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Is Clay Buchholz for real?

Apr 26, 2013, 7:15 PM EDT

Clay Buchholz AP

If you had Clay Buchholz being the first pitcher to five wins, please collect your prize. The Red Sox hurler, now 28, has had a great start to the season as seems to be the case for a lot of pitchers on the Beantown roster. Buchholz struck out ten Astros last night and has yet to allow more than two runs in any start thus far in the season. He is looking like a new-and-improved pitcher, perhaps better than the one we saw finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting in 2010, when he posted a 2.33 ERA.

The most striking change for Buchholz has been his strikeout rate. He has traditionally hovered between 16-17 percent, which is a shade below the American League average. In his first 38 innings so far in 2013, it’s at 27 percent. Marc Normandin of Red Sox blog Over the Monster asks the obvious question: can we trust his strikeout rate? His research shows that Buchholz’s sudden improvement wouldn’t be unprecedented.

Since 1993, 17 pitchers — including Boston’s own Jon Lester — have seen their K/PA increase by at least eight percentage points from one year to the next, minimum 100 innings in each season. The quality of these pitchers themselves varies, but that’s not the key question with Buchholz: what’s important is that jumps in strikeout rate like the one he is currently experiencing do happen, even if they seem unbelievable at first glance.

Consider that, plus the fact that it’s been expected Buchholz would eventually evolve as a starter once he grew into his stuff — that whole fractured spine thing kind of interrupted his growth as a pitcher, though.

Though strikeout rate is one of the best predictors for a pitcher’s success, I have a hard time buying Buchholz in the 27 percent area. The only pitchers that wound up there last year were Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish. I would, however, buy an improvement that puts him in the 20 percent area, which is certainly something for Red Sox fans to get excited about nonetheless.

  1. chacochicken - Apr 26, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    Clay Bucholz isn’t so much real as a greasy headed abstract concept.

    • badintent - Apr 27, 2013 at 1:42 AM

      And the grease is from the chicken wings in the clubhouse ? Does Clay thow a grease ball ? me thinks so.

  2. proudlycanadian - Apr 26, 2013 at 7:45 PM

    I did not expect that he would be the first pitcher to have 5 wins; however, some Boston fans reading this will be surprised to know that based on his excellent spring, I drafted him for my fantasy team.

  3. 13arod - Apr 26, 2013 at 7:47 PM

    no this guy will fade back soon he is streaky he isn’t a good pitcher just got lucky

    • slams89 - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:14 PM

      as if you can say that a guy who was a supplemental pick and pitched a no hitter his second game in the bigs could be “lucky” – my advice, don’t post comments while on bath salts, chief. anyway, watch a game and see how he has been steadily painting corners since his first start of the season, his location and stuff altogether is ridiculous – unfortunately i’m a jays fan, so strictly just sayin’

    • baseballisboring - Apr 27, 2013 at 4:38 AM

      Even if you’re right (which you’re not) at least he’ll actually get on the field this year. He’s already contributed more than A-Rod will.

  4. jimw42 - Apr 26, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    he’ll be back to normal as soon as the beer and fried chicken arrive

    • jcmeyer10 - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:32 PM

      C’mon man, that’s beating a dead horse.

      • baseballisboring - Apr 27, 2013 at 4:40 AM

        Beating a dead horse is an understatement. The (wildly overblown, post hoc rationalization) beer and fried chicken thing was from 2011 for god’s sake, wasn’t even last year.

  5. kjericho43 - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:04 PM

    Dude pitched a no hitter. ALMOST pitched another one….he has great stuff. Flashes of brilliance throughout his career, maybe…he’s putting it together now.

    • baseballisboring - Apr 27, 2013 at 5:03 AM

      I’m a Sox fan so obviously I’ve seen a lot of him, and I always wondered why his strikeout rate was so low. Stuff has never been the issue. Great fastball movement, sharp curveball, dive bomb changeup…one thing I’ve noticed about him this year is that he’s working a lot faster and he seems to have a lot more confidence. I’ve never been one to question a player’s “mental toughness” when they’re struggling, but when Buchholz isn’t pitching well he’s just visibly dejected when you see him sitting on the bench. I think he’s finally putting it all together, and boy, between him and Lester getting back on track, that is a fantastic sign for this team.

  6. jcmeyer10 - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    Note: Sox fan.

    He is for real. Farrell was supposed to be the savior of this pitching staff and he is living up to his billing. This is the result that was worth throwing away last year with Bobby Valentine. He most likely won’t keep up these numbers but even a regression will put him in the category of No. 1 or 2 starter.

    • badintent - Apr 27, 2013 at 1:44 AM

      maybe he is the Mike Scott of his time, split finger grease fastball.

    • Jack Marshall - Apr 27, 2013 at 5:15 AM

      Yeah, please explain how having Valentine was “throwing the year away.” What a dumb cheap shot. If Farrell was manager last year and had all those injuries and off years (Valentine didn’t make Beckett, Lester, Bard and Buchholtz all stink) to contend with, culminating in the front office waving a white flag to heist the Dodgers, he would have been fired too.

      • jcmeyer10 - Apr 27, 2013 at 12:34 PM

        I didn’t know Valentine had friends. The whole thing was set up to fail but it didn’t have to be so bad.

        The Sox wanted Ferrell and settled with Valentine. Valentine then managed to alienate the team before they got through Spring Training. Whatever Valentine was doing with the pitching staff wasn’t helping, they clearly can dominate. They had a bunch of overpaid whiners with no heart.

        They were better off having the lame Wally or a dog manage this team. At least they can’t open their mouths and muck things up.

  7. xmatt0926x - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:49 PM

    It doesn’t surprise me one bit. He’s always had the talent. He just didn’t have the consistency for whatever reason.

  8. skeleteeth - Apr 26, 2013 at 9:50 PM

    Christ, can’t we just enjoy a good start to the season without spending time trying to explain it away? Shit happens. He’s pitched well before and he’s pitched like shit before. Chances are he will do both at various times throughout his career.

    As far as buying into that strikeout rate, he has had 2 outings in double digits for K’s against TB and Houston, neither being teams that show much interest in making contact or working counts. He’s also walked 13. I don’t know what that means other than it’s April and he has a nice run going. I’m not spending much more time on it than remembering Farrell talking about he, Lester, and Lackey all looking/feeling strong in ST and thinking that hey, he was probably onto something.

    When can we expect the post on Anibal Sanchez and his 41K’s to start 2013 after 17 tonight?

  9. randygnyc - Apr 26, 2013 at 11:00 PM

    Mr Inbred Deliverance will have a .500 record and 4 era by the time Boston’s season ends in early September.

    • drewzducks - Apr 26, 2013 at 11:08 PM

      Even you’re not that stupid to believe this. Your over the hill gang wish they had a pitcher of his talent in his late 20′s. is he a Cy Young candidate? Of course not. Is he a 15 win 3.5 ERA guy? Most likely. Though you’d probably rather have Hughes. Says a lot about your baseball IQ if you’re buying that.

  10. uyf1950 - Apr 27, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    Gentlemen before everyone goes coo-coo for cocoa puffs over Buchholz after just 5 starts need I remind everyone of another pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and how he looked after his first 14 starts of 2010, He looked like the 2nd coming of Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Cy Young all wrapped up in one. And we all have seen how Jimenez story has been playing out since then.
    Yes, Buchholz has had a very, very, very nice start to his 2013 season. But assuming Buchholz stays healthy which is no guarantee in his case these 5 starts of his represent 1/6 or 1/7 of his starts. Give the season and Buchholz some time for this season to play out before everyone puts him on a pedestal and bows down to him in admiration. Just my opinion. That’s just my opinion.

    • theskinsman - Apr 27, 2013 at 6:11 AM

      Says the clown who offered up his wisdom that having Farrell back wouldn’t help the Red Sox pitchers…and if I recall, the signs of marked improvement were dismissed because they occurred in spring training.

      Carry on, jealous yanks fans…until the next biogenesis story comes out.

      • uyf1950 - Apr 27, 2013 at 6:58 AM

        Actually you are wrong with your initial comment. There is nothing for me to be jealous about my friend. As for your comment about biogenesis I could care less as I think that is probably a feeling shared by most baseball fans. BTW, did Ortiz ever get back to everyone after his press conference several years back on how that “illegal” substance got into his system? Of course not. You remember when he tested positive back in 2003 or 2004. Obviously that is something Red Sox fans would like to ignore about one of their own. Have a good day my friend it’s unfortunate that you did take my previous post in the manner it was intended.

    • bbil2012 - Apr 27, 2013 at 8:10 AM

      You’re right.
      We wouldn’t want to do what you guys do with Ivan Nova.
      Who,BTW, is hurt-again.

  11. blacksables - Apr 27, 2013 at 4:44 AM

    Since the comparison was based on 100 innings pitched, shouldn’t we wait until he actually reaches that point before using it?

    • thinman61 - Apr 27, 2013 at 6:48 AM

      Marc Normandin, in the linked article, showed that strikeout rates start to stabilize after 150 batters faced. Buchholz is currently at 144.

  12. aceshigh11 - Apr 27, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    Wow, the hatred is out of control around here.

    How about you talk about his PITCHING, not the fact that he’s a skinny hillbilly?

    Of course he’s for real. He’s proven his talent many times before.

    Is he going to go 25-0? Well, no…I expect some regression, but he’s clearly worked hard to put last year behind him, and is in the zone now. He’s going to have a very good year.

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