I think we’d all agree that this has been a disappointing season for our beloved Red Sox, as the team is in fourth place in the division, sitting one game above .500 at the trade deadline. As we’ve all heard ad nauseam, the starting pitching should take the brunt of the blame for the disappointing start to the season, as they rank 26th in ERA (4.85), and 22nd in FIP (4.45). The starting rotation was expected to be more than adequate coming into the year, but Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have both struggled, and the Daniel Bard experiment did not go well, to put it lightly.
However, as of late, the Red Sox have finally found a pitcher who has pitched consistently well. Although he hasn’t really been pitching to the level of true aces such as Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw, Clay Buchholz has given this rotation a boost and has acted as a stopper. While his 4.75 ERA and 4.87 FIP don’t sound at all promising, these numbers must be taken with a grain of salt given his horrific start to the season.
Keep in mind that after April, Buchholz found himself with an 8.69 ERA and 6.87 FIP, then followed that up with a 5.60 ERA and 5.38 FIP in May. No matter how well you pitch for the next two months, a start like that will do some serious damage to your full-season stats. However, he has certainly improved substantially since then, posting sub-3 ERA’s in each of the following two months.
One big reason for the improvement has been Buchholz’s newfound control. In both April and May, he found himself walking over four batters per nine innings, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was below 1.5 for both months as well. However, in June and July he has posted sub-2.2 BB/9, and his K/BB ratio has topped 2.5 in both months. (His K/BB in June was a tremendous 4.17.)
At least part of Buchholz’s resurgence can also be attributed to luck and regression as well. In April and May, he posted BABIPs of .330 and .356, respectively. In the following two months, those numbers have fallen to .253 and .200, respectively. Now, some of this is likely due to improved pitching performance, but there is also some good old fashioned regression to the mean coming into play, here.
The real moment of turn around actually came earlier than June 1st. Prior to his May 11th start against Cleveland, Buchholz hadn’t made a start in 2012 in which he allowed fewer than five earned runs. Against the Indians, he pitched 6-1/3 and allowed three runs. While that’s not spectacular, it was certainly an encouraging sign. Since (and including) that start, he has thrown 83 innings with a 3.04 ERA and a FIP of about 3.85. This discrepancy is not uncommon for him, as Buchholz has shown a consistent ability to outperform his FIP. If these were full-season numbers, he would rank 7th in ERA (Between CJ Wilson and Jake Peavy) and tied for 18th with James Shields in FIP amongst AL pitchers.
What’s even more encouraging are his last seven starts, beginning with his complete game shutout on June 7th against Baltimore. Since then, Buchholz has thrown 51-1/3 innings posting a 2.45 ERA and a 37/11 K/BB ratio.
Just like he was getting unlucky with balls in play in the beginning of the year, it is likely that he is on the receiving end of the luck machine for this good stretch. However, his improved command is extremely encouraging, and it’s virtually impossible to think that he’d slip back into the funk that he was in to start the season. While he’s not a bona fide ace in this league, he has been a huge part of keeping this team afloat as the season approaches playoff-push-time. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett need to rebound in order for this team to earn a postseason birth. If that does happen, be sure not to forget about this run that Buchholz has been on that has helped keep the team’s head above water as it waited for its stars to return to form.