Scouting Clay Buchholz: What the veteran starter adds to the Phillies

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Scouting Clay Buchholz: What the veteran starter adds to the Phillies

The Phillies shrewdly bought low on Clay Buchholz on Tuesday, absorbing his contract from the Red Sox in exchange for a low-level minor league infielder.

Now that he's slated to be in a Phillies uniform, here's a more in-depth look at Clay Buchholz and what he does and does not bring to the table for the 2017 season.

Slow poke
There were times last season where Jeremy Hellickson or other Phillies pitchers drew ire for their deliberate pace on the mound. Buchholz takes that to another level.

Since Pitch F/X era started in 2008, Buchholz is tied for last in pace with 25 seconds in between pitches. His 2011 season is one of the slowest on record.

The minor leagues have a pitch clock that forces pitchers to speed up, but there is no such feature in the major leagues and the rules on time in between pitches is rarely (read: never) enforced. Buchholz received a pace of game warning from MLB in 2015 after he stepped out of the batters box after pitches while hitting against the Phillies, but he has not received any such warning for his pitching.

That can lead to some long games with Buchholz on the mound. Whether or not his deliberate pace is beneficial by throwing off hitters is tough to determine. At the very least, after 10 years in the MLB and a fair amount of success, it's tough to expect Buchholz to change that aspect of his game.

Every other year
The 32-year-old starter has had seasons where he was a bonafide Cy Young candidate and others where he has been barely passable in the rotation. There's been very little in between.

Essentially, Buchholz has fluctuated between superb and well below average results. In 2010, he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA over 28 starts, earning an All Star appearance and a sixth-place finish in the Cy Young voting. However, he wasn't nearly as good in 2011, when his season ended early after a back injury, or 2012, when his ERA ballooned to 4.56 despite throwing a career-high 189 1/3 innings.

Buchholz returned to form in 2013, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA that had him as a Cy Young favorite until another injury severely shortened his season. He followed that up with a 5.34 ERA in 2014. 

He also experiences great fluctuation start-to-start. In that abysmal 2014 season, he still threw two complete game shutouts while allowing six runs or more in seven starts.

What has he done lately?
Buchholz had a down year in 2016, hence his presence on the trade market. Once the Red Sox acquired southpaw Chris Sale, the righty became expendable, particularly with his $13.5 million salary. 

His first half was especially poor, bringing an ERA over 6.00 into June. He was removed from the rotation in July.

Over the final two months, Buchholz became much more effective, particularly when a rash of injuries moved him back to the rotation. In five September starts, the veteran went 3-0 with a 3.14 ERA, tossing four quality starts. The trip to the bullpen may have been a turning point to getting him back on track.

Why fans should be excited
As Corey Seidman pointed out, Buchholz is a buy-low candidate with declining velocity. The Phillies gave up a lower level prospect and could get much more at the 2017 trade deadline if Buchholz looks like his 2010 or 2013 self. Even if he isn't used as trade bait, he can help bolster a Phillies rotation filled with young players and add a veteran presence.

If Buchholz stays healthy, the worst case scenario is that he ends up being a higly paid innings eater on a team with very few big money contracts, so absorbing his contract isn't much of an issue.

The righty also had a relatively large split between his home and road numbers last season, pitching poorly at hitter-friendly Fenway Park (5.60 ERA in 72 1/3 innings) while putting up league average numbers on the road (3.90 ERA in 67 innings). Citizens Bank Park isn't exactly a pitching haven, but it could be a better backdrop for Buchholz, who gave up twice as many home runs at home than on the road last year.

As a quirky side note, Buchholz is one of a few pitchers who throws righty but hits lefty. He has two hits in 15 career at-bats. 

What should worry fans
The pace of play could make some Buchholz starts unpleasant to watch, but his pitching itself has some red flags. The 32-year-old has an injury history and may be fragile despite making it through 2016 unscathed. There's reason to believe with his lower velocity and his inconsistent results that Buchholz can't find his former self, which is an inherent risk in a buy-low player.  

If Buchholz performs very well, the only downside is that would mean he wouldn't be long for the Phillies. He'd likely be traded in the offseason or pursue a multi-year deal next offseason.

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

Mets promote Tim Tebow to high Class A St. Lucie

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tim Tebow is moving up and heading south -- to some very familiar territory.

Tebow has been promoted to the New York Mets' high Class A affiliate in St. Lucie, Florida. The 29-year-old Tebow led the University of Florida to two national championships in football and won the 2007 Heisman Trophy during his stellar career with the Gators.

"I'm not sure how much of an additional challenge it will be," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Sunday in San Francisco. "Clearly it's a step up. I certainly think he can handle it."

Tebow began his first pro baseball season with Class A Columbia, drawing huge crowds at home and wherever the Fireflies went in the South Atlantic League. He entered his final Fireflies game batting .222 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.

"I wouldn't say he has excelled there, but at the same time, what he's done there -- given all the circumstances -- justified the promotion to Port St. Lucie," Alderson said.

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

Phillies play wait-and-see game with Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick

PHOENIX -- Jerad Eickhoff and Howie Kendrick both tested their achy body parts on Sunday.

Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper back strain, threw two 15-pitch "innings" in the bullpen and was pleased with the results.

"It felt good, no sense of pulling," he said. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow."

Eickhoff's turn in the rotation will come up Wednesday in Seattle. If he can't make the start, Mark Leiter Jr. will. Leiter pitched six shutout innings in his first big-league start on Friday night.

As for Kendrick, who is battling left hamstring tightness, he was not in the starting lineup for a fourth straight game on Sunday. He did run some sprints under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan before the game.

"He still feels it, but he's available to pinch-hit," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Is this getting close to being a situation that would require a trip to the disabled list?

"Hopefully not," Mackanin said. "Hopefully he's better tomorrow. If not, I'm hoping he can at least DH in Seattle (on Tuesday). He's one of our best hitters and I want to get him in there. But I've got to be cautious."

Kendrick already spent six weeks on the disabled list with an abdominal injury earlier this season. He's played well when healthy, hitting .355 (43 for 121) with a .414 on-base percentage in 31 games.

The Phillies need to be certain that Kendrick is healthy when they turn him loose because he could hold some trade value in the month of July and a full-blown injury would hurt that.