Red Sox to get some improvement from Buchholz?


Clay Buchholz has never really been a strikeout pitcher. Even in his 16 starts in 2013, in which he posted a 1.74 ERA and was the obvious choice for the American League’s Cy Young Award before a neck injury sidelined him for much of the season’s second half, he struck out just 8.0 batters per nine innings (versus 7.0 in his career as a whole). Those are solid strikeout numbers, don’t get me wrong. However, they pale in comparison to what Buchholz has done through four starts this season.

Buchholz has pitched 22.1 innings in his 4 starts and, in that span, has punched out an astounding 29 batters versus only 7 walks. That’s 11.7 K/9, a stat which would be outstanding for a dominant late-inning reliever and otherworldly for a starting pitcher.

If advanced stats have taught us anything, they have made it clear that strikeout and walk numbers are an indicator of future performance. Despite his strong strikeout and walk numbers, though, Buchholz has only a 4.84 ERA and has allowed a .272 opponents’ batting average. Expect both of those numbers to dip significantly in the coming weeks and months.

Buchholz has been hurt by a ridiculous .371 BABIP, which should fall off quite a bit with some classic regression to the mean. When that happens, expect first his opponents’ batting average to plummet and then his ERA should follow and return him to respectability.

Through just four starts, it’s tough to know whether Buchholz’s strikeout and walk numbers are repeatable. His walk rate likely isn’t too far off from the norm as his 2.8 BB/9 is not too far below his 3.3 career BB/9 and is essentially on line with his 2.9 last season. His strikeout rate, on the other hand, might not be quite as repeatable.

However, Buchholz doesn’t need to be striking out everyone in sight in order to succeed this season. He will naturally improve once his BABIP regresses and, with his K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 all markedly better than his career averages, he should be in for a solid season. The Red Sox will need some semblance of an ace this year and, though his 4.84 ERA doesn’t necessarily reflect it, Buchholz has a solid chance to be that guy this season.