Player highlight: Clay Buchholz

I mentioned Clay Buchholz last month in my First Pitch Arizona wrap-up, but I wanted to go into more detail today. Let’s start off with his minor league stats.

Numbers

YEARLASTFIRSTTEAMAGELEVELIPK/9BB/9K/BBGB%BABIPHR/FBLD%
2005BuchholzClayRed Sox20SS41.39.801.965.0051%0.2968%18%
2006BuchholzClayRed Sox21A102.710.262.544.0345%0.28114%15%
2007BuchholzClayRed Sox22AA90.012.402.305.3946%0.2698%11%
2007BuchholzClayRed Sox22AAA38.712.803.034.2345%0.31021%24%

Those are the numbers of a future star. He never had a K/BB below 4.00, and his K/9 was above 12.00 at both Double A and Triple A in 2007. The walk rate at Triple A is higher than we’d like to see, but it was his first crack at Triple A, he was just 22, and the sample size is relatively small. That will likely be his biggest weakness, at least at first, in the majors.

Red Sox defense


TEAM +/- RK RZR RK OOZ RK IF RZR RK IF OOZ RK OF RZR RK OF OOZ RK BABIP
Red Sox 32 3 0.835 3 363 7 0.770 10 171 13 0.860 11 144 10 0.288


POSLASTFIRSTINNINGSRZRLG AVGOOZOOZ/(BIZ+OOZ)LG AVG
1B Youkilis Kevin E 10940.8350.741220.1110.135
2B Pedroia Dustin L 11410.8240.830340.0930.104
SS Lugo Julio 12280.8070.816550.1420.128
3B Lowell Mike 13240.7320.680270.0800.139
LF Ramirez Manny 9940.6840.855350.1400.147
CF Crisp Coco 12160.9090.888580.1310.137
RF Drew J.D. 10620.8640.877280.1160.141


While the Sox have some definite liabilities, they also have a few guys who are substantially above average with the glove. The good news is that most of these guys — Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell in terms of fielding and Julio Lugo in terms of range — play the infield, which benefits Buchholz because he should post an above-average ground ball rate.

The Sox don’t figure to make many changes this off-season. They might lose Coco Crisp, but Jacoby Ellsbury would likely be an adequate replacement. They could also try and get a new shortstop, but I haven’t heard anything to this effect, and I think they’d be comfortable giving Lugo another shot.

Overall, these factors seem to suggest that Buchholz will give up fewer hits on balls in play than the average pitcher.

Playing time

My biggest concern with Buchholz is playing time. Take a look at the current Red Sox starting pitchers:

1) Josh Beckett
2) Daisuke Matsuzaka
3) Curt Schilling
4) Tim Wakefield
5) Jon Lester
6) Clay Buchholz

I also hear that the Sox are trying to bring in some guy from Minnesota who’s supposed to be pretty good. I, personally, think Buchholz will be better than all of these guys except for Beckett and possibly Matsuzaka. He is the youngest, though, and the most inexperienced, and that places him on the outskirts by default. However, Theo Epstein, ladies and gentleman, is no fool. He realizes just how good Clay Buchholz is, how much he deserves a spot in the rotation, and how much he could help the team. I just hope he’s not content in waiting one more year with the other guys he has.

There’s been talk of going to a 6-man rotation to accommodate everybody, although I’m not sure how likely that is. I feel pretty safe in saying, though, that Buchholz will find a healthy amount of major league innings in 2008. If Lester is swapped for Johan it might be more difficult, but I just can’t see the Red Sox relegating him to minor league duty all year.

Still, the possibility for these situations need to be accounted for in our innings pitched projection. We also need to account for the various situations in which he’ll only pitch in the majors for part of the season. On average, I think we should expect Buchholz to pitch 150 innings in 2008. It should also be noted that I would bump that up should the Sox fail to acquire Santana.

2008 outlook

I expect Buchholz to be quite good in 2008. A lot of the guys in Arizona said how they like Buchholz now more than they liked Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo, and Philip Hughes at this time last year. I have to agree with them. While I liked all three back then, none put up numbers like Buchholz has. It would be nicer if Buchholz pitched more at Triple A or in the majors, but we do have a usable sample size.

My biggest cause for concern (which I hinted at earlier): 3.38 BB/9 in 61.1 IP across Triple A and the majors.

That isn’t a terrible, but it also shows that Buchholz is fallible and shouldn’t be counted on to be a monster right out of the gate. He showed excellent control at the lower levels, so a major league BB/9 higher than 3.50 would surprise me this year.

As far as his strikeout rate goes, it was 11.30 in those same Triple A and Major League innings, so I would expect continued strength in that area. I certainly won’t put him down for an 11.30 K/9 in 2008, but 8.75 seems like a reasonable guess. A 46% ground ball rate should also add some value.

When we put all of this together, we would expect Buchholz to post an ERA right around 4.00. His WHIP would likely fall in around 1.30. Given 150 innings and an 8.75 K/9, Buchholz would secure 146 strikeouts. The Red Sox offense will help him with wins, but the low innings count will depress the total a bit, especially if a few of those innings come in relief. I think 11 or 12 wins is about right. Of course, if he gets a regular spot in the rotation, the wins and strikeouts would go up dramatically.

Market value

Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft: 40th SP
FOX Sports: 56th SP
CBS Draft: 76th SP
CBS Sportsline: 100th SP
Yahoo!: Not in Top 20 SP
MLB Fantasy 411: Not in Top 20 SP
Sports Fanatics: Not in Top 50 SP
ProTrade: Not in Top 100 SP

Conclusions

It seems like much of the market is sour on Buchholz. Maybe they think he’s too young. Maybe they’re afraid to be stuck with a guy who ends up without a job. Maybe they’re just being conservative. Whatever the reason, all of these sources — with the exception of the experts draft and FOX to a large extent— are really low on him. This means that he should provide pretty good value. If you can get him as the 75th pitcher off the board, you’re making a quality selection.

In the CBS draft that he went 76th, it was a 12-team league where he was chosen in the last round. If I get Buchholz in the last round of any of my drafts this year, I am going to be ecstatic.

I’m going to talk more in-depth about this concept in the future, but taking a high-risk guy like Buchholz in the finals rounds of a draft (or for a couple of bucks at auction) is always superior strategy to taking a solid, unspectacular, low-risk guy. Keep that in mind, and I’ll be sure to bring it up again as draft day approaches.

Concluding thoughts

For those of you that are really serious about winning your leagues, it might be a good idea to purchase a premium account over at Mock Draft Central. They compile the results of all of their mock drafts and sort them into easy-to-use Average Draft Position (ADP) Reports. This is another fantastic way to gauge the market value of players, as you’ll be seeing how they are valued by players like yourself.

Now is a great time to check it out if you’re in a competitive league because the guys doing these mock drafts also take it seriously. I mean, they’re mock drafting in December. I would expect them to be similar to the competition you’ll be facing, and therefore a good guide as to how player value will shake out.

Also, I have a new article over at MLB Front Office dealing with LOB% that should be up sometime today.

And, as always, if you have any questions about anything, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

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