Beckett's struggles tied to fastball

Josh Beckett's average fastball velocity has declined each of the last four seasons. Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

Despite a September in which Josh Beckett allowed 12 earned runs in two starts during the Boston Red Sox’s historic collapse, 2011 was a solid season for the righty, who went 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA, the second-lowest ERA of his career.

This season, however, has been a different story for the former World Series MVP. In 11 fewer starts, Beckett has already allowed more earned runs in 2012 (64) than he did all of last season (62) and his 4.97 ERA would be his third-highest for a single season in his 12-year career. Entering Tuesday, only John Lester (5.20) has a higher ERA among qualified Red Sox starters this season.

In his most recent start, Beckett allowed a season-high eight earned runs in a no-decision against the Rangers. It was Beckett’s ninth start allowing at least eight earned runs since 2006, tying him for the most in baseball over that span.

One reason for his struggles has been the ineffectiveness of his cutter. Opponents are hitting .277 against Beckett’s cutter this season, the highest average he’s allowed against that pitch since 2009 (.333). Opponents recorded just a .228 average against that pitch in 2011.

Of the 12 home runs that Beckett has allowed this season, four have come against his cutter, including the two he surrendered against the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton and Mitch Moreland last week.

Overall, Beckett’s fastball this season has not been the dominant pitch it once was. His velocity is down to an average speed of 91.6 miles per hour, continuing a trend that has occurred over each of the last four seasons.

The decline in average fastball velocity has resulted in a significant drop in opponent miss percentage against the pitch. In 2011, hitters swung and missed 17.8 percent of the time against Beckett fastball. This season, hitters are missing just 11.6 percent of those pitches.

If Beckett can turn things around tonight, he will have to do it against a team that has had his number recently, the Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox have lost three straight and six of their last seven meetings against the O's in games Beckett has started.