Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
The good thing about having veteran players in baseball — and all sports, really — is that they are known quantities. You can plan on their production, making it easier to fill the empty spots around them. Clay Buchholz is not your typical veteran. People can try to tell you what kind of pitcher he is and where he ranks in the league, but don’t listen to them. No one truly knows the answer to that question. Never have I witnessed more of an enigma holding down a relatively long athletic career, making Buchholz one of the more interesting players I’ve ever followed. There are three different versions of the right-hander: The Good One, The Bad One and The Hurt One. In 2015, we got to see two of the three.
What Went Right in 2015
When he was on the mound, a whole lot went right for Buchholz in 2015! For the first few months of the season, when the Red Sox were at their worst, he was one of the few bright spots. He pitched like one of the elite pitchers in the game through three months, and was a shoo-in for an All-Star appearance. If you haven’t looked at his stat line in a while, you’ll be surprised by where he ranked in the league. In 113.1 innings, Buchholz pitched to a 3.26 ERA, which is impressive, but still doesn’t really do his season justice. The peripherals tell a much rosier story. He finished the year with a 2.65 FIP, the third best mark in the league among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. He also finished with a 79 DRA- and an 82 cFIP, tied for 17th and tied for 14th in the league, respectively. Obviously, this came in a smaller sample than most of the other elite arms in the league, but in the smaller workload Buchholz finished right with all of them across the board. This was The Good Buchholz, posting a career-high K/9 and a career-low BB/9. Pretty solid formula for success in my humble opinion.
Looking a little deeper into his season, Buchholz’s plate discipline numbers were especially impressive and point to a pitcher who is at the peak of his game. Here is a table showing some of those numbers, with their ranks among pitchers who threw at least 1500 pitches in 2015. For context, Buchholz tossed 1713 pitches.
|Stat||Rate||Rank (out of 145)||Career-Best?|
|Swinging Strike Rate||23.28%||51st||Oh Yeah|
|O_Swing Rate||32.76%||28th||You Betcha|
So, yeah, based on the plate discipline numbers this was the best Clay Buchholz has ever been. While the rankings aren’t super impressive, he’s always been more of a weak contact guy than a strikeout pitcher, and last year he combined the two traits.
Finally, we’ll take a quick look at repertoire changes, which helped contribute to all of these improvements. For one thing, he started to ditch his four-seam fastball, leaning on his sinker quite a bit more. This change kept his ground-ball rate at a very respectable 49 percent and helped limit his home run rate. On top of that, he leaned a lot more on his change up than in past seasons. As it happens, that’s Buchholz’s best pitch for inducing swinging strikes.
What Went Wrong in 2015
As I mentioned before, there’s not a lot to complain about when he was on the mound. He did have one really bad start in New York in his second outing of the year, allowing seven runs in the first inning and 10 runs overall. Everyone has rough outings, though, so if that’s the biggest negative in your overall season, you had a pretty good season.
You can’t blame a player for injuries — it’s not like Buchholz wants to be on the disabled list — but it’s fair to say some are more prone to get hurt than others, and he happens to fall under this category.
Of course, we’re talking about Clay Buchholz, so the “when he was one the mound” qualifier really tells the story here. Once again, he was unable to pitch a complete season, leaving a game on July 10 after just 3.1 innings and never coming back. This time, it was an elbow injury for the 30-year-old. The good news is he didn’t need surgery on it, which was a fear when he first went down. However, after reports that he would be able to return down the stretch, the team ended up shutting him down for good in September. Though, to be fair, the team’s record likely had something to do with that. You can’t blame a player for injuries — it’s not like Buchholz wants to be on the disabled list — but it’s fair to say some are more prone to get hurt than others, and he happens to fall under this category. At times, it can make it difficult to appreciate him when he’s at his best, since you’re always worrying about when he’s going to find himself on the 60-day disabled list.
Outlook for 2016
Early in the offseason, the Red Sox picked up their $13 million team option for Buchhols, a no-brainer of a decision that some people inexplicably criticized. He’ll surely be in their rotation (if healthy), and there’s a good chance he’ll be the second most talented arm in the group. With that being said, I’m not going to sit here and tell you what to expect. I have no idea, and neither does anyone else. Literally anything is possible with Buchholz in 2016, and I wouldn’t be surprised by any outcome. However, it’s worth noting that his best seasons have come on the heels of a healthy and full offseason, which by all accounts describes this winter. Given his relative health at this very moment, and the fact that he should have a full offseason, I would expect something similar to 2015 next year. That is, him pitching very well until he’s not pitching anymore. As frustrating as that is, it can be part of a winning formula. There’s no point in dreaming on a full season from Buchholz, but as we’ve seen, he can provide plenty of value in just 120 innings.
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