As #1 overall picks go, Tim Beckham has undoubtedly disappointed. He went #1 overall to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, but didn’t log his first significant chunk of playing time until 2015 at age-25 and wasn’t exactly inspiring in those 83 games (91 wRC+, 0 WAR). He put up meager numbers throughout his minor league career (.712 OPS in 2889 PA), suffered a torn ACL in 2014, and appeared in just 64 games in 2016 despite spending most of the season on the MLB roster. The word “bust” was starting to be used more and more with Beckham. His early 2017 work did nothing to help that as he posted a 95 wRC+ in 87 games (including a 32% K rate) before the Rays finally decided to trade him to Baltimore in a move that was only really noticed because of his status as a former #1 overall.
Beckham was traded for Tobias Myers, a right-handed pitcher from the 6th round of the 2016 draft, but it looked like the Orioles might’ve gotten a steal shortly after the deal went down. Beckham dropped five straight multi-hit games immediately upon arrival and hit in 12 straight before his first 0-fer as an O (.531/.549/.939, 3 HR in 51 PA). He fired off another five-game hit streak after the August 13th 0-for-4, then went 0-for-5 on August 20th before closing the month with a 10-game hit streak. His obscene August netted a .394/.417/.646 line with 6 HR, 19 RBI, and 27 R in 132 PA. August was also the month that Giancarlo Stanton hit 18 homers so Beckham was relegated to a tie for 2nd place with Eugenio Suarez for the top WAR of the month (2.0).
The performance was even more surprising when juxtaposed against his painfully awful July (.160/.250/.280 in 56 PA) and equally disgusting drop-off September (.180/.255/.348 in 98 PA). He wound up with an .806 OPS in the final three months of the season, compared to .757 through June. All told, the season just wasn’t that different from his 2016 sample:
- 2016 – .247/.300/.434, 31% K, 7% BB, .349 BABIP, 11% HR/FB
- 2017 – .278/.328/.454, 29% K, 6% BB, .365 BABIP, 21% HR/FB
The two factors consistently subject to volatility in a given season – BABIP and HR/FB – were both up for Beckham, the latter significantly so and it’s hard see a sustainable growth pattern for Beckham. His wRC+ has risen yearly (91, 98, 109), but the skills aren’t following suit. The ISO has dipped each year, the already-bad K and BB rates are virtually flat, and he hits the ball on the ground nearly half the time. In fairness to Beckham, the red-hot August wasn’t the only good month he had as he reached or exceeded an .800 OPS in April (.800) and June (.845). The key to a real Beckham breakout is hitting secondary stuff consistently.
For his career, he has a .618 OPS and 38% K rate against non-fastballs. He has an .862 OPS with a more palatable 25% K rate against heat in the same period. The OPS is better than the .835 league average, but he strikes way more than most given the 15% league average. In August, he actually did something against the soft stuff (.803 OPS, 24%). The difference was hitting changeups and curves more than normal with a .333/.375/.433 line, but that .100 ISO suggests he was leaning on the .455 BABIP for the performance. The key – as you might expect – was chasing the soft stuff less often in August. Looking at all off-speed pitches he had a 26% Chase rate in August compared to a 36% in the rest of the season.
This was also a general trend for Beckham with Baltimore, regardless of pitch type, as he sliced five points off his O-Swing rate to 31% and started using the whole field more often with a 12-point jump in Opposite field usage. Zack Britton pointed out both aspects when discussing Beckham’s success in a late-August piece at The Sporting News. Both the chase and oppo field factors held in September, but the hits stopped falling with a .226 BABIP. He also had just a 10% soft-contact rate that month so there’s a case to make that he was unlucky to fall off so much after the big August.
After diving in on his 2017, I’m torn. On the one hand, he’s a pedigree player who had three good months and three bad ones, though the last bad one – coming off the best run of his entire career – seemed to have some bad luck thrown in with normal regression. He still popped four homers in September despite that luck, giving him 10 in 50 games with the Orioles.
He strikes out too much and doesn’t walk enough, but I can live with the 25% K/5% BB he showed with Baltimore versus the 31%/6% combo from his time as a Ray (791 PA from 2015-17). A full season in Baltimore should soften the HR/FB rate downturn, assuming there is any. He does have an 18% mark for his career and his new home is much more favorable to right-handed power. He doesn’t steal bases (not that Baltimore would let him even if he did), but he isn’t slow. His 21 infield hits were tied for 7th-most and that decent speed is why he’s been able to maintain a solidly above average BABIP for his career (.344).
I see a mid-20s HR output and if he continues to lead off for Baltimore (41 of his 50 starts with them were in leadoff), I also like him to reach 80+ runs even with his modest OBP outputs (.310-.320). The key to his season will be the batting average. If he can stay in the .270s, he’s a budget Didi Gregorius coming 160 picks later (111 to 271). I don’t think the current market is overcharging on Beckham so I’m OK buying even though the bulk of his breakout was a super-hot August.