This afternoon the Yankees will make the trip to Fenway to celebrate 100 years of the historical stadium. The Red Sox will send right handed pitcher Clay Buchholz to the mound. Aside from his health, Buchholz has always been somewhat “lucky”, showing mediocre advanced stats, but an impressive ERA. In 2009 he posted a 4.21 ERA behind a 4.69 FIP, .279 BABIP, and 76.7% LOB in 92.0 innings. In 2010 the numbers were particularly glaring, a 2.33 ERA in 173.2 innings with a 3.61 FIP, .261 BABIP, 79.0% LOB, and 5.6 HR/FB%. Last year was all too similar, a 3.48 ERA behind a 4.34 FIP behind similar BABIP and LOB numbers. As much as Red Sox fans may want the pitcher to keep up his unbelievable ERA, it looks like statistical karma is bound to catch up with him. Thus far he has a 9.82 ERA behind a 4.46 FIP and his LOB is certainly turning on him at 43%.
In this analysis I’ll be using the pitcher’s data from 2012 thus far. Unfortunately, TexasLeaguer’s algorithm to label pitch types mis-characterized last year’s sample by identifying his slider/cutter as two different pitches. Although TexasLeaguer has been great, I’m in the process of working out the kinks in my own database to fix this issue.
Buchholz has a five pitch repertoire, a four-seamer, two-seamer, slider/cutter, changeup, and curveball. So far this year, he throws his four-seamer most at 40% of the time and at around 91.5 mph. Using it 25% of the time, his 89 mph cutter is his second most selected pitch. His two breaking pitches, the 75 mph curveball and 79 mph changeup are used 16% and 13% of the time respectively. His least used pitch is the 91 mph two-seamer, which he uses just 6% of the time.
Looking at Buchholz release point for each pitch type shows that he throws the ball around 1.5 to 2 feet to the left of the mound and around 6 feet high. He uses the 3/4 arm slot primarily, but as usual gets a slightly more overhand slot when throwing the curveball. Although this was typically his approach in 2011, this graph suggests the he’s releasing the ball slightly lower in 2012, but if true it’s only a matter of inches. You can see his arm slot on the picture to the right.
In the pitch trajectory visualization we can see the break of each pitch from the release point on the right to home plate on the left. The top graphic shows the horizontal break. In this case the two-seamer has that typical break into same side hitters, differing from the four-seamer as usual. The break from the four-seamer still has slight inward horizontal movement to righties, but the changeup doesn’t mimic the pitch very well. We’ll see the difference in break later. The curveball and slider/cutter have opposite horizontal movement, breaking in to left handed hitters.
In the bottom graphic we see a side view of pitch type breaks from the 1st or 3rd base side. The four-seamer has the least vertical break as expected, with the two-seamer falling slightly more. The cutter and changeup have very similar break after the first two fastballs. The most vertical break goes to the curveball obviously, so dramatic that I’m surprised many hitters can’t pick up on it better.
In this graphic we have the horizontal and vertical movement form a catcher’s perspective. It becomes more clear that two-seamer has about a 9 inch break in to right handed hitters. The four-seamer has a 6 inch break, but then we see that the changeup is no where near either of those pitches. I typically think a good changeup should match the horizontal break of fastball that sets it up, but his movement is somewhere between that and the slider/cutter. The lack of much vertical break down (6.66 inch rise) also shows you why he corrected reports that he throws a slider, and called it more of a cutter. The curveball has a nice -9.33 vertical break down and away from the right handed hitters, which is far more break than your typical curveball.
Here we have the spin angle matched up against the velocity. For anyone that hasn’t followed this series before, a right-handed pitcher typically throws a two-seam fastball around 220-245 degrees and a four-seamer 200-220. The cutter seems to be more of a subjective term, and as you can tell, many pitchers call their cutters a slider, or vice versa. From what I’ve seen, a cutter sits from 180-160 degrees. Buchholz’ fastball’s all fall within those respective ranges, 228 degrees for the two-seamer, 211 for the four-seamer, and 168 for the cutter. Above we saw how the the break of the changeup was between the four-seamer and the cutter, likewise the spin angle is 192, again between the same two pitches. A good curveball has very low spin angle from a right handed pitcher, and indeed his is sitting at 42, making the downward movement into a lefty very hard.
Where He Throws It
The graph here plots the location of his pitches thrown to righties thus far in 2012. Starting with the four-seamer, the pitch is thrown to all parts of the zone as a setup pitch. I do see a cluster of four-seamers thrown down and away, most hitter’s weak spot, but could also be a setup location for another pitch. As the two-seamer has the most break into righties, its thrown inside to jam them. The cutter has opposite movement, and for that reason he threw the ball mostly away to get a hitter chasing. The change up is thrown mostly down and in, and I have a gut feeling that its the pitch he sets up with the four-seamer away. Finally, the curveball is located down and away, as usual. His selection against righties is 42.6% four-seamer, 38.7% cutter, 15.8% curveball, 8.9% changeup, and 4.0% two-seamer.
This graph shows that his approach against lefties was pretty simple. The four-seamer is thrown up and away to try and induce fly balls, and surprisingly threw a lot of pitches in that location. While a two-seamer away makes sense as the movement will get a lefty chasing, the changeup up and away could be a recipe for some bad pitching. If the changeup misses it’s spot and moves into the strikezone, as we see quite a few did, the pitch could become a meatball. The cutter is thrown up and in, which makes sense considering its horizontal movement in to lefties. The selection was, 36.3% four-seamers, 20.0% cutters, 18.8% changeups, 16.3% curveballs, and 8.8% two-seamers.
When He Throws It
|Count||Four-Seam (R)||Slider/Cutter (R)||Curveball (R)||Changeup (R)||Two-Seam (R)|
In 2011, Buchholz started an at bat using his four-seamer more than 50% of the time, while mixing in his other 4 pitches quite well. As the count fell out of his favor, he would become more reliant on his three fastballs, particularly the four-seamer. Ahead in the count, he started to mix in the curveball, slider/cutter, and changeup more often. With two strikes, his favorite pitches are usually the slider/cutter or changeup, unless he’s setting you up with a two or four-seam fastball. His only put away pitch against righties is the changeup, which he gets a 26.7% whiff rate and only an 8.6% in play rate. No other pitch broke a 10% whiff rate.
|Count||Four-Seam (L)||Slider/Cutter (L)||Curveball (L)||Changeup (L)||Two-Seam (L)|
Starting lefties off, he followed the same procedure as righties and threw mostly the four-seamer while mixing in the other 4 pitches. As he fell behind in the count he would become a four-seam/changeup pitcher, although he would occasionally throw the slider/cutter. Unless you were 3-1, Buchholz with 1 strike mostly used on of his breaking pitches to attack the hitter. With 2 strikes, curveballs and changeups were around 30-40% likelyhood, with the slider/cutter in at 20%, and the four-seamer at 30%. Again, his deadliest pitch against lefties was the changeup, that had a 14.6% whiff rate. My speculation continues, the curveball didn’t have much of a whiff rate against either side hitters because the break is just too much to trick a hitter.
In 2011, Buchholz did a good job of with batted ball results, 50.6% groundballs, 38.5% flyballs, and 10.9% linedrives. Yet again we have a statistic that is improbable to continue, a ridiculously low line drive rate.
Last year he was only able to get a 6.53 K/9, a number only slightly lower than his career 6.86. With all the different types of pitches he throws and with a great ability to mix them, I feel that his pitches actually have too much movement on them. While a changeup should match a fastball, his moves too much, while a curveball should catch a hitter by surprise, he can see the ridiculous drop, and while the cutter should move inches the other direction of the fastball, his moves almost a foot. His stuff is remarkable from a physics standpoint, but I suspect that his pitches are just too different from each other to get strikeouts.
In his career, he has some slight splits. Against right handed hitters, he holds them to a .242/.315/.353 triple slash, but against lefties he gives up .254/.333/.393. At home he also has a better record, a 3.34 ERA, compared to his road 4.19 ERA.
Against The Yankees
Buchholz has faced the Yankees in 7 starts and has suffered. In 38.2 innings, he’s given up a 5.59 ERA, 1.733 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, and a 4.2 BB/9. Following the, “These numbers make no sense” narrative, in new Yankee Stadium he’s been great, with a 3.10 ERA over 20.1 innings with only 2 homeruns, meaning the starts in Fenway against the Yankees were at a 6.13 ERA.
|Probable Yankee Lineup||At Bats||Triple Slash|
|Derek Jeter SS||18||.278/.381/.278|
|Curtis Granderson CF||11||.000/.267/.000|
|Alex Rodriguez 3B||19||.368/.429/.526|
|Robinson Cano 2B||20||.450/.450/.600|
|Mark Teixeira 1B||15||.267/.313/.667|
|Nick Swisher RF||12||.250/.438/.333|
|Raul Ibanez DH||3||.333/.333/1.333|
|Andruw Jones LF
|Russell Martin C||8||.250/.250/1.000|
He does two things really well, he throws the ball with plenty of movement and mixes his pitches well. From my perspective, his ability to throw is not the same as his ability to pitch. The flamboyant movement of the different pitch types just aren’t subtle enough to trick hitters. I also feel his luck with baserunners is bound run out, and the Yankees won’t make it easy on him today. Their career numbers against him inspire some big offense, especially in Fenway. He’s a good enough pitcher to pull it all together in a game, or he might run into some luck, but you should always take his ERA with a grain of salt. The Yankees should be able to hit Buchholz this afternoon, so hopefully Ivan Nova can hold the Red Sox’ outstanding lineup to only a few runs.
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