25 in 25: Clay Buchholz


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Clay Buchholz

is an ace. Clay Buchholz is a number five starter. Clay Buchholz should be demoted to the bullpen or traded. Who is the real Clay Buchholz? One of the best things about the start of the new 2015 season for Buchholz is that is a fresh start from the struggle that was 2014. Do the Red Sox really need an


? Let’s take a look at the different personas that make up Buchholz, who is in the last guaranteed year of his contract.

Is Buchholz really an ace? In a career in which his ERA has fluctuated by at least a run from each season to the next, when Buchholz has been good (as Mae West used to say) he is very good. It depends on what statistical analysis you ascribe to as to the judgment of how good he has been. In 2013, in which he had trouble staying healthy, he posted a spectacular 1.74 ERA (but a 2.78 FIP which measures allowing runners on base and striking out batters, which some feel is a more accurate measure of effectiveness) over 108 innings. His best season was 2011 in which Buchholz placed second in the AL in ERA with a 2.33 mark (3.61 FIP) after which he signed his current contract. The FIP numbers are worrisome that he is not quite as good as the ERA would seem to indicate.

BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is another favored metric, .300 is the major league average. Was Buchholz success due to good luck? In 2008, Buchholz surrendered a high BABIP of .355 in 76 innings (6.75 ERA), .317 during his difficult 2014 campaign (5.36 ERA). In his great years, 2013 (1.74 ERA) and 2010 (2.33 ERA), it was .255, and .263. Is it luck or is it inducing weaker contact because of more effective pitches? If FIP takes out the guesswork of this question, he becomes a pitcher closer to league average. A 1.74 ERA becomes 2.78 FIP and 2.33 becomes 3.61 described above. Somewhat above league average but still not an ace.

Is Clay Buchholz a number five or average starter? Instead of being “better” as Mae West used to say about what she was when she was being very bad, Buchholz has been painful to watch. Case in point is that terrible start on national television, which came in the at the end of that nightmarish ten game losing streak, in Atlanta, on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014. He walked eight and looked defeated out on the mound. A month off on the disabled list didn’t help much. He had flashes of brilliance, including two shutouts. Still, he ended up with a 5.34 ERA and only one other start under two runs allowed. He struggled with a consistent release point throughout the season, leading to erratic performances.

If we are going to use FIP to say maybe he wasn’t that good, we can also use it to say he wasn’t that bad. His FIP was just 4.01 last season. In all of his seasons, he has only had one, 2012 (4.56 ERA, 4.65 FIP) in which the two numbers were under 0.48 apart. Instead of looking at the disparity of individual seasons, we can look at his entire body of work.

Eight seasons, 915 innings, 3.92 ERA, 4.06 FIP, ERA+ of 109

An ERA+ of 109 means he is just nine percent better than the rest of baseball over his career. This may be better than a number five starter, but in the current market, is it worth picking up his 13 million dollar option for 2016? Would it better to give his spot next year to a young starter or lower cost veteran? These are questions the Red Sox need to think about.

Should the Red Sox demote Buchholz to the bullpen? Since he is not appeared out of the bullpen since 2008, and he is making 12 million dollars this year, this is not a realistic option no matter what makes sense to fans of the team. If he is so bad that the team demotes him to the bullpen, trading him is not a good idea because, #1 he is there because he is not pitching well thus lowering his value and, #2 he is in his last guaranteed year (though his new team would hold two potential option years) which might deter teams from wanting to acquire him.

Considering Buchholz up and down career, the one constant is unpredictability. What the Red Sox need to see in 2015 is a starter who takes the ball every fifth day and manages his pitch count to keep them in games. The offense will be improved this season but this cannot cover for a starter with a 5.34 ERA. He doesn’t need to be spectacular, but an ERA+ of 109 or better might be necessary for the Red Sox to pick up his option for 2016.

Who is Clay Buchholz? If he continues to struggle in 2015, one thing is for certain. After the season, he might be looking for a new team.

Stay tuned each day until the start of Spring Training for another installment of the 25 in 25 series here at BoSoxInjection.[/related-category category="25 in 25"]