Clay Buchholz is turning back the clock

Coming off a horrible season, no one would have thought Clay Buchholz would return to relevancy. Being 33-years old, it seems that age had caught up to him; his velocity was down and his pitches weren’t as good as they once were. Last season he lasted just two starts before going for surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm. Now finally healthy, he signed a minor-league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and it’s working out for both parties. He’s pitched 51.0 innings with a record of 4-1, a 2.65 ERA, and 43 strikeouts. He’s been in the league for over a decade and it seems like he’s turning back the clock.

Year Team IP W L K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP
2013 Red Sox 108.1 12 1 7.98 2.99 0.33 .254 83.70 1.74 2.78
2014 Red Sox 170.1 8 11 6.97 2.85 0.90 .315 62.10 5.34 4.01
2015 Red Sox 113.1 7 7 8.5 1.83 0.48 .329 70.40 3.26 2.68
2016 Red Sox 139.1 8 10 6.01 3.55 1.36 .263 68.50 4.78 5.06
2018 Diamondbacks 51 4 1 7.59 2.12 0.88 .255 81.30 2.65 3.51

Clay Buchholz is having a great season. His 7.59 strikeouts per 9 haven’t been this high since 2015 and it’s the fourth-highest number he’s posted in his career. His 2.12 walks per 9 marks his second lowest of his career. Some regression should be expected as his left on base percentage is a bit high compared to his past years. We’ll have to check out his plate discipline numbers to see if there are any improvements.

Year Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2013 Red Sox 30.70% 60.50% 43.20% 66.90% 86.70% 78.50% 42.00% 59.90% 9.30%
2014 Red Sox 29.50% 65.60% 44.80% 69.80% 87.60% 80.90% 42.60% 60.70% 8.60%
2015 Red Sox 32.30% 66.80% 49.20% 61.60% 86.90% 78.50% 49.20% 65.00% 10.60%
2016 Red Sox 30.30% 65.50% 45.40% 66.20% 86.90% 79.00% 43.10% 62.60% 9.50%
2018 Diamondbacks 32.30% 69.10% 48.90% 65.90% 89.30% 80.80% 45.20% 67.00% 9.40%

The good news is that he’s getting batters to chase on the outside part of the plate and is getting ahead of them 67% of the time. It’s very hard to tell if he is a better pitcher just by looking up this. Overall contact is roughly the same and batters are making a lot of it inside the zone. Let’s see what the results of the balls were.

Year Team GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB HR/FB Pull Cent Oppo Soft Med Hard
2013 Red Sox 1.5 20.60 47.70 31.80 10.20 4.50 37.80 40.30 21.90 17.00 51.90 31.10
2014 Red Sox 1.36 19.00 46.60 34.30 9.80 9.20 45.30 35.10 19.60 15.90 51.90 32.20
2015 Red Sox 1.58 21.10 48.30 30.50 7.90 5.90 44.60 31.40 24.00 19.20 57.20 23.70
2016 Red Sox 0.96 15.80 41.20 43.00 15.10 11.40 46.70 31.00 22.30 18.60 50.10 31.30
2018 Diamondbacks 1.07 22.40 40.10 37.40 10.90 9.10 40.30 34.20 25.50 17.40 45.60 36.90

Buchholz is not getting as many ground balls as he once did. Even though his ground ball to fly ball ratio is low, he’s still giving up a lot of fly balls, and with a 36.9% hard contact rate that’s concerning. Time to see if the repertoire has changed.

Pitch Usage %
Year Team Fourseam Sinker Splitter Cutter Curveball Changeup
2013 Red Sox 29.40 19.83 2.52 23.63 14.06 10.50
2014 Red Sox 27.43 17.6 4.73 24.86 16.21 9.17
2015 Red Sox 16.93 26.85 0.47 23.58 15.06 17.10
2016 Red Sox 24.75 16.37 1.98 22.27 18.71 15.92
2018 Diamondbacks 25.07 16.62 0.00 23.73 17.56 17.02
Batting Average Against
Year
Team
Fourseam
Sinker
Splitter
Cutter
Curveball
Changeup
2013 Red Sox .196 .223 .267 .156 .242 .182
2014 Red Sox .312 .305 .200 .276 .253 .171
2015 Red Sox .203 .351 .250 .277 .271 .113
2016 Red Sox .236 .270 .083 .233 .367 .232
2018 Diamondbacks .205 .158 .000 .265 .385 .132

Even with 91 MPH velocity, the pitch usage looks very similar to 2016. He has stopped using the splitter while his sinker, cutter, and changeup are all being thrown around the same rate. His four-seam and sinker have seen the most improvements statistically, .205 and .158 respectively. Players are feasting on his curveball as they are hitting .385. Chances are he’s probably not locating as well as he should be, but we should also see if any pitches have gained or lost any movement.

Vertical Movement (Inches)
Year Team Fourseam Sinker Splitter Cutter Curveball Changeup
2013 Red Sox 10.32 7.22 5.82 5.79 -7.30 5.71
2014 Red Sox 8.80 5.63 4.67 5.14 -7.34 5.99
2015 Red Sox 8.74 5.78 2.78 4.77 -6.19 5.04
2016 Red Sox 9.02 6.63 3.51 6.18 -5.97 3.82
2018 Diamondbacks 8.77 6.00 0.00 4.75 -7.09 3.32

While the horizontal movement doesn’t show that drastic of a difference, his vertical movement has some interesting things happening. His cutter, curveball, and changeup have all gained some downward movement. His changeup is interesting because he’s never been able to let it dip as well as he is right now. His curveball and cutter are around the same or better like in 2015.

This is a better Clay Buchholz than people realize. The combination of getting ahead of batters and the extra vertical movement are making all the difference. Strikeouts are up and walks are down, it’s working out nicely. The concerns are the left on base percentage and the hard contact rate. One thing is for certain, he is throwing better than he has in the past couple years, and that’s exciting.

 

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Jordan Lyn

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