Evaluating Clay Buchholz’s surprise success with the D-backs
It’s tough to say anyone saw his success coming.
Clay Buchholz was left in baseball purgatory. A laundry list of injuries, diminished fastball velocity and an ice cold free agent market didn’t bode well for a 33-year-old pitcher viewed as over the hill.
Having his time with the Royals end on May 1, Buchholz joined the Diamondbacks organization by signing a minor league contract on May 4.
His impact on the D-backs, however, can’t be exaggerated enough.
Buchholz entered the D-backs rotation on May 20, throwing five innings and allowing one earned run against the Mets. Arizona would get swept, and then preceded to complete a 1-9 road trip with embarrassing stops in Milwaukee and Oakland.
The D-backs have lost Taijuan Walker for the season, and Robbie Ray remains out for an extended period of time. Enter Buchholz and Matt Koch being asked to throw quality innings to get the team back in first place.
Through four starts with the D-backs, Buchholz is 1-1, with a 1.88 ERA and a microscopic 0.83 WHIP. He makes his fith start of the year for Arizona on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Buchholz’s first two outings were tremendous and fell victim to the team’s May offensive swoon.
Against Oakland in Buchholz’s second start, he went six innings and allowed one earned run (on a solo home run on the first pitch he threw) with no walks and three strikeouts.
Before making a start at home, Buchholz had allowed two total runs and the team lost both games. It was shocking on both ends to see a team hit so poorly but finding great success on the mound.
The D-backs returned home for a huge homestand against the lowly Reds and Marlins. Buchholz took the hill wearing the red and teal with his team only a game above .500. He went on to carve up the Miami hitters like a Friday fish fry, as the offense broke out with nine runs of support.
The momentum from that win on June 1 was a series sweep and a 4-2 road trip through San Francisco and Colorado.
Perhaps the most amazing part of Buchholz’s dominance is how he’s getting big league hitters out.
According to PITCH/fx, only one of Buchholz’s pitches is above average. His cutter has been described as a “worm killer” that has generated a high swing-and-miss rate as well as a ton of ground balls.
The cutter has allowed the 180-pound, slender right-hander to get big league hitters without strikeout stuff.
The cutter has played both beautifully in hitter’s counts as well as when Buchholz holds the advantage.
There are, however, signs that Buchholz’s luck could run out. His .215 BABIP indicates that when he’s giving up contact they’re hitting the ball right at defenders, which surely won’t hold over the final 100 games of the season.
His 3.35 FIP is almost a run and a half higher than his ERA, which means he’s taken advantage of the D-backs’ elite defense in 2018.
The one thing that Buchholz could do to maintain his early success through the dog days of the season is to maintain his microscopic walk rate. Buchholz has allowed only three total walks in 24 innings of work.
This is the variable he controls the most.
Throwing strikes and forcing the opponent to swing the bats is important, and by doing that, Buchholz has become one of baseball’s best values in 2018. In a league that’s dominated by repressing contact, perhaps Buchholz’s contact-oriented approach could be the formula to retiring big league hitters in 2018.
Through four starts Buchholz has performed far better than the team could have anticipated. Now, he’s producing at a high level for a team that’s in the postseason hunt.
With Shelby Miller expected to be back soon and Ray’s return coming in the future, Buchholz will have to continue to pitch well to hang in the rotation.