Dr. Beckett and Mr. Fried

Josh Beckett has always been something of a mystery to me, for the simple fact that he is the best pitcher I know of who regularly has terrible days. Its as if once every other month he is committed to destroying his ERA. But I think the strange case of Dr. Beckett and his alter ego show how misleading the ERA statistic can be.

Take this season–Beckett comes into today’s (gulp) game against the Yankees with a pedestrian 3.38 ERA. Perhaps pedestrian is a bit harsh, given that he pitches in the offensively loaded AL East. But here’s the thing–if we want to measure effectiveness on a game-by-game basis of giving his team the best chance to win, then I will argue that Beckett is the best pitcher in the American League. But to make that argument, I would have to abandon a cumulative stat like ERA. Why? Because of Beckett’s propensity toward the absolute stinker game. Here goes…

This season, Beckett has a total of 6 non-quality starts in 24 starts. That’s a very strong 75% quality start rate. Further in his favor, in 7 games this season, Beckett has held the opposition scoreless (and all but one of those games were at least 7 innings). Here’s a breakdown of Beckett’s starts by ERA in 2009:

  • ERA Sub 2.00: 10
  • ERA 2.01-3.50: 3
  • ERA 3.51-4.50: 5
  • ERA 4.51-6.00: 1
  • ERA 6.00-8.99: 1
  • ERA 9.00+: 4

Can anyone else tell me of a pitcher who is so [usually] hit or [occasionally] miss? I haven’t seen it. Against that cumulative ERA of 3.38, Beckett has an ERA of 2.10 if we cut out those four off days. Put another way, almost half of Beckett’s ER allowed in 2009 (28 of 61) have come in 1/6 of his starts (4 of 24). Its weird.

And lest anyone think this year is an anomaly, you will find a similar split in all of this previous seasons with the Red Sox. What separates his Cy Young season in 2007 from his 5+ ERA season is merely keeping it together on the off days:


  • ERA Sub 2.00: 8
  • ERA 2.01-3.50: 11
  • ERA 3.51-4.50: 2
  • ERA 4.51-6.00: 1
  • ERA 6.00-8.99: 2
  • ERA 9.00+: 4


  • ERA Sub 2.00: 7
  • ERA 2.01-3.50: 6
  • ERA 3.51-4.50: 6
  • ERA 4.51-6.00: 2
  • ERA 6.00-8.99: 4
  • ERA 9.00+: 7


  • ERA Sub 2.00: 13
  • ERA 2.01-3.50: 9
  • ERA 3.51-4.50: 4
  • ERA 4.51-6.00: 5
  • ERA 6.00-8.99: 1
  • ERA 9.00+: 2


  • ERA Sub 2.00: 9
  • ERA 2.00-3.50: 7
  • ERA 3.51-4.50: 4
  • ERA 4.51-6.00: 1
  • ERA 6.00-8.99: 4
  • ERA 9.00+: 5

I think the pattern is clear: Beckett is consistently (occasionally) inconsistent. I’ll have to look at a few other pitchers for comparison, but I challenge anyone to find me another pitcher who has as many incredibly dominant days and yet absolutely craptastic days as Josh Beckett. With the Yanks in town and the Rangers and Rays on our heels, here’s hoping for the good Doctor today.


  1. raysfanboy

    Beckett’s “solid-ness” can’t be argued. He’s tough. I think your breakdown of his outings and ERAs shows that you know what you’re getting every year, you just don’t know when you’ll get it. Funny, though, that when I read this one sentence stood out:

    Beckett is consistently (occasionally) inconsistent.

    I think that genius sentence can be applied to almost anything regarding baseball. And that is what makes it so damn frustrating!

  2. santosis

    Yeah, baseball’s frustrations do stem from expectation. Looking at Beckett’s numbers, he just seems to be such an exasperation of this “golden” rule. With the exception of his 2007 year, he rarely delivers mediocrity–he’s either brilliant or terrible. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a great pitcher to have a season like that–but an entire career? Its just one of those things that I can’t explain…

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