In reading all of the prospect lists and reviews last week one particular statement caught my eye, and hasn't escaped my mind since then. Interestingly, this statement wasn't about an Atlanta Braves prospect, it was about Brandon Beachy. Strangely, this curmudgeonly view of a young Braves player didn't come from Keith Law, it came from Kevin Goldstein's post. Here was his line about Beachy, found in the Top-10 Talents 25 and Under section of his Braves prospect post (sub. req.):
The general industry thought on Beachy is that he's good but not as good as his 2011 season, and regression is a good assumption.
My gut told me not to agree with that, and my memory told me that the opposite seemed to be true. So I thought I'd poke around my memory and Baseball Reference and see what I could find that would support the opposite of that statement.
Brandon Beachy faced the Phillies in his first big league start in 2010. He faced them again in his third big league start. Then again in his fifth big league start in 2011, and three other times last year. In 28 big league starts, Beachy has faced the Phillies six times. If that above statement about regression carried any weight, then the Phillies should be getting the better of Brandon since they've seen him more than any other team. But his starts against them tell a different story.
It's hard to analyze his 2010 starts, since they were emergency starts at the end of the year, after Beachy had pretty much been shut down for the season. Still, he improved from his Major League debut to his third game. He faced more batters, lowered his walks, raised his strikeout total, improved his Game Score from 45 to 47, and seemed a better pitcher. At the very least he didn't regress while facing the same team twice in a span of two weeks (in the pressure cooker of a pennant race).
With much of the same team returning for Philly in 2011, the experienced Phillies lineup should have been familiar with Beachy, and if he were to regress after big league batters see him for the second or third time, then the Phillies would be the first team to break through against him, and find the chinks in his armor.
Beachy's second start of his 2011 campaign came against, who else, the Phillies. In many ways it was one of Beachy's most efficient starts, as he needed only 78 pitchers to get through six innings. But a leadoff double in the seventh chased Beachy, and the bullpen couldn't keep the game close. His game score was only 42, as the Phillies were able to touch him up for a key fourth inning 2-run home run.
The next time Beachy faced the Phillies in mid-May was Beachy's shortest outing of his career, just two innings, but we're not going to consider this game because Beachy suffered a strained left oblique muscle, was forced to exit in the third inning, and spent the next five weeks on the disabled list. The Phillies did get to Beachy early in the first inning, and he was again victimized by the home run, so it certainly seemed like the Phillies were catching up to Beachy, and proving that he was poised for regression once a team seems him several times.
A healthy Beachy would face the Phillies twice more down the stretch in 2011, and each time was better than the last. His fourth start back from the DL saw him in Philly where he posted a game score of 54, and was again economical with his pitches through six innings. In his first start against the Phillies in 2011, Beachy had gotten 14 strikes looking and 8 swings and misses. In this his third start against the Phillies in 2011, Beachy increased those numbers to 18 strikes looking and 10 swings and misses.
In Beachy's final start of the year against the Phillies, and already the sixth of his young career, Beachy posted his highest game score against Philadelphia, a 67. He struck out more Phillies (7) than he ever had in any start against them, and got 7 swings and misses and 25 strikes looking -- his highest total at that point in his Major League career.
His game scores in starts against Philly go like this: 45-47-42-32(injured)-54-67.
His strikes looking in each start go like this: 15-17-14-9(injured)-18-25.
Those last two starts against Philadelphia were by far his best against them, and they tell the story of a pitcher who gets better against a team the more he faces them. Those numbers don't support the narrative of a pitcher who will regress as the league sees more and more of him.
He improved against Washington last year, facing them twice and going from a 40 to a 51 game score.
He improved against Florida, posting games scores of 38, 77, 67, and 43, though still striking out 10 batters in each of his last two starts against them.
Like most of the 2011 Braves, Beachy faded some down the stretch last year. But that was his first full year as a starting pitcher, and it was more innings than he had thrown the year before. He's a young pitcher who only has 50 professional starts under his belt (Majors and minors), and is someone who is still learning on the mound, and still learning how good his raw ability is.
If his six career starts against the Phillies are any indication, then Beachy will have a better 2012 as he sees hitters multiple times and is able to strike them out with more frequency. The "general industry thought" hasn't looked deep enough into Beachy's starts, and hasn't seen his improvement against a team he's already seen. Not to mention that the Phillies are one of the best hitting teams in baseball. Therefore, my thought is that regression is a poor assumption for Brandon Beachy in 2012. The "industry" needs to catch up.