The Sox, fresh off of a four-game sweep of the Angels, look to make it six wins in a row starting tonight in Baltimore. The starting pitching turnaround has been fantastic, but it’s up to Clay Buchholz to keep the momentum going.
I was critical of Buchholz last week because even in “earning” a win against the A’s last time out, he walked four batters in 5.1 innings.
So far this season, Buchholz has walked 14 batters in 20.1 innings.
While it has been well documented that we here at Fire Brand expected a regression from Buchholz in 2011, we also thought that even a regression would result a quality season overall.
That’s still a very realistic possibility.
Below are the top five reasons that Clay Buchholz will be fine moving forward.
5. His fastball velocity is down, but that is something that could progress as the season moves along.
Unlike the situation with Phil Hughes in New York, Buchholz is still throwing in the low 90′s, but it’s about two MPH slower than his average fastball from last season. Sometimes pitchers need extra time outside of spring training to get their velocity up. My guess, however, is that it’s something mechanical, which is also causing his slider to flatten out. Mechanics can be fixed and once Buchholz finds his groove again, his fastball and slider should be much more effective.
4. His current 6.3 BB/9 rate will adjust.
No, Buchholz does not have the best command/control in the world, but it is highly unlikely that he continues to walk opposing hitters at this current rate. As a matter of fact, the highest BB/9 rate from last season (min 150 IP) was 4.7, turned in by the tail-spinning Scott Kazmir.
3. His current 4.3 K/9 should rise.
At no point in his major league or minor league career has Buchholz struck out fewer than 6 per nine innings.
Going back to his mechanics for a second. I can’t use any MLB game footage on this site, but I think — and it is soley my opinion based on comparing Buchholz from 2010 to 2011 so far — that Clay might be “opening up” a bit too early and not “finishing” his pitches enough.
“Opening up” meaning that his front shoulder is pulling toward the first base line too soon. By doing so, his throwing arm is dragging behind just enough to kill the needed momentum to generate 1-2 MPH more on his fastball. Not “finishing” his pitches simply means that his follow-through seems shortened (think Tim Lincecum‘s picking up the dollar bill) or that he is somewhat short-arming his pitches, which would be especially detrimental to his breaking ball. This is a possible reason why we are seeing his slider sometimes (most of the time) misinterpreted as a cut-fastball by pitch f/x. His slider currently lacks enough movement to even be considered a slider.
If Buchholz can make the necessary mechanical adjustments, I think we’ll see an improvement in his walk rate for one, but also an even bigger improvement in his strikeout rate.
3. His current .250 BABIP is pretty much legit.
At a glance, it would seem like a .250 BABIP is due to simply “regress” toward .300. However, Buchholz has limited line drives (11.6 percent) and kept the ball on the ground the majority of the time (47.8 percent) while getting five infield pop-ups (13 all of last season). If not for the six home runs allowed, Buchholz’s ERA would be much lower.
2. His fly-ball rate is currently at 41 percent, about ten percent higher than his career average.
With almost 400 major league innings under his belt, we pretty much know what type of pitcher Buchholz is and should continue to be. Buchholz is a ground-ball artist and while he may never be at the top of the strikeout leader-board, he probably isn’t going to be at the top of the home runs allowed leader-board either — at the end of the season at least –, which leads me to number one…
1. There is no way opposing hitters continue to hit the long-ball against Buchholz at the current rate of 2.7 per nine innings.
One of the biggest factors in his 2010 success was limiting the home run. Buchholz has already allowed six home runs in 2011. He allowed only nine all of last season. Once his command/control begins to shape up and his slider regains it’s effectiveness, he’ll be leaving fewer pitches over the plate and fewer fly balls will be of the four-base variety. His current 21.4 percent HR/FB rate against is almost certain to come down (his career HR/FB rate against is 14.3 percent).
Over half of the runs that Buchholz has surrendered this season have come via the homer. That trend just simply will not continue.
It has been a rough start to the 2011, but Clay Buchholz should be a positive factor in the Sox rotation as the season grinds along.