In 2007, the Red Sox had a team built around strong veterans (Manny, Ortiz, Mike Lowell), new acquisitions (Josh Beckett, Dice-K) and young building blocks (Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia). Since that World Series-winning season, Beckett has been trending downwards in a big way.
In March, I said that he was the biggest key to the Red Sox success this season. I was expecting big years from Lester and Buchholz, and not-so-great years from Lackey and Dice-K. The question mark was Beckett. Well, the two time All Star has responded in a big way. So far in the season, Beckett has posted a remarkable 1.69 ERA so far this year, but is receiving a little bad luck, only grabbing four wins thus far, although he should have a lot more. Since 2007, he has posted ERAs of 4.03, 3.86, and 5.78. So, the two questions that must be asked are: why the success, and will it continue.
Looking at some of the stats for Beckett on FanGraphs, the first one that jumped out at me was his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). So far this year, hitters are batting a ridiculous .235 on balls they are making contact on. In his time with the Red Sox, his opponent's BABIP has been around .300. In fact, it has been above .300 in every season except for 2009. This suggests that he will come back to Earth a little bit this year. However, there is another major difference being seen with Beckett this year opposed to the past three. In the last three years, around 12% of the fly balls he has let up have ended up in the seats. In 2007, that number was down to 8%. So far this year, he has only let up home runs on 4.5% of the fly balls he has allowed. That is a fantastic number, and he will continue to see some semblance of this success if he can continue to keep his pitches in the ballpark.
To state the obvious, Josh Beckett is not going to keep up his sub-2 ERA this season. That is a ridiculous number on its own, never mind the fact that he is pitching in the AL East. However, the key to his season is keeping the ball in the stadium. He has been locating his pitches a lot better this year, and that is helping him tremendously. His opponents batting average will most likely spike sooner rather than later, due to his low BABIP thus far. In the end, he should still end up with a very solid year. The top three of the rotation looks more than solid this year, and Josh Beckett is a very big part of that success.