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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Phil Hughes: 2011 vs. 2012

Yankees Starting Pitcher Phil Hughes won 18 games and was selected as an All-Star in the 2010 season.  But then his 2011 season was a disappointment going 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA.  Thus far in 2012, Hughes has almost pitched as many innings as he did in all of the 2011 season.

It looked like Hughes might be heading toward another season like 2011 after struggling in his first five starts.  In those five starts he went 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA while never lasting longer than 5 2/3 innings.

But in his last seven starts, he has gone 5-1 with a 3.50 ERA while never lasting any LESS than 5 1/3 innings.  That includes a start where Hughes gave up seven earned runs to the Angels

Hughes has had his ups and downs in his first 12 starts of 2012.  He is currently quite close to his innings pitched from 2011.  So I felt now was a good time to compare the production the Yankees are getting out of him.  Hughes was a former big name prospect, fourth overall on the Baseball America Top 100 in 2007.

Hughes has already pitched 68 innings in 2012.  He did not reach 68 innings pitched in 2011 until September 6.  He finished 2011 with 74.2 innings pitched.

It was well noted during the struggles of Hughes in 2011 that his fastball had lost velocity, specifically in the early part of the season.  But according to Fangraphs, Hughes has regained the average velocity that he had in 2010.

2010:  92.5 mph     2011:  91.3 mph     2012:  92.4mph

Hughes K/9 ratio has skyrocketed from 5.67 in 2011 to 8.34 in 2012.  Also his BB/9 has decreased from 3.25 in 2011 to 2.38 in 2012.  He was worse than league average in both of those statistics in 2011, while he is better than league average in 2012.

In 2011, hitters hit for a .277 average off of Hughes while 2012 hitters are hitting .264 off of him.  The 2012 batting average allowed is still worse than league average, .248, but still it’s an improvement.  The improved walk rate and batting average allowed has resulted in a WHIP improvement of 1.49 to 1.34.

Hughes is stranding more batters on base as well.  His LOB% has dropped from 65.4% in 2011 to 74% in 2012.

One troubling statistic about Hughes in 2012 is that he has allowed a home run in every one of his 12 starts.  He is allowing 1.99 HR/9 which is third highest rate of any innings qualified pitcher as of this posting.

Hitters are making contact slightly less in 2012, 83.3%, than they did in 2011, 86.6%, off of Hughes.  In 2011 his swinging strike percentage was 6.2% and it is currently 7.6% in 2012.

Over Hughes career left handed and right handed hitters have hit for a similar average off of Hughes.  Left handed batters have hit .256 off of Hughes, while the right handed batters have hit .248 over his career.  But he has seen opposite ends of the spectrum in both 2011 and 2012.

2011:     LHB:  .312 avg     RHB:  .234 avg

2012:     LHB:  .195 avg     RHB:  .352 avg

What the leadoff hitter of each inning does usually sets the tone for the rest of that inning.  Hughes has really seen an improvement here.  Hughes has allowed as following over the past two seasons to batters leading off an inning:

2011:  .300 avg     .372 OBP     .429 SLG     .800 OPS

2012:  .212 avg     .288 OBP     .394 SLG     .682 OPS

In 2012 Hughes has yet to allow a stolen base as well.  He allowed six in 2011.

Overall outside the rate of home runs he has allowed, Hughes has improved most areas of his game in hopes of a bounce back season.

 

*Note: Ralph Terry currently holds the New York Yankees record for most home runs allowed, 40, in a single season.  He did that while pitching 298.2 innings in 1962.  If Hughes stays at his current rate of 1.99 HR/9 allowed he will tie that record at 181.1 innings pitched.

**Note about the Note:  Ralph Terry ended that 1962 season with a 23-12 record and 3.19 ERA on his way to being named an All-Star, winning the 1962 World Series MVP, and being 14th in regular season MVP voting.

 

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