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

USA Today Images

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.

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera could soon return to the lineup after being sidelined by back stiffness.

Cabrera has been out since leaving the Dominican Republic's game last Saturday in the World Baseball Classic.

Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said Cabrera might play Friday against Atlanta.

"Just not going to rush it," Ausmus said before Wednesday's game against Toronto. "There's no reason to rush it. He's got plenty of at-bats. We'll see how he is on Friday."

Cabrera hit .316 with 38 homers and 108 RBIs last season.

Outfielder J.D. Martinez, who sprained his right foot making a shoestring catch Saturday, is scheduled to be re-examined Friday.

Martinez hit .307 last year with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Blue Jays: Bautista says he is over lower back stiffness
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista says the lower back stiffness that prevented him from playing for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic last weekend is no longer an issue.

Bautista was in the original lineup for Wednesday's spring training game against Detroit. But with an off-day Thursday, it was determined to have him play Friday instead.

"I'm feeling great," Bautista said. "I talked to the staff and it makes no sense to just kind of crank it up. Just take a day off."

Bautista is hopeful that his strong start, hitting .563 with two homers and six RBIs in six games before leaving for the WBC, will continue.

"I'm seeing the ball well and feeling good at the plate," Bautista said. "Just excited to be back in the swing of things with the guys, and looking forward to getting ready for the season” (see full story).

Twins: May has Tommy John surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins right-hander Trevor May has undergone Tommy John elbow surgery that will keep him off the mound this season.

The Twins announced on Wednesday that the replacement of May's torn ulnar collateral ligament was successful. The 27-year-old was transitioning back to starting, following a move to the bullpen halfway through the 2015 season.

With May's injury and their release on Tuesday of veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, the Twins are down to Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey and Adalberto Mejia in the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

May was placed on the 60-day disabled list, making room for the Twins to add left-hander Craig Breslow to the 40-man roster. The 36-year-old Breslow is among the finalists for a middle relief role.

Cardinals: Martinez to pitch on opening night
JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have picked Carlos Martinez to start on opening night against the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Martinez about the choice before he pitched Wednesday in an exhibition game against Washington.

The Cardinals host the NL Central rival Cubs on April 2.

Adam Wainwright had started the past four openers for the Cardinals. Matheny said Wainwright took the news well about Martinez getting the assignment this year.

The 25-year-old Martinez was an All-Star in 2015. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year.

Yankees 7, Phillies 3: Long balls hurt Vince Velasquez; Daniel Nava auditions at first base

Yankees 7, Phillies 3: Long balls hurt Vince Velasquez; Daniel Nava auditions at first base


CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin got right to the point after this one.

"Well, I wish Joe Girardi didn't bring Bird along," he said after the Phillies' 7-3 loss to the Yankees. "It would have been a different ballgame if he didn't show up."

Mackanin was referring to Greg Bird, the Yankees first baseman and owner of a sweet lefty swing that has produced six home runs this spring, including a pair on Wednesday.

Both of the home runs came on down-and-in fastballs from Vince Velasquez. On one of them, Velasquez missed his spot badly.

"Velasquez pitched better than what he gave up," Mackanin said. "He had a good fastball. He got his pitch count up and he got through six innings. We're happy about that."

Velasquez lines up to pitch the home opener on April 7.

Nava auditions at first 
Daniel Nava, fighting to make the club as a non-roster player, played the entire game at first base. He had a walk, drove in a run and made a nifty play with the glove at first.

The Phillies have a serious roster crunch. If Andrew Knapp makes the club as the backup catcher -- a strong possibility because he is already on the 40-man roster -- then Nava could be battling with Chris Coghlan and Brock Stassi for one of the final two spots on the bench. Nava and Stassi are similar in that they both play first base and outfield, so it could come down to one or the other. Both have swung the bat well this spring (see 25-man roster projection).

"I could go out there and do everything right and they could go in a different direction, and I could do everything wrong and they could want me," Nava said. "I've been in this spot numerous times so I'm just trying to control things that I can control. That's a classic cliché or phrase, but there's a reason it's a phrase because there's a lot of truth to it. I just don't look into that stuff because it's out of my control.

"They could go a lot of different ways and that's actually good because it's so far out of your control you can't worry about it.

"We have a bunch of guys here who are good players. We'll see what happens."

Up next
The Phillies host the Twins on Thursday (1:05 p.m./TCN). Aaron Nola will start.