Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Best case for Dodgers' Josh Beckett following major offseason surgery

Finally, we have some reports of Josh Beckett throwing off a mound, and reporting he can feel his hand.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) is no joke. Imagine you had made $100 million from age 21-33. Your job is great fun when things go well, but things get very dark when they don't. 

Lately, you've been bad at your job because of this syndrome. Your choices are to retire on your millions of dollars or to have a rib removed so you can have some small chance to keep doing your job (and go through life having sensation in your hand).

Well, Beckett was motivated to go through with it, and after much secrecy and speculation, we finally see the surgery is successful. Beckett said he's been dealing with numbness in his hand for years and while his velocity hadn't suffered, his command certainly had. 

Is this born out by evidence? And how good could we expect him to be if best case he gets his control back?

2011/2012/2013, all his pitches are about 2 MPH slower than they were in 2008/2009/2010.

Which is normal for a man his age (28-33)

In fact, his ball was moving less as it was slowing down too

Which led him to throw more 2-seamers and changeups

The dots aren't labelled by year but basically 2008-10 are in the upper left of each cluster while 2011-13 are in the bottom right.

Control is kind of hard to get at. If he knows his pitches are more hittable, he'll be nibbling more and throwing more balls. We have the number of strikes and balls, and the number of called vs. swinging/foul strikes. And we even have Pitch F/X data on how many pitches were allegedly in the strike zone. 

But of course, pitchers know each umpire's personal strike zone and pitch to it. Also, many pitches out of the zone are supposed to be there. There's very recent research on how close the pitch came to where the catcher's glove set up, but that's not in a usable state yet or with the depth of history you'd like for a question like this. So we'll just fall back on one very clear metric, his walk rate clearly rose over these years.

After some typical early-career wildness, Josh Beckett as a 27- and 28-year-old had great control. But consistent with the TOS, he started giving that back.

So if we can kind of project straight from 30-year-old Josh Beckett to 34-year-old Beckett and say he'll get his control back, and still have the velocity loss you'd expect, we can form a kind of best-case picture of his recovery.

If he is really recovered, I see him:

Facing 700 batters.
7 percent of those he'll walk (49), and 20 percent he'll strike out (136).
Of the 515 that hit the ball, 20 will be HR.
Of the 495 that are not HR, 29 percent will be hits (163)
Add in about his typical 11 double plays and six HBP and we get 166 innings pitched.

We can then use the nice simple FIP framework that just takes BB, K, HR and IP, and see that this is something like a 3.84 ERA with Dodger Stadium as the home park.

Counting in the unearned runs/game the Dodgers probably give up (.35), and thinking about the Dodgers offense as a 4.5 runs/game juggernaut, and for one reason or another he stays in the rotation most of the year, I'm going to give my best case Josh Beckett expectation as
166 IP of 3.84 ERA, 11-10 W-L record.

Photo credit: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons

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