Q: Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz both had fantastic 2010’s for the Red Sox, finishing fourth and sixth in Cy Young voting respectively. Is last year’s success a reasonable goal for 2011?
DH: Jon Lester is my AL Cy Young favorite for this year. I see him as a true ace who will only get better and better as time goes on, and I think it's only a matter of time before the rest of the league sees what he is: the best left-hander in the game today.
Clay Buchholz, on the other hand, is a bit of a conundrum. Obviously talented, he finally figured it out on the MLB level last year. And yet, it's hard to completely overlook his low BABIP (.261), his high FIP (3.61) and his less than ideal BB/9 rate (3.47) and K/9 rate (6.22).
And yet, at the same time, his HR/FB rate (5.6 percent), his GB/FB ratio (1.61) and his HR/FB rate (4.1percent) were some of the best figures in the league. Buchholz clearly was the master of weak contact last season; his superb fastball/change-up combination saw to that. And, with his first full season under his belt, I think it's reasonable to expect a positive regression towards his minor league peripherals (10.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9). Buchholz is a strikeout pitcher; he has the approach and stuff of one. For me, it's not a matter of if he starts striking out batters, it's when.
Do I expect another 2.33 ERA out of him? No. Do I expect him to completely fall off the table? Not at all. I think Buchholz is due for another good season in 2011, and I think he'll eventually become an ace pitcher if he isn't at that level already.
AS: With Lester, absolutely. This guy has had three straight excellent seasons, and is one of the most consistent aces in baseball at this point. Barring an injury, it would be very surprising if Lester didn’t put up a sub-3.50 ERA, 15-plus wins and 200-plus strikeouts.
Buchholz is more of a wild card. While his 2010 season was incredibly encouraging, there are some warning signs in his peripheral statistics that suggest some regression could be on the way, at least in the short term. Buchholz had the 10th-lowest BABIP in baseball last year, which allowed him to be extremely successful even though he posted mediocre strikeout totals and a fairly high walk rate. Buchholz also appeared at least somewhat fortunate in avoiding home runs. His strong ground ball rate undoubtedly helped, but whether he'll be able to maintain his excellent HR/FB ratio from last year is an open question.
It’s tough to best someone like Buchholz, who is still just 26 years old and possesses a 95 mph fastball and 12-to-6 curveball. But unless he takes a major step forward this year, I would expect his numbers to take a step backwards. I still think he’ll be a solid second or third starter this year though, and there’s no question that he has the ability to eventually emerge as an ace sometime down the line.
JC: I think last year's success is a reasonable starting point for 2011. I don’t see any drop-off in Lester or Buchholz. They are both coming into the prime of their careers, and with the bats that they will have at their backs, even if they slip up this year the offense will protect them.
This years offense will be the best defense in that respect. It will allow Red Sox pitchers a larger margin of error and thus they will be more comfortable on the mound and that higher level of comfort will result in more relaxed and thus even better pitching by the Sox staff. At least that is the logic that I am employing.
I see both Lester and Buchholz as All-Stars this season.
KT: I think Lester is likely to top his performance from a year ago and Buchholz is likely to fall short. Lester, to me, is a perennial Cy Young candidate, and if he gets his walk total down, he could be one of the two or three best pitchers in the American League. Buchholz has that kind of talent too, but it's probably unfair to expect another sub-2.50 ERA. I have no doubt Buchholz will be solid, but I'd guess he falls short of his numbers from last year while Lester makes a legit run at a 20-win season.