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Closing Time: The myth of Josh Beckett

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Josh Beckett, tremendous slouch (Getty Images)

Most of you know I grew up in New England, and I'm going to be a Boston Red Sox fan all my life. All I want from every Red Sox season is to be entertained; give me a team that's really good or mockably bad and generally I'm happy.

Be careful what you wish for. The 2012 Red Sox are easy on the punchline, harsh on your ERA.

The Josh Beckett golf controversy dates back to last week, but the teeing off didn't really start until Thursday night's start against Cleveland. The Indians rocked Beckett for seven hits and seven runs over 2.1 messy innings, line drives all over the yard (and two into the seats). The Fenway Park faithful showered Beckett with a deafening chorus of boos as he took the walk of shame in the top of the third.

Shortly after the game, the columnists loaded up and took dead aim. They had plenty to work with, as Beckett was his typical stubborn and unlikable self in the interview room. (If you think I'm being harsh in that assessment, wait until you read what Yahoo's Jeff Passan had to say, or the take from long-time Boston beat-writer Sean MacAdam. Grip it and rip it.)

Mixed-league fantasy owners are in on the dogpile, too. Is it time to drop Beckett, his lagging fastball and his 5.97 ERA? Almost 6,000 Yahoo! players have done just that over the last 30 hours.

I've never fully understood the fascination with Beckett in the first place; for my roto money, he's been one of the most overrated pitchers in baseball for some time. Let's consider some of Beckett's Boston numbers over the last six-plus years:

-- Beckett has a 4.10 ERA and 1.217 WHP since joining the Red Sox in 2006. Those aren't horrendous numbers, but they doesn't match up to the ace reputation Beckett generally holds. If you carried those ratios into the Yahoo Friends & Family League (a mixer with 13 owners), you'd be second-to-last in ERA and middle of the pack in WHIP. You'd need a lot of help elsewhere.

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A day at the Fens (US Presswire)

-- The righty has a career 4.33 ERA and 1.21 WHIP at Fenway Park. It's hard to trust him at home. He's getting no kickback from the Dirty Water.

-- Run for cover when Beckett faces the Yankees (5.36/1.43) or Blue Jays (6.30/1.46), teams that are unfortunately in his division. They've owned him during the Boston days. Beckett does have an excellent career mark against Tampa Bay (2.84/.0.99), and his Baltimore numbers (4.25/1.21) are similar to his overall career in the American League.

Sharp fantasy players who use advanced stats will have little trouble defending Beckett, should they want to. While Beckett's fielding-independent ERA for this season is similar to his current number, the ERA trims to 4.33 if you use the xFIP metric (a stat that largely forgives the sins of the gopher ball). In the eyes of many (if not most), Beckett's HR/FB rate of 18.4 is an outlier, bad luck, something destined to normalize.

I'll accept that line of reasoning — to a point. Beckett's career HR/FB is 11.0, so that's a more realistic number to expect from him. But we also have to consider that it's common for Beckett to underperform his peripherally-suggested ERA.

Beckett's xFIP was significantly below his standard ERA in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010. In 2007, the numbers were almost dead even. Beckett finally had a "lucky" year in 2011, logging a 2.89 ERA as opposed to his 3.58 xFIP. At some point the bad luck theme doesn't work for me; at some point a while ago I accepted that underperforming the xFIP metric is something to expect from Beckett, at least while he's at his current address.

I understand that Beckett is toiling in the most difficult pitching environment in baseball, which means he's probably better in real life than the standard stats would suggest. He works in the big-boy division, the Offensive Disneyland of the majors. Four of the five parks in the AL East are chummy for scoring and/or home runs, and Boston faces a formidable opponent every night in the AL East (well, if you believe in the Orioles; otherwise, it's three strong opponents and one pesky one). There's no Petco Park to bail Beckett out; the Pirates aren't walking through that door; pitchers don't hit in the AL, and no one really bunts early in a game (other than you, Ron Washington). American League baseball is about tapping the keg, swinging from the heels, playing for the big inning.

But we don't live in the real world here; we're chasing stats in the fantasy world. And as I've said many times in this column, why walk uphill if you don't have to? The beauty of a mixed league is that you can load up on NL pitchers or matchup streams for the majority of your starts, should you prefer to go that way. Pick on the Twins, lean on the A's, go surfing in some of those roomy National League parks. Good work if you can get it.

Beckett is still owned in 87 percent of Yahoo! leagues, a number I consider a little silly. In AL-only formats, sure, you have to keep him. Maybe you have to do the same in a deep mixed league. But I'd be looking to deal Beckett in those pools (maybe wait for one good start first), and if you're playing in a shallow or medium-sized mixer, it's time to write out the pink-slip. One way ticket: Dump City. It's not that hard to find reliable pitching in 2012. It's time to play through, gamer.

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Diggity (USP)

• I've been promoting Andy Dirks all week (in this space, or in a handful of Twitter hits, here and here and here), so most of the next section will be a review. Basically it's time to sound the "last call" on Dirks, your final chance to get him in some more-competitive mixers. His ownership tag has swelled from two percent to 11 percent over the past few days.

Dirks was kind enough to have his biggest game of the season late on Thursday, a 4-for-4 barrage at Oakland (roll the tape). He collected three singles, a homer and a walk, scored a couple of runs; he's now rocking a .383/.413/.683 line for the season. The sweet-swinging lefty is 10-for-17 since Jim Leyland moved Dirks into the No. 2 spot, and obviously that's a sweet spot (Austin Jackson in front of you, and more importantly, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder behind you). And the fun really hasn't started yet with the Tigers offense; Detroit is currently 12th in the majors in runs scored, but I'll bet my Sparky Anderson bobblehead on the club finishing much higher when the year is complete.

In the interest of balance, there is some red ink here. Dirks has been dealing with a tender hamstring this week, and occasionally he'll sit against a tough lefty. He had a pedestrian 2011 debut in Detroit, and his minor-league resume was ordinary, nothing great. You've never seen the 26-year-old outfielder on any buzzy prospect lists, and his low walk rate can't be completely ignored. Nonetheless, it's time to accept that Dirks could have the breakthrough season a lot of us were expecting from Brennan Boesch, especially when you consider the cushy setup.

Bottom line, there's plausible upside here, and that's all smart owners need to see before making a mixed-league move. If you wait around for proof in a competitive mixer, you're dead money waiting to get slaughtered. Kick the tires and see where this story takes you, boogie down with some Motown Nights. I'd be willing to drop Cody Ross (50 percent owned), J.D. Martinez (38 percent), Peter Bourjos (32 percent, though I'd like him if he goes to Washington), Mitch Moreland (22 percent) or even Ty Wigginton (17 percent) for Dirks right now. Who's with me?

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The Way We Were

Snippets: The Blue Jays signed Vladimir Guerrero to a minor-league contract; eventually, this might cost Adam Lind some playing time (Guerrero could DH with Edwin Encarnacion shifting to the field). Lind can't hit lefties anyway, so some sort of time share might make sense. Guerrero will have to hack his way onto my mixed-league rosters; I'm not bothering with him right now. … Add Chris Sale's agent to the list of people absolutely befuddled by Chicago's handling of the young ace. The agent obviously has an obvious agenda, sure, but I can't disagree with his conclusions. Sale was scheduled for an MRI on his elbow but the team hasn't released anything publicly yet. And given the controlled nature of the Robin Ventura era, I'm not holding my breath for any helpful information. … Henderson Alvarez doesn't miss a lot of bats, but he had little trouble in Minnesota (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K), cruising to an easy victory. You can kick back all you want, Twins Sympathizers, but your club is the lowest-scoring outfit in the American League. We're going to pick on you when we can. I like Rick Porcello (honest) against them next week. … David Robertson needed a day off Thursday so Rafael Soriano picked up the rogue save against Tampa Bay. Soriano allowed one cheap run (single, steal, ground out, ground out), little consequence in New York's 5-3 victory. As dominant as Robertson can be when he's on his game, he'll need to keep his control in check if he wants to keep the ninth inning. Soriano remains an intriguing hedge play. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano (three hits) sparked the victory with homers off David Price; I'm pretty sure Cano's blast hasn't landed yet. … I should have known something was up when the unsolicited Brett Gardner trade offers started rolling in. Sure enough, Gardner's hit a setback in his elbow rehab, pushing him back multiple weeks. Joe Girardi says Gardner won't pick up a bat for the next 10 days. Memo to roto opponents: I have the Internet, too.

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