Clay Buchholz 2012 vs. 2013

Wednesday night, Toronto Blue Jays broadcasters Dirk Hayhurst and Jack Morris started the debate that has got the baseball world talking.  Buchholz pitched a good game – 7ip 2h 8k 3bb 0r – Hayhurst and Moris began questioning if Buchholz was “cheating”.

He very clearly kept going to touch his left forearm with the index and middle fingers on his pitching hand.  There was also a certain shine to that left forearm that was not there on his right arm, and that shine was not on his left arm during 2012 or Spring Training this year.

Here he is during Spring Training in 2013:
Here is a screenshot I took from that video:

clay spring training 2013

Click for Full Size.

This is Clay Buchholz, again pitching in Toronto, on September 15, 2012:

Here is a screenshot I took from this video:

clay 2012

Click for Full Size.

Here is the video that started the discussion from Wednesday.

No great spot to clearly point out the shininess in a screenshot here.  So I went to Twitter and found a picture:

Clay Wednesday

Source: Twitter

This picture is a much better close-up than the best screenshot I tried to take from the video.  But they are from the same start.

Buchholz has offered a response and many have speculated.  My opinion is that there is a very apparent shine to that arm.  But the questions “What really is it?” and “Is it cheating?” are not up to me to decide.  If I were to speculate, I would most likely be wrong too.  Is it baby lotion?  Is it pine tar?  Is sun tan lotion?  Is it something else?  Is it a combination of things?  Or is it simply that his left arm sweats more than his right arm out of the blue this season?

Here is Tom Verducci’s take on SI.com.
Here is the story by Gordon Edes on ESPN.

Here is Buchholz’s 2012, 2013 and career statistics to compare.

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG SHO IP R ER HBP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 27 BOS 11 8 4.56 29 2 1 189.1 104 96 12 1.326 8.9 1.2 3.0 6.1 2.02
2013 28 BOS 6 0 1.01 6 0 0 44.2 5 5 0 0.963 5.4 0.2 3.2 9.5 2.94
7 Yrs 52 32 3.73 111 5 3 681.0 311 282 24 1.314 8.3 0.9 3.5 6.8 1.95
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/3/2013.

No matter what is going on, cheating or not, Buchholz is pitching at a very high level.  There are also a few things that need to be remembered, again cheating or not.  The first thing to remember is Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second career start, on September 1, 2007, against the Baltimore Orioles while striking out nine batters.

Buchholz was also named the No. 51 prospect in baseball at the end of the 2006 season by Baseball America.  This is before he threw the no-hitter. Then at the end of 2007, coming into 2008, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 4 prospect in baseball — only behind Jay Bruce, Evan Longoria and Joba Chamberlain.

The third thing to take into account is that before an injury plagued season in 2011, he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 2010.  He was an All-Star and finished sixth in the American League Cy Young ballot.  Which leads me to my final thing to be taken into account — he entered this 2013 season at age 28.  This is about the age where many players begin to reach their peaks.

He had the potential to be a dominate pitcher all along.  Then when he was just 25 he put up the above mentioned 2010 numbers.  So the fact that he is really good should be no surprise to anyone.  He had injury issues in 2011, only starting 14 games. Then in 2012, there was the well-publicized Boston scenario that led to their manager, Bobby Valentine, being fired after one season and them trading away star players.

Now let’s look at some interesting sabermetric differences, while keeping in mind that the sample size is pretty small – at only 44.2 innings pitched so far in 2013.

Buchholz is having a career year in terms of striking out batters.  He is currently striking out 9.47 batters per nine innings.  His career, which includes the 2013 numbers has him averaging 6.85 batters per nine innings.

Batters have also only hit a .176 average off of Buchholz so far in 2013. This is not just a “lucky” fluke because of the small sample size either.  If you add thirty-two points to his batting average allowed, which is  the difference in his career BABIP and his 2013 BABIP, hitters would still be only hitting .208 off of him on the season. That is an average allowed, that over a season most any starter would take in a heart beat.

Buchholz has also left 91.4 percent of baserunners on base so far in 2013.  Fangraphs also has him speeding up his pace, taking less time between pitches than he ever has.

Buchholz has been getting more movement on his pitches this year which is where the substance really is playing into in the minds of people and leading to the above mentioned results.
Vertical MovementHorizaontal Movement
Click for Full Sizes.

That’s it.  I have given you all the tools.  Pictures, videos and statistics.  Now you should better be able to come to a conclusion about what is going on with Buchholz and the effect of recent allegations.

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Very Veryyy Early Interesting MLB Pitching Statistics Dump

Met RHP Matt Harvey and Red Sox Clay Buchholz are tied for the MLB lead with 4 wins each.  Astros RHP Philip Humber leads the MLB in losses with 4.  Giants RHP Sergio Romo has the MLB lead with 8 saves.

Buchholz has pitched 30 innings to lead the MLB.  He pitched 7 innings in each of his first two starts.  Then he pitched 8 innings in each of his third and fourth starts.

Tigers RHP Max Scherzer leads all innings qualified pitchers with at a 14.21 strikeouts per nine innings rate.  Twins RHP Kevin Correia, 3.38 K/9, is the lowest.  Correia’s has a 2.95 earned run average.  Scherzer has a 2.84 ERA.

Giants RHP Tim Lincecum so far has walked 5.56 batters per nine innings, the highest rate in the MLB.  Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright (29ip) and Athletics RHP Bartolo Colon (19ip) each have not walked a batter in 2013.

Twins RHP Vance Worley has allowed the worst batting average on balls in play, .403, among innings qualified pitchers.  He has a career .316 BABIP allowed.  Mariners RHP Hisashi Iwakuma has allowed a MLB low .119 BABIP, so far in 2013.

Athletics LHP Brett Anderson has generated the highest ground ball rate, 65.5 percent, among innings qualified pitchers.  Orioles LHP Wei-Yin Chen, 29.7 percent, has the lowest rate.

Clay Buchholz and Nationals LHP Ross Detwiler each have a 0.90 ERA, tied for the lowest among innings qualified pitchers.  Padres RHP Edinson Volquez’s 8.84 ERA is the highest.

Adam Wainwright has the highest wins above replacement, 1.5, for a pitcher so far in 2013.

In 18.2 innings in 2013 Rays RHP Roberto Hernandez (Formerly Fausto Carmona)  has intentionally walked 3 hitters to lead the MLB.  He only intentionally walked 3 hitters in 659.1 innings pitched, 114 games, between 2008 and 2012.

Edinson Volquez has leads the MLB with 5 wild pitches.

Tigers RHP Justin Verlander has thrown 439 pitches, the most so far in 2013.

Ross Detwiler has thrown a fastball 92.5 percent of the time so far in 2013, to lead innings qualified pitchers.  Outside of Blue Jays knuckleballer, R.A. Dickey, Rangers RHP Yu Darvish has thrown the fewest percentage of fastballs, 30.6 percent.

Among innings qualified pitchers Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg has averaged the fastest fastball, 95.7 miles per hour. When you include relievers, basically anyone who’s pitched in 2013, Cardinals RHP Trevor Rosenthal has the highest average fastball velocity at 97.7mph.

Reds LHP Aroldis Chapman’s average fastball has dipped year of his career so far and the trend has continued into 2013.

  • 2010:  99.6 mph. 15 games.
  • 2011:  98.1 mph. 54 games.
  • 2012:  98.0 mph. 68 games.
  • 2013:  97.1 mph. 10 games.

The two lowest average fastball velocities in the MLB among innings qualified pitchers, are both on the Blue Jays.  R.A. Dickey’s fastball has averaged 82.2 mph and LHP Mark Buehrle’s has averaged 84.7 mph.

Batters have swung at 39.3 percent of Adam Wainwright’s pitches outside the zone so far in 2013, to lead all innings qualified pitchers. Also among innings qualified pitchers, hitters have been most patient hitting off of Diamondbacks RHP Trevor Cahill, swinging at only 37.1 percent of his total pitches.

Hitters have only made contact on 61.7 percent of Red Sox RHP Ryan Dempster’s pitches so far in 2013, the lowest rate among innings qualified pitchers.

Cardinals rookie RHP Shelby Miller has thrown a first pitch strike 73.2 percent of the time, to lead the MLB.  Batters have a .768 On-base plus slugging after Miller starts a plate appearance with a ball so far in 2013.  When he starts the count with a first pitch strike batters only have a .404 OPS.  Padres RHP Jason Marquis has started with a first pitch strike only 46.3 percent of the time, the lowest percentage in the MLB.

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Source:  Fangraphs & Baseball-Reference.  Stats as of Sun. April 21, 2013 4:18 AM ET