For the first three months of the season, Gordon Beckham was the worst second baseman in baseball.
Going into a game June 25 against the Braves, Beckham’s -0.7 WAR was dead last among everyday second basemen. The only everyday position player with a lower WAR was Pedro Feliz, and Pedro Feliz isn’t good at baseball.
Beckham was bad and the White Sox were back in contention. It seemed like the perfect storm for Beckham to be shipped off to Triple-A Charlotte to clear his head and start getting some positive results, even if it meant washing out his entire 2010 season.
It was a good thing the White Sox didn’t send Beckham down, though. From June 25 through the end of September, Beckham posted an .885 OPS. When you consider that Beckham’s OPS was .521 on June 25, that’s a pretty significant, positive regression to the mean.
But he still finished the year with an OPS of .695. The question now is this: Which version of Beckham will the White Sox get in 2011? The one who had an .808 OPS as a rookie in 2009, or the one who had a .695 OPS as a sophomore in 2010?
So many things that I wanna say, but first, stats:
- fWAR: 0.9
- FanGraphs page
- bWAR: 0.8
- Baseball-Reference page
Come around and talk it over
From watching Beckham in the season’s first three months, it’s obvious his .250 BABIP wasn’t due to bad luck. Obviously, some luck played a part in that stat, but to emphasize luck would be to marginalize Beckham’s very obvious problems.
One of my favorite memories of 2009 was Beckham’s ability to drive the ball to right field. I love watching players hit the other way, and Beckham did so with some nice success in ’09. But in the first half of 2010, that success dissolved into a bunch of weak fly balls and groundouts to right.
Furthermore, Beckham wasn’t able to drive the ball to left, either. When I looked at Beckham midway through his slump in mid-May, he had just a .375 slugging percentage on balls to his pull field—down over 700 points from his 2009 rate.
What we saw from Beckham early on was a lot of weakly-hit balls. Soft fly balls and soft ground balls don’t go for hits very often, and that’s why his .250 BABIP never struck me as unlucky.
But behind those weakly-hit balls was a problem with Beckham’s swing. Instead of the short, quick stroke Beckham displayed in 2009, he featured a long, loopy stroke that led to worse timing and worse contact.
Alex Eisenberg looked at Beckham’s swing at The Hardball Times during the season and provided concrete evidence of Beckham’s out-of-whack swing:
“You see a deeper load with a longer swing and more complicated movements. The timing doesn’t seem to all be there. Instead of a quick-trigger hitch, which he had in 2009, he now has a long, deep load that in theory might be better for his power production, but in actuality seems to have impeded his overall timing and made his swing longer as well.
He used to just uncoil on the ball with a whip-like swing helped in part by that quick-trigger hitch.”
Read through all of Eisenberg’s analysis, because it’s all spot-on correct. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s frustrating that it took three months before Beckham finally went back to a version of his 2009 swing, which led to great results in July and August.
It’s unfair to place the blame squarely on Greg Walker, but comments like this are mildly infuriating given Eisenberg’s analysis:
”His swing is pretty simple. It’s a mind thing. He’s put himself in a position where he’s worrying about what he’s doing wrong instead of concentrating on what he does right.”
Look, Walker can only do so much. He’s not up there hitting for Beckham. And I understand not wanting to cloud a young player’s head with too many suggestions.
But if someone who isn’t paid to be a hitting coach notices the differences between Beckham’s unsuccessful 2010 swing and his successful 2009 swing while someone who is paid to be a hitting coach chalks up Beckham’s struggles to “a mind thing,” that’s bound to raise some eyebrows.
Telling Beckham to be quicker at the plate with quieter hands seems simple in theory, but as someone who isn’t a hitting coach, I’m not in any position to speculate on the ease of working in that change. But when you’re statistically one of the worst players in baseball after three months, shouldn’t someone, anyone, be willing to try something different?
Or, in this case, try to get a player back to previous success from which he’s 11 months removed?
Luckily, Beckham did get his groove back. A combination of a return to his 2009 short, quick swing—which Eisenberg points out he noticed—and a high BABIP brought Beckham’s season back from the abyss in July and August. Beckham hit seven home runs with a .941 OPS in 182 plate appearances from July 2 through Aug. 30, bringing his OPS above .700 at the back end of that run for the first time since April 17.
While a hand injury robbed him of a productive September, July and August were reminders of just how good Beckham could be, even if his BABIP was unsustainable during that time. With a normal BABIP, Beckham still would’ve put up good numbers in those two months, especially for a second baseman.
Something in my mind’s not making sense
Compared to his rookie season of 2009, Beckham swung at about three percent more pitches in 2010. But the real problem came with Beckham swinging at a significantly percentage of pitches out of the strike zone.
In 2009, Beckham swung at 24.7 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. In 2010, that percentage shot up to 32.1 percent.
NOTE: BIS must have changed its strike zone classifications in the last year, because the average percentage of pitches swung at out of the strike zone jumped from 25.1 percent in 2009 to 29.3 percent in 2010.
Regardless of that BIS classification difference, Beckham still swung at a higher-than-average percentage of pitches out of the strike zone after falling around the average in 2009.
Swinging at pitches out of the strike zone usually leads to three results: weaker contact, more strikeouts, and fewer walks. Not surprisingly, we saw all three of those from Beckham in 2010.
While Beckham’s line drive rate went up (16.6 to 17.4 percent), he hit far more ground balls (40.4 to 45.6 percent) from 2009 to 2010. He also hit fewer fly balls (43 to 37 percent) while his home run/fly ball rate declined as well (10.4 to 6.9 percent).
His strikeout rate jumped from 17.2 percent in 2009 to 20.7 percent in 2010 and his walk rate declined from 9.5 percent to 7.4 percent. But a closer look reveals some interesting monthly splits on those two categories.
Beckham had his highest monthly walk rate his what was statistically his worst month. In May, his walk rate was 10.8 percent (his September/October walk rate was 11.1 percent, but Beckham only had 32 at-bats in those months) while his wOBA fell to .207. It also should be noted that Beckham’s strikeout rate was 23.2 percent in May.
After May, Beckham seemed determined to hit his way out of his slump. His walk rate plummeted to 2.2 percent in June, and while his strikeout rate dropped to 19.8 percent, he didn’t see much in the way of results (.266 wOBA).
He struck with that strategy into July, posting a walk rate of 3.5 percent and a strikeout percentage of 17.1 percent. But the results were better thanks to a .400 BABIP—and, don’t forget, it was around late June that Beckham started to move back to his shorter, quicker stroke—and Beckham had a .410 wOBA for the month.
August saw Beckham’s patience and strikeouts return. His walk rate jumped to 10.3 percent while his strikeout percentage hit a monthly high of 23.5 percent—but, unlike May, Beckham had good results (.388 wOBA and his highest monthly ISO).
These monthly splits can be dangerous given their small sample sizes, but
I just wanna use your glove tonight
Beckham looks firmly entrenched as the second baseman of the future for the White Sox, and his first season went about as expected defensively. That is to say, it was very average.
I think I would’ve dismissed any UZR or DRS numbers that represented Beckham as either great or terrible defensively from what I saw of Beckham and the small sample size. But that UZR rated him at -0.8 and DRS at -3 sounds about right.
Beckham had no problems turning the pivot on double plays. That was his defensive strength. His range left something to be desired, but it’s not something I’m concerned about long-term.
As a natural shortstop, Beckham can be expected to be a plus defensive second baseman. But a transition period needs to be accounted for, especially because Beckham played third base for the majority of his 2009 season.
For now, 2010 should be viewed as that transitional season in which Beckham got his feet wet and ultimately got more comfortable at second base. We won’t have a good idea about how fielding metrics rate him until at least 2012, but there was nothing abnormal about Beckham’s defensive valuations in his first year at second.
I can’t hide the way I’m feeling
Cautious optimism. Beckham dug himself a serious hole in the first three months of 2010 that was nearly impossible to get out of (dig up, stupid!), but July and August—BABIP aided or not—were a nice reminder of what kind of player Beckham can be.
2010 wasn’t a complete loss of a season. There were bright spots, and for the 24-year-old Beckham, fighting through his struggles to emerge with a few good months could be a good lesson for how to avoid elongating future slumps.
As long as Beckham doesn’t change his swing and is a *little* more patient at the plate, he’ll be fine in 2011. He’s lost his title as “savior,” but hopefully, he’ll earn a title of “above-average second baseman.”
And also, changing at-bat music didn’t work to get Beckham out of his slump. He’s hoping he goes back to “Your Love” full-time in 2011 instead of “Seek and Destroy,” otherwise known as “generic hard rock walk-up song.”
Links, and a note:
- Jim ran down the 10 best and worst Sox games of the year.
- James at White Sox Observer is on a roll with his player wrap-ups: Sergio Santos, JJ Putz & Gregory Infante, Scott Linebrink & Carlos Torres, Tony Pena, and Randy Williams & Erick Threets.
- Larry’s top 11 White Sox prospects is thinner than the No. 1 guy on the list.
- If you noticed, I went from six reviews one week to none the next. Me getting these things done is going to be dependent on how much work I have to do for my Mizzou sports reporting with KBIA Sports Extra. Given that the football team is in the top 20 and the basketball team is in everyone’s preseason top 20, it’s going to be a busy couple of months down here. With that in mind, I’m going to start going out of order to get player reviews done of guys I really want to look at, so you’ll see me skip over some guys that I hopefully will have time to go back to after the World Series. But my goal is to finish all the important player reviews by the end of the World Series, so stay tuned for those.