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Brushing Up On Clay Buchholz

This Buchholz kid, he could be pooty goo.  He's been receiving serious praise for a while and topped Kevin Goldstein's list of top Red Sox prospects two years running and once he got to the majors, he threw a no-hitter in his second start.  But he's struggled to achieve the predicted dominance in '08 and '09.  So what's the deal?

He's had no problems at all in Pawtucket, where his numbers reflect the glowing scouting report Goldstein provided prior to the '08 season:

Buchholz is the total package with outstanding stuff, outstanding command and control, and outstanding mound presence. His four-seam fastball sits at 92-94 mph, can touch 97, and features excellent movement. It also isn’t even his best pitch. His plus-plus curveball is a true 12-6 breaker, and multiple scouts relay stories of batters falling down while trying to hit it. His changeup is also an above-average offering that features a late and heavy drop. He also mixes in a solid slider, and a two-seam fastball with some sink. His mechanics are smooth and sound, and he pitches with a fearless intensity.

Looking at his start against the Tigers on the 13th, there's evidence for all of that.  He obviously loves to throw his change regardless of the handedness of the hitter and gets a ton of break on his curve.  His fastball was anywhere from 91-95 mph and the pitches on the slower end may well have been two-seamers.  In Buchholz's next start against Toronto, he showed much the same.  So his stuff hasn't really declined, but somehow his K's have gone down drastically and he's still giving up way too many free passes.  The only real glimmer in his '09 performance is the lack of homers thanks to a 57% GB rate

Given the stuff, the problem has to be a lack of control and command, and, possibly, pitch selection.  He appears to be throwing way too many changes.  There's a reason why most other starters don't throw changes to same-handed batters.  The change-up heavy approach may have arrested the development and confidence in his breaking pitches that are normally staples of right handed pitchers.  Then again, if he's incapable of throwing good strikes on a regular basis, pitch selection isn't going to matter all that much. 

In watching Buchholz's start against the Jays, he consistently missed the glove with everything but his change and Victor Martinez was constantly gesticulating, in effect, "chill out and throw strikes".  He seemed to get poor contact and whiffs most consistently with the change, so I guess it's not that surprising that he's throwing it so much.  He worked mostly up in the zone with his fastball and wasn't totally sure where it was going.  If anything is in question, it's the last line of Goldstein's report. On finishing his pitches, he seemed to falling off to differing degrees; the more the pitch missed, the more he fell off to the left side.

The upshot: he's going to allow a good number of baserunners, but it's going to be difficult to capitalize because making good contact on his stuff is a chore.  He's got the weapons to induce weak swings and whiffs, but who knows whether or not he'll actually make the pitches when he needs to.  The Red Sox defense isn't going to help him out much, so it's really on Buchholz to make good pitches.  Hopefully the RHB at the top of the lineup are on base for Thome; he's got the best shot at taking Buchholz deep.  And it would be nice if AJ were in the lineup to catch Contreras tonight, but I'm sure it'll be Castro time.  And even if he is a lefty, I'm hoping for a Pods-less game for once.  How is the fourth best OF on the team getting this much playing time?