of a run, from 3.10 to 3.65, in just two games. He may have lost ground in the Cy Young race, but he undoubtedly remains the Sox ace. Tonight, in his final start before September, he will try to prove that again.