There’s no denying that Clay Buchholz has been on shaky ground for years, but it feels like he’s not the pitcher the Boston Red Sox should have traded.
Today is a day of rejoice for many in Red Sox Nation. The enigmatic headache known as Clay Buchholz has finally been transplanted off to Philadelphia in exchange for second base prospect Josh Tobias in a cash-saving deal.
That’s an important thing to remember: no matter how shaky his results, this move was motivated purely on money, and it’s a move that the Boston Red Sox will come to regret.
Dombrowski made it clear that his intention was to deal one of his excess starters ever since the team acquired ace Chris Sale. Buchholz, Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright were set to compete for the fifth rotation spot (behind Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez). Despite Boston recently picking up his 2017 option, it always seemed like the longtime Red Sox righty was the odd man out.
To avoid doubling up, I’m not going to go into why I think Buchholz would have been a valuable member of the pitching staff with significant upside, those thoughts have been articulated here. But the fact is, Buchholz was the wrong pitcher to ship off because Pomeranz should have been dealt instead.
As previously stated, the Red Sox traded Buchholz because shedding his $13.5 million salary put them under the CBT, as well as saved a roster spot. While that’s a nice perk, it’s not a number one priority for a big market team like Boston. And to do so, they traded a tangible pitcher for a no-name minor leaguer who didn’t even crack the Phillies’ top 30 prospect rankings.
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Pomeranz, on the other hand, would have brought back real value in a trade. It was less than five months ago when Dombrowski shipped off prized pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza to bring Pomeranz to Boston, and it would have been hard to believe that the lefty’s value had plummeted significantly since then. Still just 28 years old, Pomeranz has three more seasons of team control. Yes, that’s a reason for the Sox to keep him, but that’s without taking into account that Pomeranz simply doesn’t fit in Boston.
When the Red Sox pulled the trigger on Pomeranz, he was wrapping up a first half with San Diego in which he threw to a 2.47 ERA with a 10.1 K/9, 5.9 H/9, and 0.7 HR/9. In the following 68.2 innings with Boston, those numbers inflated to a 4.59 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 9.2 H/9, and 1.8 HR/9. He was still striking opposing hitters out, but when batters made contact, it hurt a lot more.
Yes, moving from the spacious grounds of Petco Park to the closed confines of Fenway Park and the dangerous lineups of the AL East certainly played a part in the regression. But there’s more to the story, and these red flags show that the Red Sox would’ve been smart to cut bait with Pomeranz while his value was still high.
With the Padres in 2016, Pomeranz allowed a 20.5% soft contact rate, a 51.6% medium contact rate and a 28.0% hard contact rate. Fast forward to the second half with the Red Sox, and he allowed a 17.3% soft contract rate, a 46.7% medium contact rate, and a 36.0% hard contact rate. 19.7% of fly balls that Pomeranz allowed ended up leaving the yard. To reiterate, one in five fly balls went over the wall. As a pitcher who gives up an above-average number of fly balls, that’s a scary number.
Of course, it can’t be assumed that this is a permanent problem. But what is clear is that this isn’t a case of simple bad luck. The way Pomeranz pitches and gives up contact isn’t suitable for Fenway Park or the power-hungry AL East.
Neither Pomeranz or Buchholz represent particularly inspiring options for an effective starter, but at least Buchholz ended 2016 on a promising hot streak, while Pomeranz trended the opposite direction.
This isn’t meant to advocate that Buchholz deserved the fifth spot in the rotation, either. Giving 2016 All-Star Steven Wright the final spot and regulating Buchholz to the bullpen (where he was quite effective in 2016) as much-need pitching depth would have made for a comfortable situation.
When given the choice between shipping off two options, and one option has more red flags, no history of Red Sox success, and can net much more in a potential trade, it’s hard to justify Buchholz being the one to go.