Boston Red Sox: Is Clay Buchholz the Best Pitcher in the American League?

Douglas SiborContributor IJune 3, 2013

After a dominant performance Sunday night in which he allowed just two hits and no earned runs while throwing just 71 pitches in 5.0 innings, Clay Buchholz put to rest any concerns that his injury was anything that could seriously impact him on the mound. The right-hander captured his eighth win of a season that has begged the question: Is he the AL’s best pitcher?

Both the numbers and the eye test suggest that, at least this year, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Sunday was the first time Buchholz has failed to go at least six innings and only the second time he has failed to go seven. But in this case, the only thing that could slow him down was a torrential downpour that ended the game early. David Ortiz—no slouch at the plate himself—certainly respects his teammate’s performance, telling ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes after last night’s game that “I watch Buchholz pitch and I get goose bumps.”

Sox fans should too. Not only is Buchholz striking out a career-best 8.9 batters per nine innings, but he’s also managed to give up just two home runs in 77.2 innings of work; he ranks first in the AL in wins, ERA, and opponents’ OPS allowed, and he is in the top 10 in pretty much every other category.

From an advanced metrics standpoint, Buchholz’s numbers hold up as well. He is second in the MLB and first in the AL in WAR (trailing only Clayton Kershaw), has only been marginally lucky (his BAbip is .239) and his defense-independent ERA (2.69) is still good for fifth in the AL.

Remember when everyone thought the only reason Buchholz was good was because of his doctoring of the ball? Where are they now?

The simple fact is that Buchholz has never been better than he is right now; the only debatable point is where he stands when compared to the other elite pitchers in the AL and MLB as a whole. While he can’t be considered one of the best at this point in time, if he continues as he’s been doing then that conversation will be warranted very soon.

Looking at the AL landscape, who else would you rather have right now? Given their lengthy track records, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander might be justifiable choices. But who else? Yu Dasrvish? Chris Sale? Matt Moore? These guys have all been excellent this year for sure, but none of their numbers (even Hernandez or Verlander’s) hold up against those of the Sox’s right-hander.

Every time Buchholz has been questioned, he’s answered with authority.

First, it was whether he could even make it as an MLB pitcher. He almost won the Cy Young in 2010.

Last year, it was if he could stay healthy. He threw a career-high 189.1 innings.

This year, it was if he could return to form and lead the staff. The answer to that one is readily apparent.

Buchholz has shown no signs that his streak of dominance is going to end. On the season, his ERA has never risen above 1.78, and after scuffling a little in his May 6 start against Minnesota he has rebounded by posting a 1.67 ERA in 27.0 innings of work. Even when he inevitably slips to a more sustainable level of success, Buchholz has established that in 2013 he is the top pitcher in the American League.