20 September 2017

The Real Tim Beckham

Tim Beckham, Photo via Keith Allison

Not to go all Charles Barkley on you, but just exactly who IS Tim Beckham? Post-hype sleeper breakout guy? Adequate big league shortstop? A guy who got hot for a month and is still the big draft bust he always was? The man who will play shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles in 2018? I think we can be somewhat safe in assuming that he is, at the least, probably that last one. The rest is a bit murkier, as is often the case with players like Tim Beckham.

Beckham was drafted number 1 in the 2008 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, ahead of future MVP Buster Posey and future All Stars like Eric Hosmer and Gerrit Cole. Beckham was seen as an elite level athlete and was ranked as the number three prospect in the draft by Baseball America (who also ranked Pedro Alvarez and Brian Matusz one and two, so take that for what it's worth) , and as such it's not like the Rays went way out on a limb. Beckham projected as a five tool star in the big leagues, and given his age and position, the Rays made an easily defensible decision.

Fast forward to mid-2017, though, and the bloom was certainly off Beckham's rose. While he had finally become Tampa's starting shortstop and put up decent numbers in 2016, apparent attitude problems and other issues led the Rays to trade for Adeiny Hechevarria and thus to look to deal their former number 1 pick. Enter the Orioles, who saw J.J. Hardy's time in Baltimore running out and were in need of an upgrade at short to pursue their short lived playoff hopes. The Birds acquired Beckham at the trade deadline, and he immediately became Babe Ruth. In 132 plate appearances in August, Beckham hit a ridiculous .394/.417/.646 with 50 hits (second most hits in a month ever by an Oriole) and 6 homers, en route to nearly winning AL Player of the Month. This, it seemed, was the guy everyone had been waiting for. Matt Cassidy wrote a post looking at a possible extension and/or trade for Beckham in the off season, and he argued that while Beckham probably wasn't as good as he had shown in August, he also wasn't likely to totally crash and burn and that a long term deal could work out for both sides.

As Matt predicted, Beckham wasn't actually a .400+ hitter. Unfortunately, he's done worse than simply regress back to his career norms. Through September 18, Beckham was hitting just .183/.266/.394 in September with 4 homers. His defense has also left something to be desired, despite grading out fairly well in advanced metrics, committing 9 errors in a month and a half.

So, is this a slump or something more? Well, here's a few metrics for August and September. Try to figure out which month is the slump!

Month K% BB% LD% FB% Hard Hit % HR/FB
A 26.6 10.1 14.6 31.3 34 26.7
B 18.9 2.3 20.6 33.3 34.3 17.6

Kinda hard, right? In general, the numbers look pretty similar. What would explain the huge difference...oh, right, maybe BABIP.

Month K% BB% LD% FB% Hard Hit % HR/FB BABIP
A 26.6 10.1 14.6 31.3 34 26.7 .196
B 18.9 2.3 20.6 33.3 34.3 17.6 .458

Obviously, month A is September and month B is August, but the biggest difference between the two months is that Beckham hit 250 points higher on balls in play in August than September. Now, he did have a higher line drive rate and lower K rate in August, but he has walked much more in September and has hit the ball just as hard. Now, we could look at this a few different ways. Either he got lucky in August, he got unlucky in September, or neither month is his true talent level. I'm gonna go with door number 3, here.

Beckham may very well be a late bloomer, but it was always very unlikely that he all of a sudden figured it all out and was becoming a superstar. By the same token, he certainly isn't the Paul Janish-esque player he's been so far in September. Beckham's 2016 numbers seem to a good approximation of his truth as a player: low walk, high K guy with some pop who can run a bit and hit the ball hard enough to put up an above average BABIP. Even in the September slump, the power he flashed in August has been maintained, and it's not at all unreasonable to view him as a 20-25 homer bat in a full season. With slightly more solid defense, that's a very valuable player.

It seems very likely that Beckham will be the starting shortstop for the O's in 2018. He's entering his first year of arbitration, but given that he has only had one full MLB season of at-bats, he will probably not be in line for a huge salary increase. Under those parameters, Beckham could be a very valuable player next season. A 2-3 win shortstop on a low money deal and under control through 2020 is a fine thing even if he isn't establishing himself as the player the Rays thought they were getting in 2008. It's not clear if the Orioles should invest real money in him or simply ride out his arbitration years, but it is clear that that the real Tim Beckham probably isn't a superstar. He might, however, be the shortstop of the future in Baltimore.


Anonymous said...

I just want that one magical guy whose overall numbers might be pedestrian but counters the Os' team batting slumps and hits better on the road.

Unknown said...

I just want a guy who does more than hit homers or strike out, preferably one who is not a leadfoot!