As you know, Josh Beckett of the Los Angeles Dodgers threw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday. For some reason, we've never done a Prospect Retrospective for Beckett, so this seems like a good time to examine what Beckett was like as a prospect and how his career has panned out.
Considered one of the best high school pitchers of his generation, Josh Beckett was the second-overall choice in the 1999 draft, selected by the Florida Marlins out of Spring, Texas. He was clocked as high as 99 MPH and showed a good breaking ball to go with all the heat, along with an ideally-athletic 6-4, 190 pound frame, drawing comparisons to other famous Texas products like Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens. He signed too late to pitch in 1999 and the Marlins had to give him a big league contract even to get that done.
2000 brought mixed results. On the field he was excellent, posting a 2.12 ERA with a 61/15 K/BB in 59 innings for Kane County in the Low-A Midwest League, allowing 45 hits. He didn't throw quite as hard in pro ball as he did in high school, working at 93-96 instead of the upper-90s, but the curveball was terrific and his command was better than expected. The negative was health: a sore elbow and a tender shoulder limited him to just 12 starts. I gave him a Grade A entering 2001 and had him ranked as the top pitching prospect in baseball, though with the warning that "even the best pitching prospect in baseball carries with him a significant risk of injury."
Beckett took off in 2001. He began with a 1.23 ERA and a 101/15 K/BB in just 66 innings for High-A Brevard County in the Florida State League, followed by a 1.82 ERA with a 102/19 K/BB in 74 innings for Double-A Portland in the Eastern League. That's a 203/34 K/BB ratio. Promoted to the majors, he made four starts and remained strong with a 1.50 ERA and a 24/11 K/BB in 24 innings, allowing only 14 hits.
He still had the mid-90s heat and the excellent curve, but he added a changeup, polished his command, and most importantly he stayed healthy. He was still the best pitching prospect in baseball entering 2002 and looked for all the world like a future superstar.
Beckett made 21 starts for the Marlins in 2002 and was decent enough, with a 1.7 fWAR and a 4.10 ERA, 98 ERA+, and a 113/44 K/BB in 108 innings. This was perhaps a little disappointing given all the hype but very credible for a 22-year-old. He cut a full run off his ERA in '03 (3.04 ERA in 142 innings, 138 ERA+, 3.8 WAR) and was MVP of the World Series. At this point the main worry was durability. He was solid again in '04 and '05 then was traded to the Boston Red Sox as part of a salary dump.
You know how his career in Boston went. He had problems in '06 but in '07 he lived up to his potential with a 20-7 season, a 3.27 ERA, 145 ERA+, and a career-best 6.5 WAR. He was less effective but still solid in '08 and '09, was terrible in '10, rebounded with a very good year in '11 (career-best 149 ERA+), but slumped again in '12 and was finally shipped off to the Dodgers, where he is trying to rebuild his career after surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Overall, Beckett has a career record of 135-101, with a 3.90 ERA in 1991 innings, ERA+ 111, an 1846/610 K/BB ratio, and a career WAR of 39.1. Although truly outstanding at times, he was held back by nagging injuries and reached 200 innings "just" three times in a 13-year career, not fitting the stereotype of a true number one starter.
In historical terms, Beckett's Bill James comp list through age 33 is John Lackey, Jason Schmidt, Freddy Garcia, Kevin Millwood, Matt Morris, Jack McDowell, Bruce Hurst, Bartolo Colon, and Jake Peavy. If his career ended today with 1991 innings pitched, Beckett's 39.1 WAR would rank him near Mike Garcia (40.4 in 2175), Noodles Hahn (39.7 in 2029), Dan Haren (39.6 in 2109), Lackey (39.2 in 2131), Dizzy Dean (38.2 in 1967) and Don Newcombe (37.5 in 2155) Schmidt (37.5 in 1996), Dean Chance (37.0 in 2147) and Jim Maloney (37 in 1849).
There are no weak reeds there. Beckett didn't turn into Nolan Ryan but he's had a fine career.
For the sake of comparison, the other pitchers drafted in the first round in 1999 were Texas prep Josh Girdley (6th, Expos), North Carolina's Kyle Snyder (7th, Royals), Florida prep Bobby Bradley (8th, Pirates), some guy named Barry Zito from USC (9th, Athletics), Ben Sheets (Northeast Louisiana, 10th, Brewers), Brett Myers (Florida high school, 12th, Phillies), Mike Paradis (Clemson, 13th, Orioles), Ty Howington (Washington high school, 14th, Reds), Jason Stumm (Washington high school, 15th, White Sox), Jason Jennings (Baylor, 16th, Rockies), Richard Stahl (Georgia high school, 18th, Orioles), Matt Ginter (Mississippi State, 22nd, White Sox), Kurt Ainsworth (LSU, 24th, Giants), Mike MacDougal (Wake Forest, 25th, Royals), Ben Christensen (Wichita State, 26th, Cubs), David Walling (Arkansas, 27th, Yankees), Gerik Baxter (Washington high school, 28th, Padres), Omar Ortiz (Texas-Pan American, 29th, Padres), and finally Chance Caple (Texas A&M, 30th, Cardinals).
Zito (30.8 WAR) and Sheets (30.7) are the only ones who came close to Beckett's value.