Boston Red Sox “X” Factor: Clay Buchholz

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox need Clay Buchholz to remain healthy and consistent if they are going to challenge for another World Series Title in 2016.

The Boston Red Sox begin their 2016 campaign in Cleveland on Tuesday with questions aplenty. As Sox manager John Farrell opens the David Ortiz farewell tour on the proverbial hot-seat, the team features: a $95 million dollar third-baseman on the bench (who has literally eaten himself out of a job), a power-starved lineup, and at-least three players starting at new positions. Oy.  

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One of the more compelling, but under-appreciated (…and stressful) story lines for the Red Sox this season will be performance of the team’s starting rotation. Despite the addition of David Price this off-season, apprehension looms over the other pitchers on the staff. Only three starters of five are named thus far, and all of the pitchers not named Price have all had inconsistent-at-best careers. 

Meet the poster child for this angst: Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz. Buchholz, currently set to make his first start tomorrow, has superficially good career statistics (73-51, 3.85 ERA, two All-Star game appearances). However, Clay’s ERA on a year-to-year basis lacks the same luster as his cumulative career 3.85 number. 

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Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

The lanky Buchholz became a household name amongst Sox fans after throwing a no-hitter at Fenway Park against the Orioles as a rookie. Almost immediately after that game, Buchholz was shut down by the team due to shoulder fatigue and struggled mightily the next season. Thus began the career of a man with more (statistical) plot twists than The Departed.

Hold your hats. In 2013, Buchholz was a Cy Young Award candidate (12-1, 1.74 ERA); in 2014, Buchholz was statistically one of the worst pitchers in Major League Baseball (8-11, 5.34). In Buchholz’ nine year career, he has finished a season with a stellar sub-3.00 ERA three times, but also finished three seasons with an abysmal ERA around 5.00. Luckily, when it comes to Clay Buchholz, he’s consistently inconsistent.

Buchholz’ statistics reflect, completely contrary to common sense and baseball, that his worst years are not necessarily because he has given up a high number of hits. In fact, in some of his best seasons he doled out more hits than Dr. Dre on The Chronic. Buchholz simply does not care, nor give up runs, when runners are on base via the hit. Home runs, however, are a different story.

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Clay Buchholz’ statistics on home runs allowed are migraine-inducing. Buchholz’ four worst seasons (by ERA) are identical to his four worst seasons by the amount of home runs surrendered. In this bizarro world, Buchholz’ specializes in giving up the solo home run (at twice a higher clip than when runners are on base) and strangely gives up twice as many homers on the road (Fenway is a sandbox?).

The curious case of Clay Buchholz is at a cross-roads. The current state of the Red Sox rotation gives Buchholz all the stage he needs to redefine a career that has long felt in limbo.