Buchholz Brings Some Nasty Ganja to the Bronx

Seventeen. That is the big number that stands out from last night’s Sox win over New York and it is the number that should have Sox fans smiling today. Moreover, it is a number that should have many Fangraphians retreating today, wondering if their off-season and early-season attacks on Clay Buchholz may have been ill-advised.

At issue is the number of times last night that Yankee hitters swung at a Buchholz offering and failed to make contact. And for those of you who don’t pay attention to this stuff, it would be helpful to know that seventeen is a pretty big number. That is because ordinarily, a pretty good “swing and miss” ratio is ten percent. In other words, a pitcher is doing a pretty good job if he gets ten misses per one hundred throws.

Well, relying on a bevy of pitch types, Clay clocked in last night at almost sixteen percent which is an EXCELLENT figure. And a figure that suggests a pitcher is armed with some nasty ganja. That Buchholz did this against a pretty good offense and racked up seven Ks along the way, is damn encouraging. Particularly because it builds on another excellent outing that Buchholz had last Saturday.

Last night’s outing should have shorts, like Fangraphs’ Mike Podhorzer, scrambling for cover, as their thesis on Buch suddenly seems to have some holes. That thesis basically reads like this ….. Buch got lucky in 2010. His headline numbers are not supported by sound fundamentals. He doesn’t strike out enough batters. He walks too many batters. And his regression will be swift and rather severe. Podhorzer has been one of the more critical, arguing in this recent Fangraphs piece that Buchholz was a busted stock that value investors should ignore.

Through the first five starts of the season, critics like Podhorzer were making money by shorting Buchholz. But not anymore. That’s because Buch’s velocity has picked up. His walks are coming WAY down. He is picking up some Ks. And most importantly, he is starting to miss some bats. Granted the sample is not huge and it does include a hit and run against the woeful Minny offense, but stuffing the Yanks at Yankee Stadium and doing it with lots of swings and misses is a meaningful data point that should have shorts like Podhorzer scrambling to cover their money losing positions.

I have never argued that Buch was set to repeat his 2010 as there were clearly anomalous things working in his favor last season. But I always thought the cataclysmic reversion story, like the one Podhorzer told, was a bit misguided. And last night, we saw exactly why that story was too bearish.

With just three starts separating Buchholz from his abhorrent start, it is far too early to get overly confident on this stock. So I will hold off on lighting any victory cigars and penciling in Buchholz for 18 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA. That said, outings like last night give me assurance that Buchholz is not a ticking time bomb. And much more likely than not, Buchholz will be a positive in 2011.

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