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Despite injury-prone career, Josh Beckett left mark in major leagues

Josh Beckett, who played a major role in winning a pair of world championships early in his career and spun an unlikely no-hitter earlier this season, announced his plans to retire just after the Dodgers' elimination from the postseason on Tuesday. The 34-year-old righty didn't pitch after August 3 due to a torn labrum in his left hip, and while he will eventually undergo surgery, he has decided that he lacks the appetite for another arduous rehab.

In parts of 14 seasons, Beckett compiled a 138-106 record with a 3.88 ERA and a 111 ERA+, making three All-Star teams along the way. He sparkled in the postseason, posting a 3.07 ERA with 99 strikeouts in 93 2/3 innings, with a 1.16 ERA in three World Series starts.  

The Marlins' No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 draft out of a Houston-area high school was just 23 years old when he burst onto the national scene. With the Wild Card-winning Marlins down three games to one against the Cubs in the NLCS, he spun a two-hit 11-strikeout shutout, and while he wound up on the short end in Game 3 of the World Series despite his 10 strikeouts, he pitched a five-hit shutout on three days' rest in the series-clinching Game 6, earning him World Series MVP honors as well as the mantle of a big-game pitcher. In all, he put up a 2.11 ERA with 47 strikeouts — still tied for the second-highest total in a single postseason — in 42 2/3 innings that fall.

Complete postseason schedule, start times and TV schedule

Like so many Marlins before and since, Beckett was sent packing when he started to get expensive. After the 2005 season, he was traded to the Red Sox along with Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota in a blockbuster that sent Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and two other players to Florida. Roughed up for a 5.01 ERA in his first year with the Sox, he rebounded with his best major league season, one in which he led the AL in wins (20), Wins Above Replacement (6.5) and FIP (3.08) en route to a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting. He was even better in the playoffs, posting a 1.20 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 30 innings over four starts, including a four-hit shutout in the Division Series opener against the Angels, wins in Games 1 and 5 of the ALCS against the Indians that added an ALCS MVP award to his cabinet and seven innings of one-run ball in the World Series opener against the Rockies, setting off a four-game sweep.

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While Beckett helped the Red Sox back to the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, he was less effective in both the regular season and the postseason, though having come off his most durable stretch (2006-2009, 198 innings and 4.4 WAR per year), he looked as though he would stick around long enough to give 200 wins a run. In early 2010, he signed a four-year, $68 million extension with the Red Sox, but he was particularly terrible that year (5.78 ERA) while battling injuries, more on which below. He bounced back yet again in 2011 (2.89 ERA, 149 ERA+), but his struggles down the stretch — a 5.40 ERA in his final five starts, with a turn skipped for an ankle sprain — loomed large as the Sox lost out on a playoff spot on the final day of the season. They loomed even larger when he, John Lackey and Jon Lester were implicated in the surreal fried chicken and beer scandal which was said to exemplify the Sox pitchers’ selfishness and poor work ethic. I'll let Boston Globe's Bob Hohler explain:

…Boston’s three elite starters went soft, their pitching as anemic as their work ethic. The indifference of Beckett, Lester and Lackey in a time of crisis can be seen in what team sources say became their habit of drinking beer, eating fast-food fried chicken and playing video games in the clubhouse during games while their teammates tried to salvage a once-promising season.

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The story of Boston’s lost September unfolds in part as an indictment of the three prized starters. But the epic flop of 2011 had many faces: a lame-duck manager, coping with personal issues, whose team partly tuned him out; stars who failed to lead; players who turned lackluster and self-interested; a general manager responsible for fruitless roster decisions; owners who approved unrewarding free agent spending and missed some warning signs that their $161 million club was deteriorating.

Beckett struggled the following season as the Red Sox sank into the AL East basement, but he was granted a reprieve when he was part of the late August blockbuster that sent him, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for a five-player package. While his results improved in seven post-trade starts, he was limited to eight turns in 2013 due to thoracic outlet syndrome, for which he underwent surgery in July.

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Against all odds, the 34-year-old Beckett returned and pitched well for the Dodgers early in this season, posting a 2.88 ERA despite a 4.33 FIP keyed by high home run and walk rates. He didn't yield a single run in seven of those turns, including his May 25 no-hitter against the Phillies, the first of his career and the first of five thrown this season. Though he carried a 2.26 ERA into early July, he went on the disabled list just before the All-Star break due to hip impingement caused by his torn labrum, and was predictably ineffective in three starts afterwards before returning to the DL.

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Alas, Beckett became all too acquainted with being sidelined. In his 14 seasons, he reached the 30-start plateau just four times and the 200-inning plateau three times. Only seven times did he even qualify for the league ERA title (162 innings), and only four times did he complete a full season without a stint on the DL. Via the Baseball Prospectus injury database, here’s the litany of his injuries


DL Days







blisters (3x)



elbow strain



blisters (2x), lower back strain



blisters, oblique









lower back strain, ulnar neuritis






lower back strain






shoulder inflammation



thoracic outlet syndrome



right thumb sprain, torn hip labrum




In early 2012, I noted that owing to those injuries, Beckett had pieced together a very curious pattern of odd-year success and even-year struggle — a pattern that mirrored two-time Cy Young winner and DL days champion Bret Saberhagen — and while it didn't entirely hold up over his final three seasons, the performance gap is striking:




























For his career, Beckett was more than twice as valuable in those odd-numbered years, with an ERA nearly a run lower; three of his four injury-free seasons landed in those years. Basically, the grind of pitching was just too much for his body to stay in working order for two years in a row, and sometimes even for a full season at a time. While his injuries prevented him from reaching the stratosphere of his idols, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens, he nonetheless left quite a mark on the major league scene.