I’m not suggesting that a one-game sample is conclusive proof of anything, but for those of us who have been nervously waiting for Josh Beckett to return to form, today’s start against the Tampa Bay Rays had to be encouraging. I’m not even talking about the 10 strikeouts or just allowing a pair of hits and three walks; what I’m looking at is his velocity.
Those of you who read Baseball Prospectus 2009 are aware of what transpired for Beckett late last year:
…his velocity was often well below past averages; this was noticeable during the playoffs, when Beckett was topping out in the low 90s. He spent time on the DL in August with right elbow inflammation, but except for the velocity issue he was effective upon his return.
Just how much did his velocity drop during those playoff games? Let’s take a look at his last start from 2008, which was also against the Rays. Beckett lasted five innings and just 78 pitches (his third straight start that failed to go more than five) and struck out three hitters. The average velocity on his fastball was 92.3 mph, with the fastest of those coming in at 93.6 mph:
This is for Beckett’s four-seam fastball, by the way. Early on Beckett’s velocity was between 92 and 93+, but after just 10 or so fastballs he slid down towards the lower end of the 90s, even throwing one pitch in the high 80s. This is reminiscent of the previous start, where his average fastball velocity was 92.1 mph (and his max was 93.5) or the start six days before that against the Angels, where his fastball averaged 92.8 mph. Beckett is the kind of pitcher that gets out of trouble by ratcheting up the velocity and blowing it by the hitter, so when he can’t do that, he struggles to succeed at the same level. Which brings us to today’s start:
This chart doesn’t even approach the 80s, and the lowest velocity fastballs this time around were some of his better ones from the previous chart and games. His best came in near 97 mph, and while his velocity was down later in the outing, he also threw 93 pitches this time as opposed to 78 and was still able to hit the mid 90s throughout the entirety of the start. We’re just talking about one start here, but it’s a good sign for those that were worried about his velocity.
[UPDATE] A few of you in the comments asked for one graph that shows both. Thanks to some assistance, I now know how to do that in Excel 2007: