Buchholz By the Numbers: Maturity or a Mirage?

Having upgraded Clay Buchholz from “neutral” to “buy” ten days ago, BacktoFoulke Securities is stuck in Buchholz’ corner for the time being. That being said, we here at BacktoFoulke think Buck’s start tonight against The Snakes will provide an interesting measure of where the right-hander stands right now and whether BTF’s upgrade is vulnerable to a reversal.

You see, BTF’s upgrade was weighted toward qualitative rather than quantatative developments. Yea, Buchholz ERA at the time was 2.39 but some of his splits were rather pedestrian and quite frankly, a couple of his numbers were actually question marks. But numbers aside, Clay seemed to be pitching with more confidence and maturity than he had in previous years, he was streaking and with two upcoming starts against Cleveland and Arizona, it looked like BTF had to act or risk making an upgrade down the road that was too late.

Following the upgrade, Buchholz pitched decently against Cleveland but it was hardly the type of performance to get investors further interested in the stock. And the fact that Clay walked four and struck out one in seven innings is hardly inspiring.

Following that outing, Buchholz’ K/9 dropped to a rather low 5.72, which is about a strikeout worse than where it was a year ago. Moreover, his walks are up slightly from a year ago and that really calls into question whether he is actually pitching to more contract, which he and his loyalists insist is at the heart of this year’s success.

But a close look at the numbers really shows that three things are responsible for Buchholz low ERA and all could reverse in a heartbeat. First off, Buck’s HR rate is way down this year. Second, his average on balls hit in play is also a bit low. And finally, the numbers confirm that hitters are swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone and harmlessly putting these balls into play.

Now these trends can’t simply be chalked up to luck. After all, some of this success might be because Clay has developed some deception and he’s doing a better job painting the edges instead of living in the heart of the strike zone and harmlessly out of the zone. In other words, Buchholz is making pitches that look hittable and are drawing swings but in reality, they really wouldn’t be called strikes. And that is a good thing. So in that respect, some of these numbers might move against Buchholz but the move might not be too noticeable.

However, we at BTF are concerned by a few things. First, Buchholz is throwing much fewer pitches in the strike zone. This isn’t a problem so long as hitters are bailing him out, but what happens IF hitters start to lay off these offerings? Counts will then get away from Buchholz and trouble may arise. Second, Buchholz came up with the reputation of having a “plus” curve and a “plus” change. Well, this season, he has gotten away from both, and instead, he has grown fond of his slider. If hitters keep swinging at these sliders out of the zone, this isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s a good thing. But again, what happens IF they start checking their swings? And three, BTF remains concerned with these low strikeout totals. That may play in the NL or in the AL West, but in the AL East, it is tough to thrive without the ability to put hitters away.

For BTF, this really boils down to the following …. Clay Buchholz was thought to be a guy with great stuff and stuff that could blow hitters away in the zone. But right now, his success is coming because he is getting people to chase. That isn’t the worst thing. But it’s not what was advertised.  

So that brings us to tonight and Buchholz outing against Arizona. The Diamondbacks just happen to be worst strikeout team in all of baseball so the time is ripe for Buchholz to put some Ks on the board. And Buchholz next four starts are against Arizona, LA, SF and Baltimore….. so the time is ripe for Clay to start ringing guys up and justifying our upgrade.   

OTHER SOX POINTS:

Sounds like Daniel Nava is not only going to be playing regularly but tonight, he will be leading off as Scutaro recovers from a small neck procedure. Given Nava’s career trajectory, he might be hitting third by the weekend. 

The Sox will need a pitcher on either Thursday or Saturday. Felix Doubront hasn’t pitched since June 7th so don’t expect to see him if you are holding tickets to either game. Instead, it’s looking more and more like next Saturday will be Boof Bonser or Adam Mills. That has to have Manny licking his chops.

FARM REPORT: It’s been a long time coming, but after going 3-3 last night, Josh Reddick has his average over the Mendoza Line. I know, it’s hard to get excited about “.206,”  but the word on Reddick is he has swung the bat much better of late and perhaps he is about to start seeing some results. Lars Anderson, meanwhile, went 0-5 last night and these two players are about to cross as one heads North and the other heads South.

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