May 2, 2013
What You Need to Know
Rocking Their Sox Off
The Wednesday Takeaway
Buchholz, who worked at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs in each of his five April outings, tacked a sixth quality effort onto that total with seven shutout frames at the Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays managed only three hits, all singles, and two walks off of the 28-year-old right-hander, who improved to 6-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.01. Buchholz’s 47 strikeouts through 44 innings rank fourth in the majors, trailing only Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, and A.J. Burnett.
The changeup had been Buchholz’s most fearsome weapon in April, inducing whiffs on 27.03 percent of its uses and a remarkable 55.56 percent of the swings taken against it, according to his Brooks Baseball card, but on Wednesday in Toronto, Buchholz enjoyed most of his success with the hard stuff. He needed 101 pitches to record 21 outs, and 69 of them were four- or two-seam fastballs or cutters, including 48 of his 66 strikes. Buchholz did induce four swings and misses on just 13 changeups, a 30.8 percent clip that actually increased his already-impressive rate, but he used his off-speed arsenal sparingly, and still, the Blue Jays did not advance a runner into scoring position until 20 outs were in the books.
The Buchholz on display now is much reminiscent the pitcher that Kevin Goldstein and other prospect evaluators praised half a decade ago, when he was carving up batters in the upper minors and went on to throw a no-hitter in his second big-league start, than the one that struggled with both control issues and the long ball in his subsequent campaigns. In 2008, KG’s most notable critique was that Buchholz “becomes a bit too enamored with his secondary stuff,” and if that quibble was all that stood between the righty and stardom, then he addressed it last night. After an injury-marred 2011 and a sub-replacement-level (-0.1 WARP) 2012, the mechanical improvements that Thorburn described, coupled with a better understanding of his arsenal, appear to have positioned Buchholz to become this year’s breakout darling.
Although Buchholz’s 1.01 ERA certainly is not sustainable, his peripherals suggest that the six-start surge is no fluke. And if it persists through September, then the re-tooled Red Sox, whose playoff odds are now better than two-in-three, might return to serious contention much sooner than expected.
Assuming the Red Sox’ pitching schedule remains unchanged, Buchholz’s next assignment will come in the series opener against the Twins on Monday at Fenway Park. In it, he’ll bid to join Josh Beckett (2007) as the only Red Sox starters to win their first seven games since Roger Moret did it in 1973.
Matchup of the Day
Through 40 head-to-head plate appearances, Beltre is 8-for-36 with two doubles, two homers, two walks, and nine strikeouts against Peavy, who has racked up the punchouts in the early going this year, notching 39 of them in 32 innings. Most of those showdowns predated the matchup data available on the afore-linked page, but we do have eight from which to discern the northpaw’s approach, including three from last year.
The Peavy that Beltre has seen during the past two years is not the one he faced years ago, as the right-hander’s velocity has dipped with age and after shoulder surgery in July 2010. Peavy averaged over 95 mph with his fastball as recently as 2007, but he now sits in the 91-mph range and relies increasingly on movement, an adjustment manifested primarily in his 22 percent cutter usage rate. He did not throw Beltre a cutter until last year—presumably going back to the early 2000s, not just 2008, since the pitch is a relatively new addition to Peavy’s arsenal—and then threw four of them in two plate appearances on April 7, 2012, after leaning heavily on his slider in their previous meetings.
The impetus behind throwing Beltre offerings that move away from a right-handed hitter lies in his tendency to chase and struggle with pitches just off the outer edge. Beltre’s whiff rate on breaking pitches low and away is over 40 percent, and Peavy exposed that weakness on May 24, 2011, when he earned a strikeout on four consecutive sliders. Of course, Beltre is also a deadly mistake hitter—as Peavy discovered the hard way three years earlier—and any sliders that get hung will very likely get stung.
Expect Peavy, who has employed the hard stuff on the first pitch to 96 percent of the like-handed batters that he has faced the year, to feed Beltre more outer-third cutters in early counts, before turning to the slider to put him away. Since Peavy has maintained his success against Beltre through his evolution from a flame-thrower into a craftier pitcher, the onus is on Beltre to turn the tide (8:05 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Thursday