Is Clay Buchholz for real?

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If you had Clay Buchholz being the first pitcher to five wins, please collect your prize. The Red Sox hurler, now 28, has had a great start to the season as seems to be the case for a lot of pitchers on the Beantown roster. Buchholz struck out ten Astros last night and has yet to allow more than two runs in any start thus far in the season. He is looking like a new-and-improved pitcher, perhaps better than the one we saw finish sixth in AL Cy Young voting in 2010, when he posted a 2.33 ERA.

The most striking change for Buchholz has been his strikeout rate. He has traditionally hovered between 16-17 percent, which is a shade below the American League average. In his first 38 innings so far in 2013, it’s at 27 percent. Marc Normandin of Red Sox blog Over the Monster asks the obvious question: can we trust his strikeout rate? His research shows that Buchholz’s sudden improvement wouldn’t be unprecedented.

Since 1993, 17 pitchers — including Boston’s own Jon Lester — have seen their K/PA increase by at least eight percentage points from one year to the next, minimum 100 innings in each season. The quality of these pitchers themselves varies, but that’s not the key question with Buchholz: what’s important is that jumps in strikeout rate like the one he is currently experiencing do happen, even if they seem unbelievable at first glance.

Consider that, plus the fact that it’s been expected Buchholz would eventually evolve as a starter once he grew into his stuff — that whole fractured spine thing kind of interrupted his growth as a pitcher, though.

Though strikeout rate is one of the best predictors for a pitcher’s success, I have a hard time buying Buchholz in the 27 percent area. The only pitchers that wound up there last year were Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish. I would, however, buy an improvement that puts him in the 20 percent area, which is certainly something for Red Sox fans to get excited about nonetheless.

Reds to extend protective netting at Great American Ball Park

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The Reds announced on Thursday that the protective netting at Great American Ball Park will be extended to the end of each dugout in time for Opening Day next season. The press release notes that the current netting meets Major League Baseball’s guidelines and the new netting will go beyond those standards.

The netting “debate” came back on Wednesday when a young fan was struck in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have done about the bare minimum in installing protective netting, which rightly earned them criticism. Brian Dozier, Todd Frazier, and Didi Gregorius each said yesterday that the netting should be extended. Other teams and Major League Baseball in general received criticism. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, for example, said the relative lack of action on MLB’s part is “morally repugnant.”

Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes that the Reds had already had this idea prior to Wednesday’s incident at Yankee Stadium.

Orioles don’t intend to trade Manny Machado this offseason

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Orioles third baseman Manny Machado will become eligible for free agency after the 2018 season and is likely to get a windfall. The club, however, isn’t expected to pursue trading their star at the hot corner this offseason, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.

Machado, 25, has been one of baseball’s best players since debuting in 2012. He had a slow start to the 2017 season, seeing his OPS nearly drop below .700 in early July, but a strong second half has made his overall numbers more than respectable. Machado is batting .264/.318/.484 with 32 home runs and 92 RBI in 651 plate appearances while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base.

Just because the Orioles don’t plan to move Machado this offseason doesn’t mean they won’t try to recoup some value ahead of next year’s non-waiver trade deadline. According to Heyman, a person involved with the Orioles said, “It would take us 35 years to find another player like him.”