Apr 23, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz (11) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Now, hold on, I know what you’re thinking. Clay Buchholz? He’s been around Boston since 2007 and hasn’t had a single full season to show for it. But wait one second, because, silently, Buchholz has been a valuable asset and perhaps even front-of-the-rotation guy all along. We just didn’t know it.
Recently Red Sox manager John Farrell expressed the belief that Buchholz was ready to go 200 innings. Hope springs eternal. Even if, as he is wont to do, he manages only half of that total through injuries, I feel what Buchholz brings to the table is significant enough that he can be relied on as the number 2 in the rotation.
Looking at his stats, you can’t help but wonder exactly how good Clay could be if he brought it all together for one injury free splurge. In 2015 he managed a mere 113 innings, but during those his FIP of 2.68 was one of the best in all of baseball, dwarfing Miller’s and putting Buchholz in the company of aces like Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom. His K/9 of 8.50 was his best since 2008 and his fastball sat between 92-94 MPH for the first time since 2012. This was all before the train derailed on July 10, of course.
Even still, that half a season run from Buchholz was worth a pretty remarkable WAR of 3.2, just shy of the full season run from Miller that got him a WAR of 3.4. In short – Buchholz may get injured almost inevitably, the proverbial glass cannon that he is, but even with that in mind he is still good enough to contribute what would be expected of a solid number 2 starter. He won 7 games in 2015 compared to Miller’s 6 and this was all during the period when the Red Sox languished with struggling veteran sluggers dragging down inexperienced young talent.
Buchholz may have the fragility of a paper bag, but he has the stuff of an ace. Put the two together and, well, it’s not unthinkable that one could expect the floor of a pitcher in the middle of the rotation that comes with a ceiling of a pitcher nearer it’s front. With the depth that Boston enjoys in it’s pitching staff, it’s not going to end the Red Sox postseason plans for 2016 should Buchholz get side-lined again. This, in my view, makes the gamble worthwhile.
Unlikely to find his value via trades, Dombrowski’s best bet is to throw Buchholz at the wall again in the hopes he sticks knowing that, even if he doesn’t, his contribution will be significant regardless. And there’s always that chance that he may be better than them all. With Price now occupying the top spot, the pressure is off Buchholz and off the Red Sox who relied too heavily on him in 2015. He may not having the staying power of Miller, but he’s the better pitcher and can, at least in theory, provide a similar benefit overall.
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