Clay Buchholz was having the greatest season of his career in 2013 before a freak neck injury got in the way. He made 16 starts in 2013, racking up 12 wins and 96 strikeouts (his 7.98 K/9 was his highest rate since 2008) to go along with a 1.74 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. Buchholz was one of the best pitchers in fantasy baseball at the time of his injury, so what can we expect from the Boston Red Sox pitcher in 2014?
I expect regression, and quite a bit of it. When we dive into Buchholz’s peripheral statistics, it’s tough to find much of an improvement between his 2013 season and the rest of his career. His batted ball rates were all right around his career average, as was his swinging strike rate; with the exception of a slight decrease in the use of his changeup, his pitch usage was right in line with his career averages and his average fastball velocity was actually slightly below average.
Buchholz’s profile shows some minor improvements, but it has nothing in it that leads me to believe he suddenly became one of the best pitchers in baseball.
There are three underlying statistics that stand out when we examine Buchholz’s 2013 season, and they’re three statistics that we generally expect heavy regression from. First was his BABIP. Buchholz has always had a low BABIP (.278 in career) but last season he had a .254 BABIP, which was the 10th-lowest in baseball among pitchers with at least 100 innings. It was 40 points below the league average, and we should expect that number to regress back towards his career average in 2014.
The second number that jumped out was his absurdly low 4.5 percent HR/FB percentage. It was the second-lowest in baseball, and he was six percent below the league average. For his career, Buchholz has a HR/FB rate of 10.1 percent and just like with his BABIP, we should expect it to regress heavily towards his career average in 2014.
The third statistic that jumps out was his strand rate. For his career, Buchholz has a strand rate of 74.3 percent but in 2013, that number jumped all the way up to 83.7 percent, good for the second-best rate in all of baseball. Now, to his credit, Buchholz did register a career low 2.99 BB/9 rate (down from his career average of 3.44), but his walk rate in 2012 was just 3.04 and that year he had a strand rate of 69.7 percent, so what else could have attributed to such a strong increase?
Even if his walk rate remains right around three, his strand rate should share a fairly inverse relationship with both his BABIP and HR/FB rate. If more balls get through the defense, it will allow more batters to get on base, and it will allow more opportunities for runners to advance bases. Also, when a home run is hit, not only is the batter driving in himself, but he’s also clearing the bases of all other runners as well.
I expect both of those numbers to regress heavily to Buchholz’s career average, so his strand rate should regress with it, even if his walk rate remains low.
I have the Red Sox pitcher projected to get 11 wins with a 3.76 ERA, 132 strikeouts and a 1.31 WHIP in 165 innings, and I have him ranked as my 64th starting pitcher heading into the season — behind guys like Corey Kluber, Marco Estrada and Danny Salazar. Whatever you do, don’t draft Clay Buchholz expecting a repeat performance from 2013 (except maybe the part where he gets injured).