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.
The Yankees signed first-round draft pick Clarke Schmidt and second-round pick Matt Sauer on Saturday, per a team announcement. Schmidt, a right-hander from the University of South Carolina, is set to earn a signing bonus of $2,184,300. According to MLB.com’s Oliver Macklin, that’s much lower than the typical $3+ million allocated for a No. 16 overall pick. The opposite is true for Sauer, whose projected $2.5 million signing bonus tops the suggested $1.2 million reserved for a No. 54 pick.
Schmidt, 21, boasts an impressive four-pitch repertoire and profiles as a front-end or mid-rotation starter, according to reports from Yankees’ VP of Domestic Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer and ESPN’s Keith Law, among others. He carried a 4-2 record through nine starts in 2017 and turned in a 1.34 ERA before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery last month to repair a torn UCL in his right elbow. While the Yankees won’t see him pitch at any level until late 2018, they seem confident in his makeup and ability to rebound over the next couple of years.
Fellow right-hander and Righetti High School senior Matt Sauer is a different story altogether. The 18-year-old hurler appears destined for the bullpen with a polished fastball-slider combo and a promising curveball and changeup. He dazzled on the mound this year, going 9-1 with an 0.98 ERA and two shutouts over 78 1/3 innings. While the Yankees seem most interested in his pitching skills, Sauer showed some pop at the plate as well, touting a .427 average with 24 RBI through 135 plate appearances.
The Athletics followed Friday’s 3-0 shutout with a rookie-led home run derby on Saturday afternoon, watching not one, not two, but three rookies belt their first major league home runs off of the White Sox’ James Shields.
Right fielder Matt Olson was the first to strike, taking Shields deep on a first-pitch, two-run blast in the first inning for his first home run in 49 major league plate appearances:
Fellow outfielder Jaycob Brugman duplicated his teammate’s results in the second inning with a solo home run, his first extra-base hit of any kind since he made his debut on June 9:
In the third, with a comfortable 4-0 lead backing two scoreless frames from Oakland right-hander Daniel Gossett, Franklin Barreto took his shot at Shields. After getting the call several hours prior to Saturday’s game, he became the fastest of the three rookies to record his first big league homer, going yard on a 2-2 changeup and driving in Bruce Maxwell to give the A’s a six-run advantage.
The Athletics currently lead the White Sox 8-2 in the top of the sixth inning.