Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz Is the Ace of the Sox Rotation

Douglas Sibor@dcsiborContributor IJuly 31, 2012

Clay Buchholz has overcome a shaky start to 2012, becoming the ace of the Sox's struggling rotation
Clay Buchholz has overcome a shaky start to 2012, becoming the ace of the Sox's struggling rotationJared Wickerham/Getty Images

After another strong start Monday night, Boston Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz has cemented his status as the best pitcher on the team and the unquestionable ace of the starting rotation.

In a season that has seen the starting pitching (4.85 ERA, 26th in MLB) almost single-handedly sink the Sox, Buchholz has been on both ends of the quality spectrum.

He was, quite simply, horrendous from the start of the season until late May. In just nine starts, he allowed 43 earned runs (including a staggering 11 home runs) and 67 hits, and his bloated 7.84 ERA was by far the worst among qualifiers in all of MLB.

After that, though, something happened to make the lanky right-hander turn his season in the complete opposite direction. In nine starts beginning with his May 27 outing against the Rays, Buchholz has posted a 2.44 ERA while allowing just 18 earned runs and 50 hits.

In those nine starts, he has pitched at least six innings each time and has gone seven innings or more seven times. Over that stretch, the Sox are 7-2 in games he has started.

With Jon Lester and Josh Beckett repeatedly failing to give the Sox a boost, Buchholz’s contributions atop the Sox rotation have been instrumental in keeping the team at .500 all season. While their present predicament is obviously not one the Sox were expecting, the fact that Buchholz has been able to return to his 2010 form has been a huge victory for the franchise.

Indeed, the pitcher’s terrible first two months can be attributed largely to issues related to rust and the lack of command that often accompanies such a long layoff.

After hurting his back and missing most of the 2011 season, Buchholz took the mound in April for the first time in nearly a year. The results, somewhat predictably, were not pretty. His command was poor and hitters were crushing his off-speed pitches, leading the right-hander to rely too heavily upon his fastball.

However, after working through the initial kinks and fine-tuning his delivery, Buchholz rediscovered the control of his changeup and splitter and has been devastating ever since.

This drastic improvement in his ability to fool hitters is most apparent in his strikeout and walk totals. After fanning just 27 in his first nine starts, he struck out 50 in the next nine. Likewise, he walked 27 in his first nine starts, compared to just 14 since.

Now able to harness all of his pitches, Buchholz has emerged as the go-to pitcher for the Sox in must-win games, becoming a classic “stopper.”

The team is 6-3 in the nine games he has started following a Sox loss, and in those appearances, the right-hander has compiled a 4.68 ERA in 57.2 innings pitched (an average of about 6.1 innings per start).

While the ERA total may look modest, it is confounded by his horrific first start of the season in Detroit. If that one start is removed, his ERA dips to a far more palatable 3.86. If we look at only his numbers after his May 27 “awakening,” his ERA plummets to a miniscule 1.16.

With all the turmoil surrounding the 2012 Red Sox rotation, Buchholz has provided a modicum of stability. He has battled through rust and a minor injury to become the top pitcher on the staff, and the Sox will need him to continue his winning ways if they want to have a chance at the AL Wild Card.