has been in vintage form recently thanks in part to his pitch selection. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
In 2012, the last full season Josh Beckett played in the majors, trouble always seemed to find him. Or, more accurately, he always got himself into trouble. Beckett posted a 1.33 WHIP in 170 1/3 innings that year, despite a .294 BABIP and a walk rate that was in line with his career numbers. This season, he has stayed out of trouble, evidenced by a 1.11 WHIP entering Tuesday's start against the Reds. That has led to fewer stressful innings, which has, in part, contributed to his success. Beckett's ability to avoid damaging frames was again on display against Cincinnati on Tuesday, as he tossed six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out seven to help carry the Dodgers to a 6-1 win.
Beckett retired the first eight batters he faced, and allowed just one runner to reach scoring position. It was his third straight outing allowing two runs or less since no-hitting the Phillies back on May 25. He made the stress-free inning his signature again, as he did not have a single frame with more than one man on base. Beckett also got the first two batters out in each of his six innings. He threw just 90 pitches, but with the Dodgers leading 6-0 after the sixth, manager Don Mattingly chose to go to the bullpen.
It wasn't exactly easy to see this resurgent year coming for Beckett in his age-34 season. Injuries limited him to just 43 1/3 innings last year, and his average fastball velocity had dipped from 93 mph in 2011 to 91.6 mph in 2013. Beckett has thrown fewer fastballs than ever this season, trading in heaters for more curves, and the change is paying huge dividends. According to Fangraphs, Beckett saves 1.8 runs per 100 curveballs thrown, making it the 12th-most valuable deuce in the game. Given how frequently he throws the pitch, he likely gets more mileage out of it than some of the pitchers who rank ahead of him in terms of runs saved as well.
Hitters are swinging at and missing Beckett's curve 10.3 percent of the time, but it's what they're doing with it when they put it in play that's the real source of the pitch's dominance. Beckett's ground-ball rate on curveballs is a whopping 58.8 percent according to Brooks Baseball. That stat has driven his overall 45.5-percent ground-ball rate, which would be his highest since 2010 and fourth-best in his 12-year career.
The Dodgers always planned to lean on Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke as a 1-2 punch atop what they hoped would be one of the best rotations in baseball. While Greinke has been the star of the bunch and Kershaw has mostly been his usual self since returning from the DL, the efforts of the back end of the group cannot be ignored. Beckett now sports a tidy 2.35 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 72 2/3 innings this year. Dan Haren, whose production has slowed in the last month, still boasts a 3.49 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and, most importantly for a team that has dealt with injuries to both Kershaw and Hyun-jin Ryu, has been healthy since the first day of the season. Beckett has, too, and that's quite the accomplishment for a pitcher who has made it to 30 starts just twice since 2007.
Kershaw and Greinke undoubtedly give the Dodgers' rotation its true firepower, but those two may not have that great an advantage over their counterparts in the San Francisco rotation, Madison Bumgarner
and Tim Hudson
. The Dodgers have a long way to go to catch the Giants
, and they'll likely need to keep getting more out of Beckett and Haren than their rivals do out of Tim Lincecum
and Ryan Vogelsong
if they are to repeat as NL West champions.