O Beckham Where Art Thou?


Gordon Beckhamwas a stud in college, obliterated the minors, and brought hope to the White Sox with his robust .270/.347/.460 line that he posted as a 23-year old in the majors in 2009. I absolutely bought on Beckham, as his quick, short swing and power to opposite field made him look like a borderline All Star caliber player.

I’m sure White Sox fans are largely aware of what has happened since. Gordon Beckham is a plus defensive second baseman but his offense has cratered, and since his promising rookie year he has posted a .237/.299/.355 triple-slash. It’s tempting to say, “Well, he’s young, he could still bounce back to where he was.” The problem is, the sample of Beckham being an awful hitter has grown to almost 1,500PAs, and his OBP has gotten worse every single year. At a certain point you have to change where you think his True Talent level lies.

So what happened? Why did Gordon Beckham turn into some weird version of Clint Barmes? As I noted a while back, he is seeing an above-average amount of pitches in his at bats. Looking at the pitches thrown against him, the proportion of pitch-types Beckham has faced has remained pretty steady since he reached the majors.

While the complexion of what has been thrown against him hasn’t changed, Beckham has gotten worse and worse at hitting both fastballs and sliders every single year, while holding value against curveballs and cutters.

(Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs)

I know that there are a lot of variables that can influence these statistics, and that how you handle one pitch affects the others. These numbers, however, suggest a slowing bat, and visually Beckham’s swing just does not look as quick as it once did. But as is so often the case, perhaps it’s not what the pitch is, but where it is thrown that counts.

The caveat on this image is that it’s only for this season, and that it’s only batting average. But from the information we have here, the thing that stands out is his inability to hit balls down in the zone – which is odd, as you’d think if he can’t catch up to fastballs that pitchers would be abusing him up in the zone.

(Image courtesty of FoxSports)

Further, Beckham’s spray chart is showing that most of his hits and outs are coming on the pull side of the field. What’s troubling is not just how infrequently Beckham is going to opposite field, but with how little authority – it looks like most of them are weak fly balls instead of drives. In contrast, check out this spray chart from his rookie season courtesy of BeerLeaguer.com:

The last culprit we can check out is his discipline. In 2009, Beckham only swung at 24.7% of pitches out of the zone. Since then, he has floated around between 32-37%. Worse, in a weird way, is that he has raised his contact with pitches out of the zone every single year of his career, up to 72.6% from a 2009 level of 59.3%. The result is lots balls put into play weakly as he is getting pieces of the pitches that pitchers want him to swing at.

In short, Beckham has changed for the worse in pretty much every aspect of hitting, and there aren’t really any indices that it’s changing. The only real place for hope is that perhaps Manto can figure out some way to clean up his mechanics, shorten his swing, and fix the approach. I’m not going to hold my breath.