2023 stats: 33 G (3 starts), 85 IP, 3.92 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 1.224 WHIP, 19.2% SO%, 5.9% BB%
Of the 83 hits Tristan Beck allowed over the season, 25 of them went for extra-bases (10 HR, 15 2B). 23 of those 25 hits came against a Beck breaking ball.
The sweeper he ironed out, tailored and delivered to Juan Soto on September 1st landed in the bushes just below the batter’s eye. A ho-hum slider to Fernando Tatis had put the Padres up 2-runs in the 1st a batter earlier. A slider down Main Street to Ketel Marte a couple months earlier left the bat at 109 MPH and easily cleared the wall in Oracle’s triple’s alley. All 10 home runs allowed by Beck were off some amorphous ambiguous slider/sweeper shape.
It’s never fair to judge a player by their worst offerings, but I lead with such a problematic area because it’s less of a concern and more of an area of growth. Beck is young-ish (27) and was called up in April, and has great stuff. His curveball has 5.4 more inches of drop than average. His sweeper has 3.1 and 2.6 more inches of drop and break than average, while his 4-Seamer had a run value of 13 according to Baseball Savant (MLB’s 92nd percentile).
The rub: his breaking pitches were in the 9th percentile. A catastrophic number since he threw his slider a third of the time, his sweeper 22% of the time and his curve 8% of the time. That mix may have added some spice to his mid-90’s fastball, but too often he became transparent about what pitch type was coming next and too often the slider and sweeper came in indistinct and wrinkle-free. Too often it was served rather than pitched.
Those first inning breaking balls to Tatis and Soto loom large in our fan consciousness. A huge team series in San Diego and Beck, playing in front of his hometown crowd in his second start of his career, cowed to the moment. Sliders scared straight. Any good will earned from his admirable start against the Atlanta Braves (4.1 IP 3 H, 3 R, 5 K in 8-5 win on August 27th) was erased. His start against Los Angeles in game 161 was the Giants last win of the season. Comfortably out of postseason contention, Beck pitched 5 innings allowing 1 run on 6 hits.
It’s hard to hold any of that against him. At the time, his inconsistency served up some unnecessary whiplash to an already scuffling fan base, but the rookie starting meaningful games in late-August was never the plan. Yes, we want big leaguers to just immediately be big leaguers, to play beyond their skill-sets, exceed expectations, to be resilient heroes that rise to occasions, and not only grow exponentially but expeditiously as well. But a lot of the time—most of the time—we get Tristan Beck’s 2023 season: A lukewarm, cautious, tentative, sometimes disheartening, often promising 30-game introduction to the league.
No, he didn’t astound or rise to any lofty heights. He did not have any of the pomp or accompanying flashes of brilliance that his fellow rookie call-ups received and displayed. Though he did collect 2 saves, he was often used as an innings mule, thrown into the middle of a games (often when losing) to plow through multiple innings. His 85 innings logged are 8th on the team, just shy of Jakob Junis’ 86 IP and Ross Stripling’s 89 IP. He limited hard contact and kept his walk-rate down, attack. The percentage of hits against that went for extra bases were well below league average and his .289 BABIP was bested only by the Rogers twins.
None of this is particularly sexy or worthy of the marquee, but it is solid pitching and foundational for growth towards Beck’s goal: a spot in the starting rotation.
Beck’s 41.4% groundball rate —one of the lowest rates on the team—raises some eyebrows. It’s not a terrible mark (just below league average) but it is indicative of the RHP’s struggles with his breaking pitches. Poorly located sliders are typically wandering up in the zone, allowing a hitter to get under and lift the ball. He’s not a Logan Webb, Alex Cobb type arm slinging concrete sinkers and change-ups—but to solidify a place in a rotation, it wouldn’t hurt to see that rate tick up.
Likewise with his swing-and-miss—a 23.6 Whiff% is in the league’s 31st percentile. It’s actually a slightly better rate than Webb’s and Cobb’s, but without the benefit of a 60% groundball rate. If there’s going to be that much contact, it better be on the ground. If Beck is going to be attacking the zone and earning count leverage, he needs to be better at putting batters away. Improvement there feels within reach with better location, or improvement on masking pitches, or getting a little more extension out of his 6’4’’ frame. Focused practice, mental toughness, physical tweaks—Beck doesn’t need a new arm or to completely change his style of pitching to bridge those gaps in his game.
Beck is in the pool now. He’s had a season to feel and test out the waters, wading in through the shallow end as water climbed up past his knees and waist and now he’s just got to dive in. In a lot of ways the jury is still hung on Beck’s 2023—if it proves to be foundational for an improved ‘24, we’ll sing this season’s praises. But he’s got questions to answer. Can he limit mistakes and be more consistent with his breaking pitches? Does he need to play around with his mix and push his fastball? Maybe bulk up and get more velocity out of the 4-seamer to increase the K-rate? Maybe get a better feel for the curve and up its usage? Or the biggie: can he fill a spot in a starting rotation?