There were signs of life from Gordon Beckham in 2012 that were not apparent in his raw numbers. Here's why you should be paying attention.
At this time three years ago, Gordon Beckham was the darling of fantasy circles. Expected to build upon his 2009 campaign, in which he hit .270 with 14 HR, 63 RBI and 7 SB in only 103 games, Beckham entered the 2010 season as a potential stud. Unfortunately for him and fantasy owners, he ended it as a bona fide fantasy goat -- hitting .252 with 9 HR and 4 SB in 131 games. Things didn't get any better for him after the 2011 season either. He entered the 2012 season with little-to-no expectations, and here's why.
There were a few statistical reasons for Beckham's struggles in 2010 and 2011. The biggest one was clearly his plate discipline -- which went from pretty good to pretty awful in a relatively short period of time. His walk rate went from 9.5% to 7.4% to 6.3% between 2009 and 2011. Over the same time, his strikeout rate increased from 15.1% to 18.5% to 19.9%. That's not the most comforting of trends. To add insult to injury, in 2011, Beckham managed a mind-boggling 21% infield fly ball rate -- the highest in the majors among all qualifying hitters. In his 2009 campaign, Beckham swung at 24.7% of balls outside the strike zone. This increased to 36.9% in 2011. And the power that he hinted at his freshman year? Nowhere to be found. He followed an ISO (isolated power) of .190 in 2009 with a .126 mark in 2010 and a .106 mark in 2011. His HR/FB rate hovered at 6.6% between 2010 and 2011, a distant cry from his 10.4% mark in 2009. And that's enough.
So why am I harping on the things that made 2010 and 2011 so bad for Beckham? Because most of those same things improved across the board in 2012 -- we just didn't really notice. That strikeout rate dipped back to 15.3%, right in line with the 15.1% he put up in 2009. His swinging strike rate was the lowest of his career. His HR/FB rate ticked back up to nearly 9%, which went nicely with an improved fly ball rate to net him a career high 16 HR. Unfortunately, the improvements he made in the contact department were overshadowed by a career low BABIP of .254 -- leading to his .234 average in 2012.
However, the issue with Beckham was still a lack of patience. His OBP of .296 in 2012 was terrible - in fact, it was just as terrible as his .296 OBP in 2011. He's still swinging at far more pitches outside the zone than in his 2009 season that continues to haunt him (33.5% to 24.7%). And because of this, he's gradually seeing fewer and fewer pitches in the strike zone.
Fortunately, one of the things Beckham has going for him in fantasy is that this year's crop of 2B is pretty poor compared to years past. Even in AL-only leagues, where five of the top six options reside (Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler, Zobrist, Kipnis), the bottom falls out of the position pretty quickly -- especially if Jurickson Profar starts the year at Triple-A. And fortunately for prospective Beckham owners, the barrier to entry here will likely be small, as his name value has gone from overstating to understating his case.
Yesterday, I posted my Top 50 Dynasty League 2B and Beckham ranked 18th on that list. Here's what I wrote about him:
Beckham is back on the right path, as his 2012 saw similar underlying numbers to his rookie season of 2009 (including a 15.3% K-rate, compared to 18.5% and 19.9% for the previous two seasons). He can still be a .260-.270 hitter with 15-20 HR annually.
There is still reason for optimism here, but it has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with the fact that the areas Beckham needs to improve in, are areas he's already showed major league success with. If Beckham gets back to being anything close to the more discerning hitter he was in his rookie year, there is no reason he can't be a top-15 second baseman in 2013. But another disappointing season from a fantasy perspective, and this post-hype sleeper moves closer to becoming permanently dormant.
My 2013 prediction for Gordon Beckham: .261 AVG, 16 HR, 71 RBI, 55 R, 8 SB in 532 AB.
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Check out more of my stuff at The Dynasty Guru, including my 2013 Dynasty League Rankings, for which the Top 50 shortstops were posted today (in addition to a Top 150 Prospects list from earlier in the month).