Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Josh Beckett and the Personal Catcher

Type "Josh Beckett Complains" into Google, and you're treated to 1,510,000 results. Hit Google image search, and you can bear witness to this dreamy image:

Clearly, this really isn't a fair assessment of anything, as you can probably get a 500,000-plus Google hits on anything from "Abe Lincoln fights a grizzly" to "Donald Duck is a facist pig." Doesn't make it true. But what it does illustrate is that Josh Beckett has gained a reputation as a bit of a complainer.

Tony Massarotti and Mike Felger of afternoon drive fame on 98.5 the Sports Hub here in Boston have dubbed him the "Texas Tough Guy," a nickname I whole heartedly endorse--if only because it makes me chuckle every time it comes up. His distinction as a big game pitcher gained in the '03 and '07 World Series has suffered greatly here in recent years, a change which can probably be pinpointed somewhere around the '08 ALCS implosion vs. Tampa Bay.

It's true that Beckett hasn't exactly lived up to the billing of a number-one starter since the sweep in Colorado, aside from flashes here and there. Accusations of complacency late in the season abound, with the pitching staff and Beckett in particular taking the brunt of that ire. Fine.

But what is forgotten in all of this is that Josh Beckett had a more-than-decent season in 2011, posting a 2.93 ERA and nearly hitting the 200 inning mark. He was better than many thought, while no longer bearing the expectations of staff ace (outside of his own mind anyway). But he did so with Jason Varitek calling the shots behind the plate.

Beckett pitched exactly zero games without the former captain as his backstop last season, and it remains to be seen how this will affect him in 2012. I was all set to put together a nice chart comparing Beckett's numbers with Varitek catching and without--because, you know, stats prove a point a hell of a lot better than humor does--but there's nothing to report. JV was his one and only.

How weird will it be for the Texas Tough Guy this year? Will he feel unfaithful and a little unclean with Saltalamacchia back there? Who knows what goes on in the mind of a baseball player. My guess is that it will probably affect him a whole lot less than he thinks.

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