What’s Up With Clay Buchholz?

Clay BuchholzThe old Clay Buchholz has, to the Red Sox’ delight, decided to show up in four of his last five starts. Here are the stats, if you’re curious.

August 31st vs. Tampa Bay Rays (9 IP): 6/0 K/BB (strikeout to walk ratio), 0 ER (earned runs), 3 hits.

August 25th vs. Toronto Blue Jays (8 and 1/3 IP): 4/2 K/BB, 3 ER, 4 hits.

August 20th vs. Los Angeles Angels (6 IP): 5/2 K/BB, 6 ER, 7 hits.

August 15th vs. Houston Astros (7 IP): 9/2 K/BB, 2 ER, 7 hits.

August 9th vs. Los Angeles Angels (8 IP) 8/2 K/BB, 3 ER, 6 hits.

His ERA has dropped from 6.20 before his first start against the Angels to a much more appealing, yet still abysmal 5.40 ERA. For a lot of pitchers a 5.40 ERA wouldn’t necessarily give a team a glimmer of hope, but for Buchholz, who’s been utterly disappointing this year, it’s a positive and an improvement. So, what has the right-hander done differently?

Well, for starters, he’s gone to his breaking stuff more frequently over the past month. According to Brooks Baseball, he’s thrown his big curveball 20.28 percent of the time in August, which is the most he’s thrown it (percentage-wise) since May of 2012. Considering the curveball has been very effective since the 2010 season, it’s not a bad thing. What’s odd is despite opposing hitters only compiling a .611 OPS off the pitch this season, Clay decided not to use it nearly as much from April through June compared to last season when he sported a nifty 1.74 ERA.

Maybe he didn’t want to damage his arm throwing too many curves, but Buchholz needs to mix it in, especially with his four-seamer not working as well as it has in the past. Last year, hitters were only slugging .317 off the 30-year-old’s fastballl, however, they’ve slugged .470 off it this season, which is not bad but nothing close to what he did in ’13.

His changeup has consistently been a plus-pitch and so has his curveball, yet his frequency on the latter pitch diminished while the former didn’t — not substantially, at least. If Buchholz continues to keep hitters off-balance with variety (using all his pitches) then he’ll be a more consistent pitcher because of it.

That said, luck has been a part of his success, too, and that’s indicated by his .273 BABIP in August. Oddly, his BABIP decreased (on a month-by-month basis) while his ground ball rate decreased (from last month) and his fly ball rate increased. So, naturally, we can evidently see good fortune has had a huge bearing on Buchholz’s prosperity of late.

Luck, increased curveball usage, and better control (i.e. less walks) have had a sizable impact on Buchholz’s newly-found success. There’s no telling if it’ll continue, but given his track record in years past, maybe he can really be valuable as a starter 2015 and beyond.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.