Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The 2014 Clay Buchholz

The first start for Clay Buchholz this season was not pretty and a lot of the early numbers don't suggest he's gotten better with rest.  His velocity is down across the board and in his first game he threw a very significant amount of change ups in the game.  Many are righting him off already and I've definitely been discouraged by what we have seen, but there are some positives as well.

Although his velocity has dropped from a high of 94 mph and a recent average of 92 mph from 2011 to 2013 to 90 mph this April he's hasn't been a strikeout per inning pitcher since 2008.  Since then he's relied on pitches like his cutter and change-up to get batters off balance.  While a drop in velocity might spell even less strikeouts per game he was able to still sit down 3 in his 4.1 IP the other night.

A velocity problem that he might have is his change-up.  Buchholz has not lost any speed on his change and that means the difference between fastball and change has decreased.  This can often be less deceptive to hitters and result in more balls in play for power.  That wasn't the case in Buchholz first start as the change was a positive value by linear weights, was only put in play three times out of 15 pitches and resulted in two strikeouts to one single.  As long as he doesn't become predictable with a higher usage of changes this along with his cutter will be required for continued success.

Looking at direct sabermetric outcomes Buchholz was not terrible in his first start.  He had three strikeouts to no walks.  Had 10 grounders out of 21 balls put in play and 54 strikes for 75 percent strikes.  His biggest failing in his first start were all things out of his control.  His BABIP stands at .550 right now along with a 40 percent HR/FB rate.  Neither of those numbers are going to maintain and looking at his xFIP* at 3.12 perhaps we shouldn't be to worried just yet.

*Using xFIP since FIP itself does not account for the abnormally high HR/FB.

The other thing worth keeping in mind was the temp was still in the 40's during the game and could have hampered Buchholz velocity.  He's 2 mph down from last season in one cold temperature game.  That could change when his next turn comes in the rotation unless temperatures fail to stay warmer.

On the other hand this is base on a lot of data from a single game.  While he did strikeout three batters and walk no one he was hit around pretty solidly by the Brewers.  He gave up two home runs and both his cutter and fastball were hit hard.  During his best season of 2010 and the parts of 2013 when he was healthy his best pitches were his fastball and his cutter.  His change, curve and slider have all been used with less positive results and more has a show pitch.

Base on the start by Jon Lester and John Lackey the Red Sox really need Buchholz to step up as a number three pitcher.  If he truly reinvents himself with a higher rate of change-ups in his approach we'll have to give it some more time to see if that can work for him.  If that high change number was simply a result of only getting through 4.1 innings and after a few more starts he evens out then he'll have to show more results with his fastball and cutter.

photo credit: jeffcutler via photopin cc

Clay Buchholz Dominates for 74 pitches (9/10/2013)


  1. "Looking at direct sabermetric outcomes Buchholz was not terrible in his first start...His biggest failing in his first start were all things out of his control."

    Yeah, but if you look at the actual outcomes, you could see easily that this is wrong. His biggest failings were definitely within his control. For one, his control. He was throwing strikes, but they were all poor-quality strikes, easily hittable, and he gave up far too much hard contact. That's not abnormal BABIP, it's not luck, it was him throwing too many pitches up in the zone and middle-middle. If he keeps pitching like that, he's going to sustain that .500+ BABIP. That he was hit hard so much also suggests his pitch selection wasn't ideal - again, within his control.

    It wasn't bad luck. He just didn't pitch well.

    1. Not exactly. His pitches might not have all been great, but most of the hits came from pitches down or on the inside of the plate to right handers.

      Even his overall pitch chart for location doesn't show a large increase of pitches up in the zone. Even at 2 mph slower a pitcher working up in the zone won't suddenly maintain a BABIP of .550.

      The highest full season BABIP last year was .333 by Bud Norris and the highest HR/FB was 14.5% by Joe Saunders. I would be willing to bet if Buchholz can stay healthy and throw 160+ innings he will end the season with numbers below both of those.

    2. I see what you're saying breandan. That's actually the first thing I looked at when I read that same passage. I tend to agree with Troy, though. The location of his pitches were hittable, but they weren't anywhere near bad enough that you'd expect a .550 BABIP for the day.

      Keep in mind that it's his first start of the year. He had good starts in 2010 and 2013, but he had brutal Aprils in 2011 and 2012. His velocity tends to pick up after the first month, and it's possible he's trying to work at lower velocities to start the season on purpose in an attempt to limit wear and tear. His stuff is still great. He was fairly efficient despite giving up six runs, until the fifth inning. Plus, he managed to induce 11 whiffs on 72 pitches.

      I won't extrapolate too much out of one start, but there were definitely positive things to take from Clay's first start. He wasn't perfect, but it's probable he was somewhat unlucky.

  2. Quite possibly the dumbest, most ignorant, spin-filled analysis you'll read anywhere. 3 strikeouts in 4.1 innings pitched isn't impressive - that's equivalent to a 6.23 K/9, which is awful, but K/9 is a bad stat that doesn't account for him having faced TWENTY-FIVE total batters - that's a 12% K-rate, which is Jeremy Guthrie levels. He absolutely sucked. Handwaving away the velocity loss is also COMPLETELY missing the issue - he's coming off a shoulder injury that made him miss half the season, and his velo is close to the level it was at when he came back. You remember when he came back, right? When he looked like garbage, had trouble punching guys out, had diminished control, and couldn't work deep into games? (you do WATCH games, right?) That's where his velocity is at now. That's why it's a concern, because he clearly hasn't recovered, and is pitching crappily, like he did while injured. It's absolutely foolish to think, "oh, he'll regress" when he was serving up meatballs and giving up hard contact to virtually everyone. It's just ignorant stathead "analysis" that completely misses the reality of the situation - like saying Josh Johnson was "unlucky" last year in toronto with his 6.20 ERA, 4.62 FIP, .356 BABIP, and 18.5% HR/FB resulting in a 1.66 HR/9 - he wasn't unlucky, he was completely cooked, because he's Josh Johnson and his crappy mechanics result in him getting hurt all the time, and this was obvious to anyone who saw him. He was broken, just like Clay is broken. I'd be surprised if he's still starting games by July.

    And one more thing - what is the deal with supposedly rational red sox fans being completely gaga for buchholz? He's been GARBAGE for his entire career aside from 2 great months last year, and even that was probably a fluke seeing as it was only 12 starts and a good deal of his performance wasn't sustainable. It's far more likely he's regressed back to being what he's always been, which is a bad pitcher. At some point you have to wake up and realize he's not the ace you thought he was going to be, he's never been good, and will never be good. The average talk radio caller has more sense than you.

    1. Career K/9 is 6.85 and K% is 18%. Neither stat proves his first start was anyhting extremely poor compared to historical values.

      I don't think anyone thinks he is or ever was an ace once he reached the majors, but a number three on a friendly team contract? I think that's still a possibility. The question now is can he do that for 180+ IP and in the playoffs?