Is this the Real Clay Buchholz?

Seen on the face of things, this has not been a great season for Clay Buchholz. Neither his 3.99 ERA nor his 1.70 WHIP is attractive. He’s striking out a minuscule 5.63 batters per nine, which is especially disconcerting given his double-digit minor league strikeout rates. He’s walking 4.7 batters per nine, too. So why the renewed enthusiasm for the young pitcher in some circles?

First, his luck has never been even average in the past two years. Consider that his BABIP allowed for the past two seasons has been .366 and .328 respectively, this despite giving up 20.9% and 17.6% line drive rates in those two seasons. That last line drive rate could even be considered a good one.

To continue the “he’s better than he looks” theme, Clay’s velocity is still on it’s way up, and has increased in all three of his major league seasons. All of his offspeed stuff has rated positively in our linear weight system, and his fastball is improving. Buchholz has also had a good groundball rate that has gotten better progressively.

In fact, Keith Law addressed many of these positives in Buchholz’s game with one question and answer on his August 14 chat on ESPN.com:

Brian (MA)
Is Buchholz’s high gb% this year real? Seems to me his fastball has more sink to it this year, but was wondering your thoughts after seeing him in person.

Keith Law
I only saw one outing but I could believe it. His arm slot was a little lower and his fastball had more life than I’d seen in the past (and it was harder – 92-96).

Reading something like this, and taking into account his last 19 innings, in which he’s given up four earned runs, and had 33 groundballs to 18 flyballs, it seems obvious that we have to consult Pitch F/x to see if something has indeed changed recently.

His arm slot is certainly lower. Compare the release points from this game chart for the August 13 matchup with the Tigers to the same release points from the game chart for his July 22 matchup with the Rangers and you’ll see clearly that his release point is lower.

His usage rate on the fastball has also gone up this year. There might be two schools of thought here. If his offspeed stuff is so good, why use the fastball more? The other is more developmental: if he is to be a good pitcher someday, he’ll have to establish that fastball. At 94 MPH with more horizontal movement this year (up over an inch), Buchholz’ fastball seems to be gaining steam. Perhaps the second school has it correctly.

One thing comes clear if you look at the movement and velocity charts for this pitcher. This is not a complete product. Just look at all the movement changes (every pitch gained or lost around an inch of movement either horizontally or vertically from 2008 to 2009) and the velocity changes (again, every pitch gained almost a mile per hour from 2008 to 2009) and you’ll see that he is still in flux.

Consider his slider. Last year, he showed a 79.8 MPH slider with 0.9 inches of horizontal movement and 5.1 inches of vertical movement. This year that same slider is 84 MPH and has 2.4 inches of horizontal movement and 0.9 inches of vertical movement. Perhaps we are still waiting to see the real Clay Buchholz.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


20 Responses to “Is this the Real Clay Buchholz?”

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  1. Eno Sarris says:

    And if you add in his game chart against Oakland, you’ll see he’s also still finding his release point:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxg.aspx?playerid=3543&position=P&season=2009&date=2009-07-28&dh=0

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  2. Pat says:

    Possibly the best thing for him would be to stay up with the Major League team, and work with John Farrell, who has done a notably good job with John Lester, Okajima, Pappelbon and others.

    If he can keep the ground ball rate up, and manage to get his strikeout rate up again, watch out.

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  3. Matt B. says:

    I am still not sold. I expected more from him by now. He isn’t a kid anymore. He will be 26 years old next season and barely has 100 IPs in the bigs. His junk is good, but his fastball will need to continue its current course of becoming a ground ball pitch for any long term success in the show. I think he can be an above average MLB starter, but the dreams of stardom I think are past him as he is supposed to be entering his prime years with very little success to build upon or show thus far.

    The reduced K/9 is startling.

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  4. Hohum says:

    Kid sucks.

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  5. Hohum says:

    Kidding, I like the improvement’s he’s made. Curveball disappearing is not encouraging though. Slider is flat too. Fastball and change have gotten better.

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  6. Eno Sarris says:

    The package is seemingly there: If you take the 94 MPH fastball with movement and make it a ground-ball inducing pitch, and couple it with his plus curve and change that he’s shown at different times, and average slider, then you’ve got an elite package. I think it’s too early to say that’s not going to happen.

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    • Matthew says:

      wheres his plus curve??? havent seen it!

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    • He’s lost his curve – both the movement and the control are missing this year. His change is a plus pitch though. The Fenway gun has been juiced in the beginning of the year, and has recently been recalibrated. I would take 1-2 MPH off the Fenway readings before August.

      So, right now Buchholz has a 92-93 MPH two-seamer, a plus change and an average slider. That’s not an ace repertoire

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      • Matt B. says:

        I would think the dropping of his arm slot would probably be the answer to his curve leaving him. For now.

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  7. Pat says:

    He’s not even the best 25 YO pitcher on his own team (Jon Lester)! The list of better young pitchers is long, my friend.

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  8. Tom B says:

    i feel like you guys tried to keep john smoltz propped up like this too, looking past his numbers a bit too far to find something that doesn’t relate to the field.

    sometimes a guy just gets hit, and there are no numbers to back it up.

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    • Judy says:

      You mean the John Smoltz who pitched 5 shutout innings with 9 K’s for the Cards yesterday? That John Smoltz?

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      • Tom B says:

        yeah it’s amazing what you can do against the padres with free outs, isn’t it?

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      • Slick says:

        That is an absurd statement. He has the ability to put up games like this! So what if it’s a weaker lineup, EVERY NL team has a free out.

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  9. Tom B says:

    you must be the worst yankee fan on the planet.

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  10. Melkman says:

    Trade a plus-plus curve for an average curve and this is what you get.

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  11. Melkman says:

    Watch his no-hitter highlights and tell me that curve wasn’t ridiculous. Where is it now?

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  12. David E says:

    Sarcasm or denial?

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  13. Matt B. says:

    Looking good tonight vs the White Sox too. Oh wait.

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