October 24, 2007

Beating Beckett

As the NLCS was getting underway, I wrote that should the Colorado Rockies beat Brandon Webb in Game 1, that then the Arizona Diamondbacks would be "in serious trouble for the rest of the series." It wasn't prophetic, it was simply a recognition that Arizona lacked the qualities of a team capable of scrambling back from a deficit. Impatience at the plate isn't the best of traits to begin with, but when combined with pressing to make up ground in a short series against a pitch-to-contact staff, it could be disastrous. As the sweep slipped closer to completion, the Diamondbacks' sense of urgency at the plate became more palpable. This was particularly true whenever they would get runners aboard, as they wound up with just four hits in 36 at bats with runners in scoring position. Swing for the fences, come up with a grounder to short.

Boston's an entirely different beast, patient and disciplined. They are capable of beating any of Colorado's starters regardless of circumstance, and probably should be expected to most of the time. If the Rockies want to win the World Series, they will need to beat Josh Beckett at least once. I have a hard time seeing how they can win four of the other five against this lineup. So, that said, how does a team go about beating this demi god Josh Beckett?

Well first, it's clear that you don't beat him with the free pass. If you are going to beat Beckett, you have to do it with solid contact. In his seven losses this season, he gave up six walks compared to 63 hits, including eight home runs.

While that doesn't mean you should go to the plate hacking every time -- good pitch recognition is essential - it should be noted that the first pitch of a plate appearance with Beckett was the second most productive for opposing batters via contact this season behind only the 2 1 count. By strict on-base plus slugging, .992 on a 3 1 count ranks between the two (.947 at 0 0, 1.289 at 2 1), but relative to the rest of MLB, Beckett's ability to limit damage in this count to essentially walks only is part of what makes him so special. I really can't count it as a weakness.

Ah. That gargantuan OPS at 2 1 probably jumps out at you. If you should be so lucky to get into this count with Beckett, consider yourself truly blessed. Twenty-six batters were able to put the ball in play against him this year in this situation and 12 of them got hits, including five for extra bases. Honestly, that's too small a sample to derive too much meaning from, albeit too much success to completely ignore.

For the Rockies in particular, though, the first-pitch success against Beckett might be more meaningful and could help explain how they beat him in their head-to-head face off this season. Matt Holliday put up an outrageous .470/.479/.974 line this season on 0 0 counts. Troy Tulowitzki wasn't half bad himself, hitting .400/.393/.691 when he put the ball in play on the first pitch. Likely DH Ryan Spilborghs went .513/.525/.821 in fewer at-bats.

At the very least, this kind of success should force Beckett to adjust his typical gameplan against a good portion of the Rockies lineup and could create more of those favorable behind-in-the-count situations for Colorado hitters. Is it enough to throw him off? That's a very sketchy proposition given how he's performed in the postseason, but two keys to look for tonight that things might be going the Rockies' way would be hard contact on first-pitch swings or early 1 0 counts.

Brandi Griffin writes about the Colorado Rockies under the name Rox Girl at Purple Row.

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