Clay Buchholz: Is 2015 His Last Chance in Boston?
Clay Buchholz‘s once-promising career now paints the portrait of an immensely talented pitcher who has not approached his potential through the first eight seasons in the major leagues. Buchholz has suffered through countless injuries and, though he’s shown flashes of brilliance, he has also gone through periods of complete ineffectiveness, most recently last season when Buchholz posted a career-high 5.34 ERA in his age 29 season. With Buchholz’s contract year approaching in 2015 (though the Red Sox do have team options for the 2016 and 2017 seasons), this could be his last chance to prove himself if he is unable to put together a consistent, strong season.
Buchholz has always had the potential to be an elite pitcher. In 2007, he threw a no-hitter in his second major league start. In 2008, Baseball America ranked him the second best pitching prospect in baseball (behind Joba Chamberlain, who flopped, but ahead of aces like Clayton Kershaw and David Price). In 2010, his first full MLB season, he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting.
Since then, though, Buchholz’s career has gone downhill. While he had strong and excellent seasons in 2011 and 2013, posting ERA’s of 3.48 and 1.74, respectively, he also only made 14 and 16 starts, respectively. Those seasons labeled Buchholz as injury-prone as, due to stints on the disabled list in every one of his MLB seasons, he has never made 30 starts or thrown 200 innings.
In other seasons, specifically 2012 and 2014, Buchholz has been downright bad. In 2012, he posted a 4.56 ERA due to a career-low 6.1 K/9 and in 2014, he was simply easy to hit as opponents .273 against Buchholz en route to a 5.34 ERA.
The Red Sox will probably need an elite starter in order to have legitimate success in 2015 and, with it appearing increasingly unlikely that they’ll sign a major free agent, that ace could come from within.
Buchholz could be their guy, but it’s tough to count on anything from him, much less that he’ll not only pitch like an ace but also stay healthy for a full season. It’s just as likely that Buchholz pitches like he did last season and completely flops in his contract year.
However, if Buchholz pitches more like the latter than the former, then there’s a good chance that it’s the last we’ll be seeing of him in Boston. Buchholz’s team options for 2016 and 2017 are worth $13M and $13.5M, respectively, and the Red Sox won’t pay that type of money unless Buchholz proves that he can be counted on, and that counts for both quality and quantity of pitching. Barring a season where Buchholz throws at least 150 innings and keeps his ERA around or below 3.50, a combination that has eluded Buchholz throughout his career, it’s tough to see the Red Sox keeping him around for another season.