BOSTON (CBS) — Last year at this time, Clay Buchholz was 7-0 with a 1.73 ERA for the Red Sox, who were a half of a game out of first place and nine games over .500.
Right now, Buchholz is 2-4 with a 6.32 ERA, and the Red Sox are five games under .500 and four games out of first place. They’re losers of six straight games, a streak which Buchholz was unable to stop on Wednesday night.
Clearly, things are different, and Buchholz’s latest outing provided clear evidence. The right-hander allowed five runs, four earned, on nine hits, two homers and two walks over 4 2/3 innings in a game the Red Sox lost 6-4 to the Blue Jays.
Despite the clear contrast to last season, Buchholz said he felt as good as ever when he took the mound on Wednesday night.
“As far as stuff goes, I feel like I had the best stuff in this start, velocity-wise, that I’ve had all year,” Buchholz said. “So there’s absolutely nothing physical bothering me. It’s tough to go out there, and when you miss with one pitch, it gets hit every time. So that’s sort of where I’m at right now.”
That’s certainly good news for Buchholz, who missed half of last season with lingering shoulder and neck pain and was unable to pitch to his full ability in the postseason. But with no physical ailment right now, what is it that’s leading to Buchholz struggling so badly?
The pitcher said it’s largely a lack of good fortune, an area in which he was not lacking last year.
“Just going back and looking at a couple of pitches, not every pitch they hit was a bad pitch. It’s just right now, whenever their barrel hits the ball, it’s finding a hole,” Buchholz said. “From the first start of the season, I’ve been looking at film from last year. It comes back to getting the ground ball double play when you need to get it, being hit at somebody rather than just being left or right or just over the glove. Things, they gotta work out right. There’s a little luck involved in everything, and I think that comes from being confident out on the mound, and it’s hard to be confident whenever you’re getting hit around everywhere.”
As far as that “luck” goes, the best measure may be BABIP, or batting average on balls in play. Last year in 16 starts, hitters’ BABIP against Buchholz was .255. This year in nine starts, opponents’ BABIP is .381, meaning balls that are hit and remain inside the ballpark are ending up as hits roughly 13 percent more often than they were last season. So he’s certainly got a case there, but the statistic doesn’t account for better pitches leading to weak contact — pitches that are sorely lacking in Buchholz’s starts this season, which leads to those hard-hit balls that can’t be fielded.
A look at FanGraphs shows that Buchholz is getting some bad luck on infield hits. Last year, he gave up infield singles on 3.8 percent of the ground balls he allowed, whereas this year, he’s allowed infield hits on 9.5 percent of the ground balls hit against him. The addition of Stephen Drew, a plus defensive shortstop, is likely to help in that regard, but again, the statistic does not account for a qualitative measure of the ground balls. When they’re hit 110 mph, they’re simply going to lead to hits more often than weak tappers to second base.
Manager John Farrell said there are no plans to remove Buchholz from the rotation or place him on the DL, that the coaching staff is going to have to tweak some mechanics on the fly in order to start a turnaround.
“We’ve got to make either an adjustment or a correction mechanically because too many misfires up to the arm side,” Farrell said. “It’s upon us to make the necessary adjustments to eliminate the number of mistakes. And that’s where he’s been hurt most, his mislocated pitches.”
Buchholz expressed obvious frustration after the loss, but he said he’s been through many peaks and valleys in his career. This one, he said, does not compare to his rookie season of 2008.
“I think being a rookie and not really knowing — the 2008 season was a little tougher than this is right now,” Buchholz said. “Because I know that I have everything that I need to compete and it’s just taking a little bit more time than I want it to right now.
“I’ve been through some ups and downs throughout my career, and I’ve always found a way to battle back and find where I need to be to be consistent, to be a guy that can go out there and have confidence, and the team can have confidence in you to be in a game. It’s tough letting down the guys half the time that I run out there. So that’s something that I’m struggling with myself.”
On Thursday morning, CSNNE’s Sean McAdam joined Andy Gresh and Scott Zolak in studio to talk about the struggling Clay Buchholz: