The Re-Birth of Clay Buchholz
Last year, the Boston Red Sox were brutal. They lost many key players to injury and really never got any momentum sustained at any point in the season under manager Bobby Valentine. One reason the Red Sox stumbled so much was because of their lack of pitching in the starting rotation. The lack of pitching saw the Red Sox finish last and career worst seasons from ace Jon Lester and young number two Clay Buchholz. Buchholz finished 2012 with a respectable 11-8 record but his ERA was 4.56 and never really looked like his dominant self from a few seasons prior. So far into the 2013 season, Buchholz has 4 starts under his belt pitching beautifully (which may still be an understatement). Buchholz is 4-0 and has a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings pitched while striking out 29 batters. He also has only allowed 19 hits. Maybe we should consider changing pitching beautifully, to dominant, cause that is simply what he has been to this point in the season.
Last year was a year to forget for the Red Sox under Bobby Valentine. The off-season brought a change in managers for the Red Sox as they basically forced the Toronto Blue Jays to trade them manager John Farrell for infielder Mike Aviles (who was actually a bright spot for the Red Sox last year). Many people think Buchholz`s return to early season dominance has a lot to do with John Farrell returning to Boston. Before becoming manager of the Blue Jays in 2011, Farrell was the pitching coach for the Red Sox and helped groom the likes of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Maybe Farrell`s strength in his knowledge of pitching helped Buchholz turn things around or Buchholz`s season last year was just an anomaly.
When looking into some sabermetrics and advanced statistics for Buchholz, one telling stat is the fact that Clay was battered and bruised by the home run. Last season in 189.1 innings, Buchholz allowed 25 home runs against him. Buchholz was never really a guy who was known for giving up the long ball as his previous career high was only 13 home runs. Another stat in which I take notice of when examining Buchholz`s season last year was a career low (not a stat you want to be low in) in runners left on base percentage (LOB%). Buchholz struggled with runners on base only leaving 69.7% of batters on base. His previous career low was 60.5% but in only 15 starts. This suggests to me that Buchholz really got rattled when he has men on base and that he for whatever reason was not able conjure enough stuff and make good enough pitches to get out of innings. The last stat I want to highlight is the fact that Buchholz threw his fast ball a career low 43.8% of the time last year, throwing a career high (16.6%) of curveballs (excluding 2008). Buchholz also developed a split fingered fastball last season for the first time in his career. These stats on Buchholz show me that he may have not had the same kind of command on his fastball as years previous.
One reason I feel as if Buchholz might have struggled last year is the fact he was coming back from injury. Buchholz`s 2011 season ended prematurely to a very wonky back, one that actually had a stress fracture. One of the few reasons I feel Buchholz may have struggled last year because of this is possibly, hesitation to put anymore strain on his back. This kind of injury is one which takes some time to come back from and time to build up the confidence to pitch and give his 100% effort when pitching. I could very well be wrong to assume this but it may not be too out there to believe in.
Whether it was because of injury, lack of stuff and command which made him throw his fastball less and get knocked around with the home runs, or the fact that John Farrell is back in the fold to help Buchholz iron things out, 2013 has been very kind to Buchholz and the Red Sox. Coincidentally, the rise of Buchholz and Lester have the Red Sox in first in the AL East and both of their down seasons last year had the Red Sox in last. Perhaps the rise of these two pitchers will have the Red Sox rolling all year, but one thing is for sure, Clay Buchholz looks like he is back.