Clay Buchholz had a good beginning to the 2015 season, pitching well in four of his first five games and showing promise in his April 18th start against the Tampa Bay Rays. However, in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Theon Buchholz was knocked out of the game by allowing five runs in the third inning. Was it bad luck or bad pitching? Rick Rowand puts Clay’s performance under the microscope.
In his fourth start on April 23, Clay Buchholz visited the empty confines of Tropicana Field, going six innings, with ten strikeouts, while giving up only two hits and one run. He also yielded three walks and threw 107 total pitches. He mixed his pitches very well and avoided an over reliance on one pitch, which he did in the Yankees game when he threw 59% sinkers (47 out of 79 total pitches). Against the Rays, his sinker was still his favored pitch, but he only threw it 32 times (30% of his pitches) and effectively mixed in his fastball (21 times), his curve (13 times) and his “new-old changeup” (19 times).
Brian MacPherson first brought the “new-old changeup” to our attention in this article. Then Ian York followed up with a more detailed explanation of just how different this pitch is from his previous changeup with some excellent visualizations of the pitch’s break.
Heading into Buchholz’ fifth start against Toronto there was plenty of reason for optimism. He had been “Good Clay” in three out of his previous four starts. He was pitching out of trouble, instead of letting his frustration with his defense and his own errors get the better of him.
Buchholz’ first two innings against Toronto on April 28th were more of the “Good Clay”. In those innings, he only gave up a single and struck out one. In the bottom half of the second inning, his offense staked him to four runs. Now, maybe it was because he was staked to a nice lead or maybe it was because the squirrels in his head were startled, but when he came out for the third he promptly walked the first batter. And it went downhill from there.
Except for two hits that came on pitches out of the zone, he served up some pretty tasty meatballs that the Toronto hitters pounded – scoring five runs on five singles, a sacrifice fly and the aforementioned walk. Granted, some of this was because luck was once again a cruel mistress. However, Buchholz threw the majority of his pitches in the same area. It does not take long for professional hitters to recognize a weakness, and they certainly did.
His BABIP this year is .403 – as a general rule league, average will be around .300 – his FIP is 2.65 and his ERA is 5.76. Most pitchers, given a sufficient sample, will have a FIP and ERA that are similar. However, early in the season there can be a wide variance. Yet, a discrepancy in excess of three runs between FIP and ERA is not normal. It reveals that he is having some terrible luck on batted balls and in the clumping of hits. If he had been able to scatter those hits over all three innings, this would be a different discussion right now. But then again, who knows? It is Buchholz and inconsistency (or Reek?) is his middle name.