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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Clay Buchholz is an Exercise in Futility for the Red Sox

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Old friend Stephen Drew hit a home run Wednesday night. Think the Yankees would do a deal, straight-up for Clay Buchholz?

Eh, the Red Sox would never do it anyway, not in a wayward season like this one, when Buchholz, who looked like a Cy Young candidate only 15 months ago, is on his way to posting the highest ERA by a Red Sox pitcher in franchise history. It’s a train wreck that you just can’t tear yourself away from. NESN should start pimping Buchholz starts in Big Top fashion.

Buchholz’s outing against the Angels Wednesday was an exercise in patience. The righty was solid for four whole innings at Fenway Park, but you just knew the moment was coming when Buchholz would unravel into a pool of goo. Boy, did it ever. Daniel Nava didn’t help matters by pulling up short on a fly ball to right field as if he encountered some invisible force field, but regardless, Buchholz imploded in the fifth inning, allowing five runs - including walking Kole Calhoun with the bases loaded - en route to an 8-3 loss, Boston’s fourth in row.

Buchholz is now 5-8 with a hefty 5.94 ERA, the highest by a Red Sox starting pitcher since Ramon Martinez’s 6.13 in 2000.

“I felt good with just about every pitch,” Buchholz said after the game in his familiar refrain after watching himself take a hammering on the mound. The day he doesn’t feel “good” with his pitches, the man will probably toss a perfect game.

He's 0-4 with a 7.05 ERA in his last six starts. It’s hysterical to think that only six days ago this website ran a piece titled, “Clay Buchholz Starting to Feel Like Himself Again,” as if anyone knows who that is. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no pitcher in major league history has had his ERA triple from one season to the next while throwing at least 100 innings in each of those seasons. Buchholz posted a 1.74 ERA in his abbreviated, albeit mostly-brilliant 2013. His 5.94 ERA is 3.41 times his mark from a year ago.

According to ESPN stats and research, Buchholz has turned to using his cutter a lot more this season (25.9 percent of the time as opposed to 14.7 percent the rest of his career), and the results have been disastrous (.276 opposing batting average in 2014, .213 otherwise, average velocity of 87.7, down from 89.4 previously).

But that change in velocity isn't anything new, and in fact, was attributed to the pitch's success last season. Michael Bonzagni of ESPN did the research in 2013:

"Bonzagni compared Buchholz's cutter this season with last and noted a drop in average velocity of 1.5 miles per hour, from 89.3 to 87.8 mph. The drop in velocity, however, was accompanied by a significant change in the pitch's horizontal movement, from 1.8 inches last season to 3.4 inches this season. That change has resulted in a huge difference in opposing hitters' slash lines against the pitch. Last season, they batted .248 with a slugging percentage of .323. This season, it's a .135 average, with a .154 slugging percentage. The strikeout percentage on the pitch also has risen, from 13.8 percent last season to 17.2. "

In 2014, that's all gone to hell, with the hurler seemingly insistent on working his way through his issues with the pitch. Buchholz has allowed two home runs throwing the cutter. He surrendered three the last five seasons combined on the pitch. The opposition has a .751 OPS vs the cutter.

So, is it that one pitch that has led to one of the worst seasons in Boston history? Nah, Buchholz has a much simpler excuse. Of course he does.

"The difference between everything that's going on this year and last year is a lot of the balls that are finding holes or home runs or doubles, they were hit at somebody last year," he said. "I got a lot of double plays that way. Sometimes that's the way it goes."

Que sera, Clay.

The thing most worrisome in regards to Buchholz though is his prognosis for 2015 and beyond. He's now 30 years old, the same age the Red Sox buckled at offering Jon Lester anything more than a four-year deal. He was coming off back-to-back decent starts, and manger John Farrell was quick to note that Buchholz was "outstanding" against Houston Friday night (seven innings, two earned runs, nine strikeouts). Houston though.

The cradling of Buchholz's ego is nothing new. You just wonder at what point the Red Sox will decide they have had enough with his mental fragility. They'll probably use Nava as an excuse, because that's naturally what they do with Buchholz.

There's no pressure on Buchholz for the remainder of this season. But even in a lost stretch for the World Champs, the guy remains as tightly-wound as the ball he's chosen his career path. The Red Sox have given him more excuses than Jon Lovitz's Tommy Flanagan had in his bank of lies, and one has to assume the pacifying isn't going to end well here. A change of scenery would behoove everybody. Thanks for the memories and all, Clay, but...well actually those recollections are drowned in a sea of incompetence on the mound.

Find a buyer and sell. Sell as quickly as you can. It's what's best for Clay Buchholz.

It is what's even better for the Red Sox.

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