At age 26, and entering his 5th season in the big leagues, second baseman Gordon Beckham is running out of time to reach his lofty expectations. Beckham was drafted 8th overall by the White Sox in the 2008 first-year player draft. After being a star shortstop at the University of Georgia, many scouts expected Beckham to be a perennial all-star as a .300 hitter with potential to hit 25 home runs. After playing 103 games in the 2009 season while batting .270 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs, those expectations seem warranted. However, ever since his rookie season Beckham has only regressed. Can that pattern be reversed?

Before I give you my opinion, we need to examine some of Beckham’s stats over his first four seasons in the major leagues. The following stats will be analyzed: Batting Average, On-base percentage (OBP), Home Runs, RBIs, Runs scored, Walk Rate, Strikeout Rate, and Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP).

Year:     AVG    OBP    HR       RBI     R         BB%    K%       BABIP

2009:     .270     .347     14        63      58        9.5%    15.1%     .290

2010:     .252     .317      9         49      58        7.4%    18.5%     .297

2011:     .230     .296     10        44      60        6.3%    19.9%     .276

2012:     .234     .296     16        60      62        6.9%    15.3%     .254

Just by glancing at his stats, it is easy to say that Beckham has regressed every year since his rookie season. In 2011 and 2012, Beckham’s batting average and OBP were nearly identical. Based on the 301 games he played in those two seasons, this could very well be the player that Beckham is for his entire career. If it is, than the White Sox will be severely disappointed by using a first round selection on him. But, I believe that Beckham can be a much better hitter than what his batting average and OBP suggests over the last two seasons. Here is why.

In 2012, Beckham made some strides in two statistical categories that leave reason for hope. Beckham’s 6.9% walk percentage was better than the 6.3% he posted in 2011. While his walk rate only increased 0.6%, it is worth noting that his percentage was much higher in the second half last season. In the second half of 2012, Beckham posted a 9.0% walk percentage. Granted that is only a half season, but it is still much closer to his 9.5% walk rate during his rookie season in 2009. In addition, an 11.6% walk rate in the month of September is certainly something that Beckham can look to build on during the 2013 campaign. This spring, Beckham has only walked once in 59 plate appearances. This is certainly a little concerning, but I wouldn’t panic. During the spring, hitters typically are not looking to walk a whole lot. Also, Beckham has been working on shortening his approach and swing this spring, and as a result he is likely trying to swing at as many pitches as possible to work on his new technique.

The other statistical category that greatly improved in 2012 was Beckham’s strikeout rate. In 2011, Beckham had a strikeout rate of 19.9%. Meaning, Beckham struck out in 19.9% of his plate appearances. In 2012, Beckham decreased his strikeout rate to 15.3%, the lowest since his 15.1% rate during his rookie year. This is a very dramatic improvement (+4.6%), and suggest that Beckham is starting to lay off of pitches out of the strike zone. What is even better, during the second half of 2012, Beckham’s strikeout rate was 13.7% (highlighted by an 11.6% in the month of September). If Beckham made such improvements in his walk and strikeout rates, then why weren’t his results any better?

The answer to this is a severely low BABIP compared to the league average. BABIP measures a player’s batting average with balls hit into play, and the league average is roughly between .290 and .310. Certainly there are exceptions to this, some faster players may have higher BABIPs, but this serves as a general guideline. In 2009 and 2010, Beckham’s BABIPs were .290 and .297 respectively. These numbers fall within the league average, and thus legitimize Beckham’s higher batting averages during those two seasons. In 2011, Beckham’s BABIP was lower than average at .276, but this wasn’t drastic enough to suggest his .230 batting average was a result of just bad luck. Beckham’s below average walk and strikeout rates were more responsible for his low batting average. However, in 2012, Beckham’s BABIP plummeted to .254. Furthermore, despite Beckham’s improvements in his walk and strikeout rates during the second half, he was “rewarded” with an even worse BABIP of .235 in the second half. These numbers are an extreme deviation to the league average, and suggest that Beckham hit into some really bad luck last season. The very low BABIP coupled with better walk and strikeout rates make me believe that Beckham could be in line for some serious improvements in batting average and OBP in 2013.

It remains to be seen whether or not Beckham will have a breakout year in 2013, but the statistical analysis that I gave certainly provides some optimism. If Beckham can sustain the walk and strikeout rates that he had last years, especially during the second half, then I expect Beckham’s numbers to return to where they should be. I wouldn’t expect Beckham to all of a sudden hit .300 with a .360 OBP, he may never become that type of hitter. However, a batting average and OBP closer to his rookie season is certainly possible based on the improvements Beckham made last season. If that occurs, then Beckham’s RBI and run scored totals are likely to increase as well. With a boost in offensive production, the White Sox will be very pleased to have Beckham as their second baseman considering the exceptional defense that he already provides. I was going to end this by posting my statistical projections for Beckham, but I’ll save that for my season preview installments that will be coming later this week.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Follow me on Twitter @etichel07