Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 5/2/13
Mlb-athletics-red-sox-jul
In my mind, Clay Buchholz has been an ace since 2012. I began working for NESN right around June 1, 2012, and shortly thereafter began regularly live blogging Red Sox games for the duration of the season. So while Buchholz’s numbers on the season — 4.56 ERA, 1.33 WHIP — look pretty middling, in June and July he posted ERAs of 2.40 and 2.45, respectively, and after a 3.72 August put up a 3.03 mark in September. In any of those months, his highest opponents’ batting average against was .224. In other words, I basically missed an April and May in which his ERAs were 8.69 and 5.60, so the 28-year-old right-hander’s incredible start to 2013 isn’t necessarily much of a surprise. Buchholz’s transition to staff ace was a process that began last year, with a confidence that’s clearly carried over the winter. All that being said, as good as Buchholz was after May last year, he’s been downright dominant in his first six start this season. The obvious question then becomes what Buchholz has changed to become so good, what adjustments has he made. When he first came up through the Red Sox system, Buchholz’s pure stuff was raved about as much as any prospect ever, so we know he’s always had the ability to perform at this kind of level. His 2010 campaign did show flashes of brilliance, but by all accounts, just for the sake of being cliche, he’s taken his game to a whole new level in 2013. As NESN’s Red Sox beat writer, Ricky Doyle, noted after Buchholz’s Wednesday night, seven-inning, six-hit effort, the right-hander’s strikeout rate has spiked so far this year. After having a strikeout rate just above six per nine innings from 2010 through 2012, Buchholz has struck out 47 in 44 2/3 innings in 2013, which is certainly one part of his surge. However, diving a bit further into the numbers, it isn’t just that Buchholz is striking out more hitters, it’s how he’s doing it that’s so intriguing, and the best indication of just how dominant he’s been. To sum up the next several-hundred words: Buchholz is getting hitters to look at called strikes at an incredible rate. Buchholz has recorded 25 strikeout on called third strikes, good for best in the league. Moreover, his percentage of looking strikes has spiked about 10 percent from his career norms, and his looking-strikeout rate has increased 17 percent over 2012, which was already about 10 percent higher than his career average. While he averaged about 26 to 28 percent looking strikes throughout his career, that number has jumped to 37 percent this year. After getting between 24 and 28 percent of his strikeouts on called pitches before 2012, last year he got 36 percent of his strikeouts with the hitter napping, and this year that’s spiked to 53 percent. Now that we know how Buchholz has recorded his increased number of strikeouts, the question then becomes how is he doing it and is it sustainable. The answer to these questions is decidedly less sabermetric, and has a lot to do with Buchholz’s command of his pitches. One of the interesting things about Buchholz is that his general game plan hasn’t changed much over the years. Throughout his career he’s basically been a pitcher who throws his fastballs about 50 percent of the time. He throws his lauded changeup about 10 percent less than his did during his first three seasons in the big leagues, and his former slider has now become more of a cutter. But those are really the only significant changes in how Buchholz deploys his repertoire. Rather, Buchholz’s newfound dominance is simply in his ability to locate his pitches better as he’s aged — which is just about the oldest pitcher’s story in baseball. His tw0-seam fastball, in particular, has always had incredible lateral movement, and it’s the use of that lateral break that’s made him so effective. Take Wednesday night’s game as an example. Of the 66 strikes that Buchholz recorded, just nine were swinging, with 28 being called looking. Likewise, four of his strikeouts were recorded looking, continuing Buchholz’s season-long trend. Take this video — which features all four of his caught-looking strikeouts on Wednesday — for perfect examples of Buchholz’s ability to move his two-seam fastball across the zone. While his first looking strikeout comes on the curveball, each of the next three are the same. Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista and J.P. Arencibia are all unable to react to Buchholz’s two-seamer, which starts off the outside corner of the plate before moving back into the zone. The fact that the pitches move so far toward the inner half shows just how nasty the movement on them is. In short, nothing about Buchholz’s stuff has changed — he’s always had the ability to do this. But command has been the key for him, as he’s learned how to yield a particular weapon — his two-seam fastball — to maximum results. But it’s because that fastball has so much lateral movment that Buchholz has the ability to deploy it how he has this season, and what gives him an edge on the competition.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
Most strikeouts by a hitter in a single season
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Everything you need to know for CFB Championship Week

Steve Kerr admits using marijuana to treat chronic back pain

WATCH: Huskies, Buffaloes go back-to-back with amazing plays

Rolando McClain suspended indefinitely by NFL

Helfrich, Kelly spoke about possibility of Kelly returning to Oregon

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Paul Maurice: Game plans won’t work trying to stop McDavid

Report: Nats considering Ian Desmond reunion

Eric Dickerson: Rams would be better off without Jeff Fisher

Sheriff: Joe McKnight shooting suspect fired from inside car

Revis insists he has 'a lot' of football left, still loves game

Report: Siemian misses practice Friday, Lynch likely to start

Best of Yardbarker: CFB Championship Week chaos

Five teams on upset alert in NFL Week 13

Sporting life: Gifts for real fans (that aren't ugly NFL sweaters)

New faces help Spurs continue unparalleled success

The Pirates prepare for rarely chartered waters in dealing Andrew McCutchen

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Box Score 12/2: High-kicking it into the weekend

Jeff Fisher is the unkillable cockroach of NFL head coaches

Four teams to keep an eye on at the 2017 Winter Meetings

Eugene Monroe opens up about NFL’s drug policy

Ideal MLB offseason blueprint for every team

Eight NFL teams facing must-win games in Week 13

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Sporting life: Gifts for real fans (that aren't ugly NFL Christmas sweaters)

New faces help Spurs continue unparalleled success

The Pirates prepare for rarely chartered waters in dealing Andrew McCutchen

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Everything you need to know for CFB Championship Week

Jeff Fisher is the unkillable cockroach of NFL head coaches

Four teams to keep an eye on at the 2017 Winter Meetings

Porzingis reshapes Knicks by elevating his game

TailGreater: Your championship week playlist is set

Clarification: Why the rules near the crease need to be fixed

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker