There's something of a meme out there in Red Sox Nation about Josh Beckett, and how he's only productive in odd years. The even years have been killers, the meme's proponents claim. He was bad in 2006, and bad again in 2010 -- this is cold, hard science we're dealing with here. Those years end in numbers that are multiples of two! Clearly, the Mayans were warning us about Josh Beckett's 2012 season, a campaign so foul and so evil that mass panic and riots will form from its ashes, culminating in the world's demise by December.
There are non-cataclysmic reasons for his even-year blues, and we'll cloak ourselves in those as we head into the 2012 season.* In a year in which the Red Sox are already leaning on the Rotationettes to hold down two of the five spots, Beckett will need to pitch like it's 2013 if the Sox are to have any hope of fielding a great rotation.
*Hey, just because I don't believe it's a thing doesn't mean the paranoid part of me doesn't want to be reassured. And I tease because I care.
Josh Beckett came to the Red Sox in a trade for the 2006 season. He was supposed to help anchor a rotation that had just gone a year without Pedro Martinez in it, but instead, Beckett dealt with something that had often been an issue for him in Florida: he developed a blister, and it kept him from pitching successfully.
Beckett's blister kept him from utilizing his full arsenal of pitches all of the time. Team sources at the time intimated that Beckett wasn't throwing his curveball in his bullpen sessions, so as to preserve his blistered finger for as many innings as he could. This kept the pitch from being as sharp as an out pitch needed to be, and put extra pressure on his fastball. That heater, by the way, was worth just -1.1 runs in 2006 according to Fangraphs, when it's been worth an average of eight runs per season otherwise. When opponents know what are coming, things like 1.6 homers per nine allowed happen.
In 2007, blisters were a temporary (and early) issue. Beckett's command was back (4.9 K/BB), he posted a 3.27 ERA, and his homer rates halved. In 2008, he was just as good, but his ERA was higher by three-fourths of a run. Other than that, though:
He had a higher strikeout rate, the same walk rate, and missed 14 games with a nerve injury in his elbow. His ERA was 4.03, but his FIP, a peripheral-based run estimator, had him at 3.24 to follow-up 2007's 3.08. The difference was minimal -- if anything, Beckett was worse in 2009 (an odd year!) when he lost some strikeouts, added some walks and homers, but finished with a better ERA. Stranger still is that the Red Sox had one of the league's worst defenses in 2009, yet Beckett was able to outproduce his expected ERA anyway. (And this is one reason out of many why it's difficult to trust single-season ERA.)
The 2010 season was Beckett's only other legitimately poor campaign in Boston, and at this point you get the sense it's a coincidence, and not a calendar conspiracy, that made it this way. It wasn't blisters that got him this time, though: Beckett's back, a sore spot for him back at the start of the 2008 season, caused problems for him all season. Between the back injury that sapped his command and put him on the 60-day DL and a defense that, due to injury, decreased in effectiveness as the year dragged on, it's not surprising that he posted his only other ERA over five in his career.
Healthy again in 2011, Beckett had a campaign similar to his 2009 season. His 2.89 ERA overstates his effectiveness, but if the worst thing that happens to Beckett in 2012 is that he regresses towards a 3.50 or 3.60 ERA, then the Red Sox will get plenty of production from their #2 starter. Health isn't a guarantee for Beckett -- back injuries are fickle like that -- but unless there's someone out there sabotaging the righty, then the safe assumption is that Beckett will be fine, regardless of the year.