Clay Buchholz: Just Another Highly Touted Prospect Who Couldn't Make It?

Douglas SiborContributor IMay 11, 2012

It has been a rough start to 2012 for Clay Buchholz, whose perceived value may have grown well beyond his actual talent level.
It has been a rough start to 2012 for Clay Buchholz, whose perceived value may have grown well beyond his actual talent level.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

For someone who is supposed to be a stabilizing force and a potential ace in the rotation, Clay Buchholz sure doesn’t look the part.

The numbers this season over his six starts have been startling: only 32.2 innings pitched (just over 5.0 per start), a 9.09 ERA, 2.02 WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) and 10 home runs allowed. Those are not the numbers of someone you pin the future of your starting rotation.

And yet, that is exactly what the Sox had been hoping Buchholz (along with Jon Lester) would be. After all the promise he showed in 2010, the team certainly thought they’d see a better return on the four year, $30.5 million extension they handed Buchholz prior to the 2011 season.

Since inking that extension, Buchholz put together an inconsistent and injury-plagued 2011 followed by the atrocity (to date) that has been his 2012 season. The reality Sox fans may have to face is that the right-hander is simply not the top-flight prospect he has always been touted as. His flashes of brilliance have been simply that: brief highlights in an otherwise middling career.

If you remove the 2010 season from his stat line, the numbers for Buchholz have not been especially good. He has posted a 4.97 ERA over 54 career starts, averaging exactly 5.2 innings per outing. His WHIP is a robust 1.497 (the total WHIP for all MLB pitchers last season was 1.316).

Even that 2010 season was not without its flaws, either; Buchholz’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) allowed was .263, whereas the league average BABIP allowed was .297. This discrepancy signifies that a sizable portion of the pitcher’s success was owed to simple luck. The law of averages is now rearing its ugly head as balls that were finding gloves in 2010 are now becoming hits in 2012.

Despite being 3-1 in 2012, Buchholz also sports a 9.09 ERA and a 2.020 WHIP.
Despite being 3-1 in 2012, Buchholz also sports a 9.09 ERA and a 2.020 WHIP.Darren McCollester/Getty Images

This is not to say that Buchholz is a bad pitcher. You don’t win 17 games with a 2.33 ERA by accident. However, the expectations for the right-hander have simply grown far beyond what he has demonstrated that he can do.

He has never been able to stay healthy, which has greatly impeded his career progress. Prior to going on the DL for the rest of the season in mid-June of 2011, Buchholz had already missed significant time in 2008 and 2010 with injuries.

He also has had lengthy bouts of ineffectiveness prior to this year. After no-hitting the Baltimore Orioles in just his second career start, Buchholz was demoted during both the 2008 and 2009 seasons at a time when he was expected to contribute to the Sox’s big league rotation.

Particularly in the wake of last season’s disastrous finish, there also have been questions raised about Buchholz’s commitment. First there was his well-publicized role as an occasional participant in the beer and chicken parties in the clubhouse last season. More recently, he accompanied Josh Beckett for the golf outing that has raised the ire of the entire city of Boston.

The troubling part about Buchholz’s role in the golf scandal is not that he was there; after all, it was an off day and he can do as he pleases. However, he revealed his indifference to the fans’ perception of the team when he told ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes that, “I don't think it was a big deal at all. People feel differently than I do, I guess…there’s always got to be something to talk about.”

Perhaps if Buchholz had not been so utterly terrible this season, this type of comment would be understandable. However, for someone who has been so bad that he should be grateful that he hasn’t been booed off the mound yet, he has an awful lot of disdain for those who find this incident to be a “big deal.”

The Sox have had a lot of promising pitchers come up through the years who were supposed to be rotation anchors. Remember Paxton Crawford, Casey Fossum and Brian Rose? For Buchholz not to be lumped in with that group, he’ll need to turn things around quickly.

He has an opportunity to begin that process tonight as he takes the hill at Fenway against the Cleveland Indians. He’s running out of time to start getting positive results; with the return of Daisuke Matsuzaka imminent, he could be pitching for his spot in the rotation.