Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz’s New Plan to Stay on the Mound

In all my years watching baseball, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more enigmatic and polarizing pitcher than Clay Buchholz. Prior to every season, people try to say they know what kind of production can be expected from the right-hander that year, and every year we know they’re lying through their teeth. In reality, every time you’re confident he’s on track, he has a terrible season. On the flip side, whenever you’re ready to write him off, he looks like a Cy Young-caliber pitcher. Really, the only thing you know about Buchholz is he’s going to miss at least a handful of starts at some point in the season.

Last year, of course, was the good version of Buchholz, to put it lightly. He wound up throwing 113 innings over 18 starts (6.2 innings per start) with a 3.26 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 3.67 DRA and 77 cFIP. Of course, the year before that he was average at best and probably safely below. In 2014 he tossed 170 innings over 28 starts (6 innings per start) with a 5.34 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 4.49 DRA and 102 cFIP. Put together, the 2014-2015 stretch was a microcosm of Buchholz’s career. Even with everything I just said, I’m going to be the type of person I ridiculed at the top of this post. I truly believe there is reason to be confident that we’ll see Good Buchholz when he’s on the mound in 2016.

The only thing you know about Buchholz is he’s going to miss at least a handful of starts at some point in the season.

If you look at his last four seasons, he’s had two good seasons in 2015 and 2013 along with two bad ones in 2014 and 2012. The easy thing is to say it’s based on whether it’s an odd or ever year, but that’s a dumb joke that we all save for the Giants. What’s real, however, is what his health has been like heading into the previous offseason before each of those seasons. If you look back at his health at those times, he was still hurt heading into the offseasons prior to 2014 and 2012. Even though he pitched in the 2013 postseason, he was noticeably still hurt and got a late start to his offseason after that. He suffered a back injury that ended his season in June of 2011, and it’s something that hindered him for a long time. Both of those stunted winters showed themselves in the next season. On the other hand, he was relatively healthy after the 2014 and 2012 seasons, resulting in strong performances in ’13 and ’15.

With that information, let’s look at what’s transpired for Buchholz since the 2015 season ended. Obviously, he missed most of the second half with another back injury. This time, he likely could’ve come back if he was needed a la 2013. The Red Sox were out of contention, though, so he remained on the sidelines to heal. This could end up being a huge blessing, as that extra healing time resulted in a full and healthy offseason according to the pitcher himself.

History has shown that a healthy offseason means good things for Buchholz, but it’s only natural to be skeptical about anything regarding his performance. Luckily for us, we should be able to tell very early on which version of the 31-year-old we’ll be seeing in 2016. Over the course of his career, his entire seasons have gone the way his Aprils have gone.

Year ERA K/BB Opponents’ OPS
2012 8.69 1.07 0.964
2013 1.19 3.00 0.543
2014 6.66 3.17 0.873
2015 5.76 4.13 0.735

 It’s not a perfect correlation, but generally speaking a good April means a good overall season. Although last season’s numbers don’t look great, the opponents’ OPS is inflated by a .403 BABIP. He allowed a .095 ISO with a 6.9 percent walk rate. This is a stark difference from the .157 ISO he allowed in April of 2014, as he allowed a lot more hard contact. There is plenty of connection between this phenomena and whether or not he had a healthy offseason. When he couldn’t get fully ready in the winter, he couldn’t get himself prepared for a good start of the season. From there, you’re guess is as good as mine as to why he could never get right. It could be a health issue, a mental issue, or something else entirely. The only thing that’s clear is that, given the current offseason, Buchholz should get off to a strong start this season.

The only thing that could be slightly troubling for his outlook this season is that he changed up his offseason program, which could throw a wrench into all of this. Using lessons he learned from John Lackey, Buchholz didn’t throw a full bullpen until he arrived in Fort Myers. For someone who’s been thrown off by change so much in the past, this kind of change makes me apprehensive. With that being said, he’s clearly confident in his new plan, and in the end his health is more important than whatever regimen he’s going with every winter.

Although it’s hard to be extremely confident in anything regarding Clay Buchholz, there’s reason to believe that he can put together another strong performance when he’s on the mound in 2016. If the Red Sox are going to be good this year, they could really use a strong number two behind David Price, and Buchholz represents the best chance at that. Luckily, the signs are pointing towards him being just that, and we’ll know which version we’re getting very early on in the season.

Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports Images

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