Archive for November, 2005

Beckett, Pedro comparisons don’t quite match up

Let’s hop in the Way-Back Machine and journey back to November 17, 1997. On that day, the Red Sox traded Carl Pavano and a player to be named later for the Montreal Expos stud right-hander, 26-year-old Pedro Martinez.

Fast forward now just over eight years later to November 24, 2005. On that day, the Red Sox acquired Marlins right-hander 25-year-old Josh Beckett (and Mike Lowell and a washed-up Guillermo Mota) for Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and two other guys whose names you probably won’t need to know.

The timing and circumstances were eerie. Martinez became possibly the most dominant pitching in Red Sox history. Now the Red Sox are asking Josh Beckett to be the pitcher they saw in the 2003 playoffs and save their pitching staff. These are tall orders for a 25-year-old with 10 career trips to the disabled list.

I, like Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, am skeptical of Beckett. He’s shown flashes of brilliance and a streak of injuries. His home-road splits show that he’s enjoyed pitching in the National League’s most hitter-friendly park, and his future success against the DH-rich AL in Fenway Park is a matter that will be determined purely on the field next season and not among the stats of his career.

There is, however, something Beckett’s stats can unlock for us. Over-eager Red Sox fans have begun to compare Beckett to Pedro, and this is a comparison that just doesn’t hold up the way I see it.

When Pedro arrived in Boston, he clearly was already a dominant pitcher. He was coming off a Cy Young caliber season in which he struck out 305 in 241.1 innings. while posting an ERA of 1.90. (He would go on to top those strike out numbers two years later, fanning 8 more in 28 fewer innings. Talk about dominance.) Beckett has come close to this type of dominance in 40 postseason innings in 2003, and that’s it. Here’s how the two stack up pre-Boston using ERA+, the ratio of the league’s ERA to that of the pitcher in question:

IP K/9 IP K/BB ERA ERA+
Pedro Martinez 912.1 9.57 3.17 3.00 135
Josh Beckett 609.0 8.97 2.72 3.46 117

From this chart, it’s clear that Pedro had the edge. At the time, he was considered very durable, and had the strike of 1994 not shorted the 1994 and 1995 seasons, he would have racked up nearly 1000 innings before joining Boston. Pitching in what many consider to be the high years of the Steroid Era, Pedro has an exceptional 135 ERA+ (which is a non-park adjusted number due to my calculations) and an ERA over a run better than league average aggregated over the years prior to his joining the Red Sox. While Beckett’s park-adjusted ERA of 117 is nothing to write home about, Pedro towers above him.

(A quick note: I had to calculate Pedro’s ERA+ and the NL ERA from 1992-1997 by hand. Beckett’s was done for me by Baseball-Reference. Hence, non-adjusted vs. adjusted. The difference is minuscule for the sake of this study.)

In the end, this just goes to show that Pedro before his dominant years in 1999 and 2000 was already an amazing pitcher. This is not a slight on Josh Beckett and his ability. Could Josh Beckett turn into another version of a Pedro-type pitcher? Sure he could. But first, he has to overcome the injury bug that has bitten him throughout his time on the Marlins.

If I were in charge of the Red Sox, I would have made this move in a minute just like the four-headed GM monster in Fenway did. But this should serve as a warning for Red Sox fans expecting too much from Beckett. I have seen Pedro Martinez pitch, and you, sir, are no Pedro Martinez. Yet.

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Yankees quiet off-season no cause for concern

Mets ink Wagner to $43 million deal…Marlins ship Delgado to Mets…Red Sox land Beckett in blockbuster…Ryan signs $47 million contract with Blue Jays…Phillies, White Sox swap Thome, Rowand…Phillies eye Gordon to close…Indians pursue Hoffmann…

The off-season headlines just keep on coming, and they all have one thing in common: No mention of the Bronx Bombers’ involvement in any potential blockbuster move. Sure, Brian Giles’ name has been thrown around, but the former San Diego outfielder will probably stay on the West Coast. Outside of Hideki Matsui’s contract negotiations which ended two weeks, it’s been a quiet off season for the Yankees.

For many Yankee fans, a quiet off-season is cause for concern. The Red Sox, the panicked among us say, have loaded up on a new young arm and a third baseman. The Mets have made a ton of moves, and GM Omar Minaya has a potential trade with the Red Sox for a certain Washington Heights native on the horizon. The Blue Jays have issued a statement to the American League East and could end this off-season with A.J. Burnett and Kevin Mench joining their squad north of the border. Even the Devil Rays have gotten in on the action, signing young outfielder Rocco Baldelli to a contract extension.

Over at Bronx Banter, readers commenting to Alex Belth’s most recent post have called upon the Yankees just to do something. Trade Robinson Cano. Send Chien Ming-Wang west for Barry Zito. Say good bye to Jorge Posada. Offer Tom Gordon another year. But just do something.

I say, hold your horses. A quiet off-season while others are active is no cause for concern. And while some people are already inking in the Yankees for a third-place finish in the American League East, I say this throwing-in-the-towel mentality is utterly misguided.

First, with an offensive team like the Yankees, it’s hard to give up in the middle of November. At this point in the off-season, the Yankees still have an offense built around Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Robinson Cano, and Jorge Posada. While everyone will be another year older, production will hardly decline. This group, handicapped by nearly 350 Tony Womack plate appearances, was the core of an offense that scored 886 runs last year, second only to the Red Sox.

The starting rotation too is seemingly in place. The Yanks still have a rotation fronted by Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina with Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Shawn Chacon, Chien Ming-Wang, and Aaron Small all in the wings. While those seven starters don’t exactly inspire the same confidence in a fan as, say, the White Sox starters or Yankee rotations from the late 1990s do, there’s more certainty in the Yankees’ rotation than there is in Boston where Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, and Tim Wakefield’s 4.00+ ERA are the only sure things. How will Curt Schilling, another year older, bounce back? How was Matt Clement bounce back after taking one to the head and never being the same? Will Bronson Arroyo put it together for a season? Will the Sox let him? Will David Wells ship out to the West Coast?

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are also looking at a scenario where they are left with no Manny Ramirez whose career .314/.409/.599 make him virtually irreplaceable from anyone in the history of the game. They may not have their table setter Johnny Damon and may have to turn to a less-than-ideal situation at first base.

This is of course not to say that the Red Sox are going to be bad next year. I expect them to compete evenly with the Yanks. But one trade does not an off-season or a World Series title make.

At this point, the Yankees need to shore up their bullpen and find someone to stick in center field. I think Tom Gordon will sign with the Phillies for an inexplicable (for Philadelphia) three years to close. I have little faith in Gordon’s abilities to pitch effectively for three years and even less faith in his abilities to close. Other appealing relief options Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry have signed on with the Cubbies. So the Yanks may have to improvise and cross their fingers.

But in the end, it’s still just November and opening day is a long time away. Don’t count out the Yankees when they still have one of the game’s best offense and a deep rotation even if it’s deep with 3-4-5 hurlers instead of 1-2 starters. Rivera will still be closing games, and Derek and A-Rod will still be leading off. Things just aren’t that bad right now in Yankee-land.

The Phoenix of Baseball Blogs

Like the mythological bird (and Dumbledore’s pet), the Talking Baseball blog is rising up from its long-discarded ashes.

What once started as a four-way baseball blog on Blogspot is now coming here to WordPress. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll hopefully have this site up and running to its full capacity. In the meantime, feel free to check out my other work at the Most Valuable Network:

Statistically Speaking
Off the Façade (Yankees)


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