2013 Dodgers in Review #28: SP Josh Beckett

90topps_joshbeckett5.19 ERA / 4.66 FIP 43.1 IP 8.52 K/9 3.12 BB/9 (D)

2013 in brief: Made eight starts of wildly varying quality before getting hurt, and didn’t pitch after May 13. 

2014 status: Under contract for one more year and $15.75m, and is the early leader to be the fifth starter if healthy. 

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I don’t think any of us really had a good idea of what to expect from Josh Beckett entering the season, did we? In seven starts for the Dodgers after coming over from Boston in 2012, he put up a 2.93 ERA, which is good, but he did it with declining velocity and FIP and xFIP marks that in no way backed that up. I think we knew that he wouldn’t be worth his salary, but we hoped that he’d at least justify his presence.

That… didn’t quite go as planned. Beckett gave up two homers in his first start of the year, then two more in his second, though we were at least distracted by Juan Uribe in the latter game. However, he was just magnificent in his third start of the year

Earlier today, I merely asked that Josh Beckett “be good“. I think it’s safe to say that Beckett did quite a bit more than that, putting out what was by far his best outing as a Dodger. Beckett pitched into the ninth with nothing but zeroes on the board, striking out nine Diamondbacks and at one point retiring 12 in a row. For a man who had been clearly been the weak link of the rotation thus far, Beckett really made a statement that he belongs.

…but ended up taking a 1-0 loss anyway, because this was the early-season 2013 Dodgers we were talking about. Still, he was so good in that game that it gave us hope for what else might come. That hope was misplaced.

His next time out, he gave up two more homers. Then two more after that, making eight homers in five starts. When he managed to not give up a dinger against the Rockies on May 1, it seemed to be a success, except he lasted only four innings while allowing five runs; after an okay outing against Arizona, he then made it through only three against Washington on May 13… and we never saw him again.

But even his season-ending injuries weren’t simple. At the time, it was reported both that he had a groin injury and that he had “some little stuff going on in different areas,” but after two weeks of rehab it was “tingling in his fingers.” It was then initially reported that he wouldn’t need surgery; the next day it was that he would be shut down for a month; then we heard there was a setback during a throwing session; and finally, on June 29, it was announced he would have surgery and be out for the year. Days later, the Dodgers picked up Ricky Nolasco to take his spot, and Beckett eventually had a rib removed on July 10 in an attempt to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome.

We haven’t heard a whole lot about him since an August 25 report that he was “ahead of schedule,” so he remains an enormous question mark until we get a chance to see him on the mound in camp. Heading into his age-34 season, after years of declining velocity and coming off a major surgery, it’s impossible for any of us to know what to expect. That puts him in a similar situation as Chad Billingsley, really, though Beckett should be ready sooner. Will he be in the rotation, or the bullpen, or somewhere else entirely? It’s difficult to say.

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Next! Stephen Fife had his moments!

The Nick Punto Trade With Boston, One Year Later

punto_2013-08-05

A year ago tomorrow, I was riding the bus to Boston, of all places, and freaking out about the enormous trade that was coming together with the Red Sox that would bring the Dodgers Nick Punto, three other guys, and more than $250 million in contract responsibilities, all while sending Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster out of town. The next day, I managed to put some more coherent thoughts to it:

So how am I feeling about it today? I think Adrian Gonzalez is going to be an incredible fit in LA, especially considering that reports of his demise in Boston seem overblown (he was outstanding last year and has been very good for much of this year after a slow start) and that he never seemed to want to leave Southern California in the first place. It’s a high price to pay, but if he is what we think he is – and don’t forget, there was little available in the first base market next year, so if you’re spending money, this is how you do it – and the team becomes a consistent contender, I think it’ll be a price we can live with.

We may still be a day or two short of a full year later, but as the Red Sox come in to town to face the Dodgers tonight in what many expect may be a World Series preview, it’s an appropriate time to look back. Today at ESPN, I offer the opinion that it’s been a win/win, one that neither side would take back. It’s behind the paywall, and a man’s got to eat, so I won’t excerpt much of it here, other than to say that this is how it ends:

The Dodgers wouldn’t be in this position without Gonzalez, and the Red Sox wouldn’t be here with him. It’s hard to think of a better outcome for both sides than that.

Let’s take a look at what’s happened with a year’s worth of knowledge on our side.

To Los Angeles

Josh Beckett (0.4 WAR with Dodgers)
We tried our best to both not get bummed by Beckett’s declining velocity while also not get sucked in by the not-at-all-representative 2.93 ERA he put up in seven starts for the Dodgers last year, all while hoping he could merely be a fourth starter. Instead, Beckett was atrocious in eight starts this year (somehow while missing more bats than he had in years) and was eventually lost for the season after undergoing surgery to relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He’s under contract for 2014, but his role is unclear.

Carl Crawford (2.3 WAR with Dodgers)
Obviously the biggest question mark of the deal, not only because of how awful he was with the Red Sox, but because of the Tommy John surgery he underwent just beforehand, Crawford has been a pleasant surprise. After fixing his batting stance, he filled the long-time hole at leadoff and was arguably the team’s best hitter for the first six weeks, though he’s since dealt with both slumps and hamstring injury. Overall, he’s hit .289/.340/.413 with plus defense, and while he’s certainly not what he was at his peak in Tampa Bay and terrifies me about how the rest of his contract will play out, he’s been a net positive for this team in 2013. Considering how much uncertainty he brought with him, I’m guessing we all take that.

Adrian Gonzalez (3.2 WAR with Dodgers)
The whole point of the trade for the Dodgers was to get Gonzalez, of course, and he’s been worth it, though it depends on how you look at it. On one hand, his .346 wOBA is the same as it was last year, each of which is tied for the worst of his career. On the other hand, the last Dodger first baseman to have a more valuable season than he is was Eric Karros, way back in 1999, and he was one of the few productive Dodgers over the first two months of the season. He is, according to WAR, the seventh most productive first baseman in baseball this year, and I can’t really complain about that — especially when Joey Votto & Prince Fielder make well over $200m and the alternatives were…. who, exactly?

Nick Punto (1.8 WAR with Dodgers)
We derisively call this “the Nick Punto” deal, because it’s fun to imagine Ned Colletti insisting on adding yet another gritty veteran infielder or he’d kill the deal entirely, but Punto has been an asset in Los Angeles. Punto has played far more than anyone expected he would as injuries & ineffectiveness hit second, third, and shortstop, and he was the choice over Dee Gordon & Justin Sellers when Hanley Ramirez missed recent time with a shoulder injury. He was valuable, too, hitting .340/.427/.420 through May 25. That was never, ever, ever, going to last, and it didn’t — he’s just .199/.265/.270 since — though he’s at least provided value on defense.

To Boston

Ivan De Jesus, Jr. (-0.3 WAR with Red Sox)
De Jesus was absolutely never going to get a shot with the Dodgers, fairly or not, then struck out in six times in eight hitless appearances for Boston. After the season, he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of the Joel Hanrahan / Mark Melancon deal, and while he’s hit well with Triple-A Indianapolis (.323/.383/.462), he hasn’t seen any time in the big leagues. Heading into his age-27 season next year, he’s running out of time to make a career.

92topps_rubbydelarosaRubby De La Rosa (-0.2 WAR with Red Sox)
It’s safe to say that this was the part that hurt the worst, because De La Rosa had been a very highly regarded prospect with the Dodgers before blowing out his elbow in 2011, and he’d made it back for one appearance with the team before the trade. So far, RDLR has had a pretty rough season with Boston, making only five big league appearances (all in relief) while struggling to find his control in Triple-a (5.08 BB/9 in 21 games, all but one as a starter). As we remember, control was never his strong suit, and guys coming off Tommy John surgery often need some time to get it back.

James Loney (-0.1 WAR with Red Sox)
Our favorite punching bag hit just .230/.264/.310 in 106 plate appearances for the Red Sox, somehow contributing even less than he had with the Dodgers. That earned him a mere $2m on a one-year deal from Tampa Bay over the winter… where he’s now hitting .311/.360/.439 and has nearly the exact same wOBA and WAR that Gonzalez does. Baseball is a weird, weird, game sometimes. But I think we all know that for whatever reason, he was never going to succeed like that in Los Angeles.

Jerry Sands (n/a for Red Sox)
Man, remember when we all thought Sands was going to be, well, not a star, but at least a quality major leaguer? Sands never played with Boston since he was a “player to be named later” after the season, then went with De Jesus to Pittsburgh. In 99 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, he’s hit .212/.318/.340 with seven homers. What happened?

Allen Webster (-0.3 WAR with Red Sox)
Like De La Rosa, losing Webster hurt, especially with how much hype he got as he impressed during spring training. But while he’s been good in Triple-A, he’s struggled terribly in six starts for the Red Sox, putting up a 9.57 (!) ERA with massive homer problems. He’s still only 23, of course, and has plenty of time to work things out.

Of course, it was never really about the players for the Red Sox, it was about changing the culture and clearing the bad payroll — which they have done successfully, as WEEI’s Alex Speier goes into painstaking detail about here. As you’d expect, the Dodgers are better off in the short-term for the deal, while the long-term is uncertain; the Red Sox are definitely better off in the long-term, but surprisingly have been far improved this year, too.

I still wish the Dodgers didn’t have to give up De La Rosa and Webster, because it’s hard to imagine that the Red Sox really would have balked at, say, Chris Reed & Chris Withrow, if they were getting rid of all that money. Still, the Dodgers did at least hang on to Zach Lee & Joc Pederson, so while it’s not a perfect trade… it’s one I’m not unhappy about a year later. Considering the massive risk involved, that might be all we can ask for.

Insert Josh Beckett Injury Joke Here

beckett_looks_inAs some of you know, I’ve been under the weather for the last few days, and so last night I took advantage of Josh Beckett starting to skip the game entirely and get some much-needed extra sleep. In retrospect, that seems like a pretty good choice, because Beckett was once again terribly disappointing, getting bounced after only three innings. (Which brings up a sidenote — any conversation about how mediocre the bullpen has been has to start with a discussion about how often the rotation asks them to throw 4-6 innings a night.)

But looking at the line, something seemed off. Five strikeouts in three innings is actually very good, and while allowing four runs clearly isn’t, only two were earned thanks to an Adrian Gonzalez error. He didn’t even give up a homer, which isn’t usually something you can say, and so pulling him that early seemed odd to me. Again, that’s just from looking at the box score, since I wasn’t watching live. (I was also wondering how A.J. Ellis managed a triple. Ouch, Bryce Harper. Ouch.)

So was it… yes. Yes it was:

Josh Beckett, who is 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA, left the game after just three innings in part, manager Don Mattingly said, because he slightly strained a groin muscle covering first base on an Adam LaRoche groundout. Beckett is also battling an assortment of minor injuries, Mattingly said. But what?

“He’s had some little stuff going on in different areas, and I think it was bothering him tonight,” Mattingly said.

Little stuff, such as?

“We had known some little stuff was going on,” Mattingly said.

Of course. Actually, it’s not that cut-and-dry, because Beckett insisted that he’s healthy enough to pitch and that whatever it is Mattingly is referring to wasn’t affecting his performance, but I’m really hoping he’s just trying to be a tough guy, because some explanation to his poor season would be nice. No one expected the Beckett of old here, but a decent mid-rotation starter didn’t seem like too much to ask, especially with a move to the National League. There are signs of hope here — he’s striking out nearly a man per inning, which is great — but it just hasn’t come together, as the Dodgers have lost seven of his eight starts.

To say that they’ve lost seven of eight is somewhat misleading, because that includes the 1-0 complete game he lost in Arizona when he was outstanding, but something is clearly not working. Over his last three starts, he’s gone just 13 innings, allowing nine earned runs (though striking out 16); without knowing the truth about his health, it’s difficult to judge what’s going on here. Until we get some clarity, we don’t know, and while it seems odd to say given the unbelievable run of injuries we’ve seen, I almost hope he does go to the disabled list, just in hopes that it really is a health concern that’s bothering him.

If he does, that further clouds the Dodger rotation. Clayton Kershaw & Hyun-jin Ryu are solid so far, and Chris Capuano was much better in his second start off the disabled list than the first. But without Beckett, you’re almost forced to have Zack Greinke start Wednesday (which is more than a little concerning, as we’ve discussed) and also keep Matt Magill in the rotation, which isn’t wonderful.

Of course, I say that as though there’s really any question that Greinke is starting for the Dodgers on Wednesday. Of course he is. If you know he’s starting for the Dodgers, you don’t say anything just to keep the other team guessing about who they’re preparing for. If he’s starting for a minor league club, you announce it to get your affiliate some additional ticket sales.

He’ll be in Los Angeles. Mark it. That being the case, the only question now is, “is Magill going to Albuquerque, or is Beckett going to the disabled list?”

Diamondbacks 1, Dodgers 0: That One’s Not On You, Josh Beckett

beckett_arizona_grass_2013-04-14Earlier today, I merely asked that Josh Beckettbe good“. I think it’s safe to say that Beckett did quite a bit more than that, putting out what was by far his best outing as a Dodger. Beckett pitched into the ninth with nothing but zeroes on the board, striking out nine Diamondbacks and at one point retiring 12 in a row. For a man who had been clearly been the weak link of the rotation thus far, Beckett really made a statement that he belongs.

But of course, it wouldn’t be the Dodgers if a great pitching performance wasn’t wasted, would it?

Despite three hits from Adrian Gonzalez, their best chance may have come in the top of the eighth, when Nick Punto led off with a single and was bunted to second by Beckett. Punto advanced to third on a Carl Crawford groundout, and Kirk Gibson brought in righty Brad Ziegler to face Mark Ellis. For reasons I still don’t understand, Don Mattingly allowed Ellis to bat — remember, we’ve established many times that Ellis just can’t hit righty pitching — rather than bring in lefty Skip Schumaker. Ellis swung at the first pitch and grounded out, ending the threat.

Beckett hung up another zero in the bottom of the eighth, and Andre Ethier walked with two outs in the top of the ninth before inexplicably getting caught stealing with A.J. Ellis up. Mattingly allowed Beckett to go out for the bottom of the ninth, but that’s when things really got odd. Beckett induced Martin Prado to ground out before allowing a double from A.J. Pollock. Mattingly sent Schumaker to left field, ostensibly as part of a double switch, went to the mound… and then left Beckett in anyway.

Now, as impressive as Crawford has been, you get the impulse to have Schumaker’s stronger arm out there with a man on second. But it sure looked for all the world that Paco Rodriguez hadn’t been warming up until Beckett put a man on, and that left Mattingly without a choice about leaving Beckett in.  Miguel Montero walked intentionally to set up the double play, and then Paul Goldschmidt poked a single through the right side to hand Beckett a brutal 1-0 loss.

Mattingly’s going to take a lot of heat on this one, as he should. That being said, it’s tough to hang the loss on him entirely, because Matt Kemp struck out three times while going 0-4, and Mark Ellis & Crawford can’t say they did better. A.J. Ellis & Luis Cruz — good lord, even I didn’t see this coming from Cruz — each went 0-3, and really the only hitters worth a damn on the day were Gonzalez and Punto.

So while we’re all upset about this loss — understandably, as it was a tough one to take — I’m hoping we can all at least take some good out of it from Beckett. That, and attempt to figure out just what is going wrong with this offense.

2012 Dodgers in Review #32: SP Josh Beckett

(w/ LA) 43.0 IP 2.93 ERA 3.82 FIP 7.95 K/9 2.93 BB/9 0.5 fWAR B 

2012 in brief: Former ace is far from the flamethrower he once was, but provided adequate outings after being acquired from Boston in August.

2013 status: Signed for $15.75m and expected to be part of the rotation.

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In some ways, Josh Beckett was one of the most surprising parts of the big Boston deal. Adrian Gonzalez was the centerpiece, Carl Crawford was the price, and Beckett was… what, exactly? We worried about his declining velocity & litany of injuries, and tried to figure out what sort of pitcher the Dodgers might be getting:

So performance-wise, it seems like there’s a lot to be worried about. Now that all being said, there’s been a lot written about how bad the situation had become in Boston, and if even half of it is true, Beckett is probably thrilled to be somewhere new. It’s hard for me to say that being unhappy in a media fishbowl causes you to lose velocity off your fastball, so I won’t, but how many times have we seen a pitcher leave a bad situation to come into a pennant race and get recharged, at least for a short time. Or for a guy to leave the tougher league to come to the land of big parks (tonight’s start aside) and pitchers batting? I’m going to try to not put too much emphasis on a start in Coors Field, which could easily go poorly, but for the rest of the season it’s potentially not too difficult to see something of an improvement over his Boston numbers, if only from avoiding the designated hitter.

Really, it comes down to expectations on this for me. If you’re expecting Beckett to be the ace who led Boston to the title in 2007, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. But if Beckett can merely come to the Dodgers and be a mid-rotation starter, someone good enough to help get the club to October and bounce Blanton when Billingsley returns, maybe even potentially be your fourth starter should things get to that point in the playoffs, that’s something useful. It’s not unrealistic, I don’t think, to expect that from him.

That’s basically what happened. Beckett allowed only one earned run in four of his seven starts, and he was occasionally very good (nine strikeouts against one walk against Arizona on September 1), and sometimes less so (allowing four earned runs against the Giants on September 7, though much of that can be placed on Don Mattingly). Beckett increased his strikeout rate slightly with the Dodgers, but couldn’t say the same about his velocity, which continued to decrease, and his 3.82 FIP seems just about right for his brand of “usably decent” that he seems to be these days. For a fourth starter, you could do worse – even if, with Clayton Kershaw & Chad Billingsley injured in September, Mattingly said he’d be forced to go with Beckett as his #1 starter if the Dodgers made the playoffs.

I’ll admit that “decent #4 starter” isn’t exactly what you hope to get for around ~$31m over the next two seasons, but if he remains healthy it’s not atrocious, either. Besides, you also have to factor in that some of the cost was necessary to acquire Gonzalez, and as long as the Dodgers can say that they have at least two or three starters better than Beckett, he’s a nice enough guy to have around at the end of your rotation.

That’s if he even is around, because as we’ve said, the Dodgers are going to sign at least two starting pitchers and that means that a few guys from the Beckett / Lilly / Capuano / Harang group are going to be gone. But I tend to think that Beckett will stick around, both because of his salary and the reports that the Dodgers had been interested in him for a while. If the winter continues as we hope it will, there’s a chance Beckett could even be the #5 starter, and that’s a pretty good situation to be in; if we’re really lucky, he’ll continue his streak of being good every other year and bounce back in 2013.

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Next up! Man, remember Ted Lilly?