Did you miss me? Or did you not even realize I was gone for two weeks? Not cool man. Not cool. Well, after my little Razzy vacation, in which I made sure to eat plenty of ice cream and re-watch Star Trek: Voyager, I’m back and ready to go. To re-acclimate myself into the weekly routine of bearing and bulling, we’re going to focus on a guy that I was really wrong on. No silly, not Paul Goldschmidt. Though I might have to deal with him at some point. I speak of the other guy– Clay Buchholz. In fact, to make matters worse, not only did I tell you to sell him, I told you to buy Edwin Jackson. Hilarious, amiright? (To be fair, Grey put Jackson as a buy last Friday.) While I often relish being right, they don’t call me Jaywrong for nothin’. And hey, I’m cool with eating crow. In fact, I can eat anything with enough salt on it. That’s what she said! Hunh? And yes, in this regard, so far, I have been wrong about Buchholz. But did your hedge alert go off? Well, it should have, I italicized it for you. So, will be this be a continuing trend, sans that sore shoulder? Or can I just be lazy, or what I call, pull a Morris, and just blame it all on saliva and the wonders that come with putting spit on a ball? Let’s take the jump and find out.
As of this writing, the Boston Red Sox are contemplating putting Clay Buchholz on the DL for a stiff trap muscle. Darn, should have used that ‘she said’ joke here. This potential injury doesn’t necessarily make me as nervous as ‘soreness’ or ‘arm falling off’ would, but since the problem has been upgraded over the course of a week and he’s already missed a bullpen session, this news will certainly affect the teams that own him and his overall value for the immediate future. I will note that everything I’ve read seems to state that there would be an imminent return once eligible to come of the DL if retroactively placed there. That, and I’ve seen the word ‘precautionary’ used a bunch of times, so, for now, I’m not treating this as a big deal. So we’re going to go ahead with this post, since I already have a nifty 350+ words banked and I’m too lazy to google another player and then write about him. It’s a tough life, I know.
So, what we have here is a pitcher I don’t own anywhere, who I have never believed in, and who I’m still hesitant to believe what he’s doing so far this season is sustainable. And let me tell you, I’m not the only one. This isn’t some island I’m living on out there. I have plenty of company. After all, this is a guy who has a career FIP of 4.08, K/9 of 6.89 and BB/9 of 3.47. These are very pedestrian numbers. Yes, he has had an excellent season, back in 2010, when Buchholz produced a 2.33 ERA with 17 Wins. However, his FIP of 3.61 and middling peripherals told a different story about his true talent. But we can’t forget that he was once considered a highly-touted prospect with ace-like potential. Sure, it was a long, long time ago in a scouting report far, far away, but a player reaching his potential outside the normal progression curve is not unheard of.
During the Razzy podcast, in which I recommended selling Buchholz, I mentioned that all of the leading indicators showed he was basically the same pitcher he was last year. True, we were in very small sample size territory, but I wouldn’t consider it a reach to say that a player is going to produce the same results if his peripheral numbers hadn’t changed from 2012. However, a month and half later, those indicators have started to catch up to his ERA of 1.71, and as of now, his FIP stands at 2.48, which is still outstanding. His BB/9 is stands at his career norm, but he’s striking more batters out with a K/9 of 8.64, and suppressing the long ball at an incredible rate of 0.24 HR/9. (Just to get this out of the way, that HR/9 will regress, but I’m not sure if it will profoundly change the current dynamic.) So while his velocity is the same as last year, something is fueling the uptick in strikeouts, which is also fueling the change in the type of pitcher Buchholz is. And what type of pitcher is Buchholz this year? The good kind silly! Obligatory anecdotal supporting-argument GIF time!
Come on, you know…
…and the whole word has to answer right now…
…just to tell you once again…
Delving deeper into the numbers, there seem to be subtle changes in the Plate Discipline of the batters he’s faced. There’s small, but noteworthy suppression in Contact% (3.7 less), and a small but also noteworthy increase in SwStr% (0.9% more). These changes don’t necessarily illuminate any firm conclusions (another lost opportunity for a ‘she said’ joke… gotta learn to hold those in.), but they do allow some insight of what to look for next. What is causing less contact and more swing and misses? And there it is. The biggest clue. Buchholz is using his four-seam fastball at an increased rate. Last year, he threw the fastball 43.8% of the time. This season, the fastball is being thrown at a 48.7% clip. Now that we’ve figured out what he’s doing different, we can surmise that this could be partly fueling his current success.
In fact, when you go one more level deeper into the numbers, Inception style, there’s something fascinating going on. During the 2012 season, when Buchholz threw his fastball, it was called a strike 26.4% of the time and was whiffed on 3.8% of the time. This year? It’s been called a strike 38.0% of the time. Whiff percentage? 9.0% Those are substantial increases. And guess what else? He has not surrendered a homerun on his fastball… at all.
So obviously, there is data here to show his new found success as not a fluke. His fastball has certainly leveled up, which is sending a positive ripple-effect on the rest of his repertoire. Based on what we’ve discovered, these changes come from improved command and perhaps even better sequencing. But are these improved skills here to stay? Well, that’s the rub. There’s really no way to tell you that these are permanent changes… yet. According to the post I did on stat thresholds, we can assume that his K/9 is here to stay. But all the other improvements will take about a full season’s worth of data to stabilize. But the one thing I *can* tell you is that his results are not just completely from luck. There is real eveidence here to hang our hat on, and that’s at least worth some peace of mind.
For the rest of the season, health permitting of course (I’m just going to assume he misses the next couple of starts and bake that in) I would feel safe projecting around 6 more wins, a lowish-3 ERA with the same amount of strikeouts we’ve been seeing. So let’s just go with 6-5/3.32/1.21/86. That being said, what do you do with this guy in redrafts? Well, if someone believes, it’s always wise to sell a player when they are doing something they aren’t accustomed to doing. But I don’t think players will pay the price that he’s pitched himself into to. I’d just hold and hope he keeps on chugging. For keeper leagues, I just don’t know. As I stated at the beginning of this post, I’ve just never trusted the guy. Buchholz may have just pitched himself into a long term holding pattern, as you most likely paid for him at a cheap price during a previous draft or trade. At this point, holding him would provide the most value. But again, if you can sell high, always do it.
I really have no idea what animal to choose, but I know I’m going to have to in about 30 or so words. Look, I’ve never believed, but at one point in his career, the sky was the limit. There is nothing static in baseball. Anything can change at any point in time. Buchholz has always had the stuff, and we could very well be seeing his breakout year happening. Or… he could just be effing with me.
Okay, here’s the real verdict… ugh. You let me down bro, I will cut you.
Jaywrong is a 30-year old Korish writer who finds solace using Makers Mark as a vehicle to impress average-looking women, and also has an affinity for making Jennifer Lawrence GIFs. You can follow him @jaywrong, read his blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow, or, you can find his GIFs at his tumblr, named Siuijeonseo.