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Sunday, September 18, 2011
Beckham managed to get defensive in 2011

By Doug Padilla

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The pulse Gordon Beckham has shown on offense lately won’t change the fact that he’s had a miserable year at the plate.

Just ask Beckham and he’ll talk about what went wrong and what he needs to do to make it better in 2012.

But although his year will be defined by his apparent regression at the plate, there has been some growth.

Beckham’s defense improved immeasurably this season, putting him in some rare company among second baseman in franchise history.

Heading into Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, Beckham led the American League in fielding percentage among second baseman at .992. He is attempting to become the first White Sox second baseman to lead the league in fielding since Nellie Fox in 1963.

And no, it may not have the same kind of pizazz as if he was about to lead all second basemen in batting average or runs scored, but Beckham can take solace in the fact that he did make strides some place.

“It’s one of those things that I didn’t expect to come in here and be really good defensively,” Beckham said. “I figured like last year that I’d be solid. But I didn’t think I would have the season I had. Obviously, when one part of your game isn’t good the other part has to be really good and I feel like at least I never let my offense affect my defense.”

Beckham says it wasn’t as if he took a bigger interest in defense this year and that’s the reason he slipped offensively. If he could put a finger on one thing he did different defensively in 2011 it was to put a bigger priority on where White Sox pitchers were locating pitches.

Beckham has obviously been better with his lateral movement, and placing a keener eye on pitch location has helped him to anticipate where balls might be hit. In turn, it’s helped with his reaction time.

That means that not only is Beckham making the routine plays without mistakes, his AL-leading fielding percentage has come with him getting to more balls than he would have previously.

Using defensive metrics, Beckham’s UZR (ultimate zone rating) was 6.7. An average fielding second baseman would have a UZR of zero. Last season, Beckham’s UZR was -0.8. So even one of the most detailed breakdowns of a player’s value on defense has registered his improvement.

“The way I look at it is that I have saved RBIs; I have had RBIs in my glove this year,” Beckham said. “I haven’t had the offensive season, but there are plays that I made this year and a good handful of plays that have saved us runs and ended up saving games or winning games.”

Beckham recalled helping to turn a key double play with the bases loaded late in a game at Colorado in which the White Sox went on to win. Now if he can make those kind of contributions on defense while delivering at the plate too, he can become the all-around player he is confident he can be.

“You know, I just look at it as just another year that I’ve had to go through that will make me better in the long run,” he said. “But I’m as positive as I can be for not having the offensive season that I wanted to have. I really believe that it’s in there and it’s waiting to come out.”

It's been trying to come out this weekend in Kansas City. Heading into Sunday's game against the Royals, Beckham had three hits and four walks that he converted into four runs. His three runs scored Friday matched a career high. A solid finish will give him a positive to ponder this offseason.

Beckham said he will give himself about of month of downtime before starting an intense workout schedule in November. But it isn’t just lifting weights, hitting balls and doing extra fielding that will help him to improve.

“I have to figure stuff out mentally and just get better mentally,” Bekcham said. “It’s hard to have confidence when you don’t have much success. I’ve always had success and with success comes confidence. And now I haven’t had much success, so now I have to find my confidence again. So we’ll do that and just get ready for next year.

“It’s a long year and it’s one of those things where I’m learning right now. I’m learning this year and I learned the year before. Hopefully it will come together for me.”