Sunday, August 29, 2010

Clay Buchholz: 2010 AL Cy Young Award Frontrunner

It wasn’t too long ago that Boston Red Sox (first time) All-Star pitcher Clay Buchholz was trade bait. In fact, he was once one of the key ingredients to any number of possible trades in recent years (one of which allegedly included a deal to send him and others to San Diego for Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez last offseason). The righty was also not guaranteed a spot in Boston’s starting rotation coming into this season, given the veteran depth of starters they already had.

Buchholz famously pitched a no-hitter late in 2007 in his second career start, but had a rocky 2008 (2-9, with a 6.75 ERA in 15 starts, 16 games overall). When given another chance, he started to regain form again and truly mature as a big league starter in the second half of 2009, putting up a 7-4 record and a 4.21 ERA in 16 starts.

Look at him now. In his first full season as a starter in the five-man starting rotation (joining Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey), he has had an incredible season thus far, leading his the Sox staff and the American League with a 2.21 ERA, and sporting a team-leading 15 wins. The Sox are also 17-6 in games he starts.

Even though he missed about a month due to injury earlier in the season, Buchholz has pitched himself into the AL Cy Young Award race, joining the likes of Seattle’s ace Felix Hernandez (10-10, 2.47 ERA) and Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia (18-5, 3.14 ERA).

Now, wins are the most overrated stat in baseball and out of a pitcher’s control. Just ask poor Hernandez, who has (and deserves much better than) a .500 record pitching for a team with the worst offense in the big leagues. Therefore, it shouldn’t factor all that much when it comes to evaluating who the best pitcher is.

There are some other eye-opening stats, however, that have made me think Buchholz deserves to be catapulted above the rest for the ultimate AL pitching prize. Consider that before giving up one earned run yesterday in a no-decision against the Rays, he achieved a major league-leading 30 1/3 innings of consecutive scoreless innings pitched, a feat not only unexpected from an American League pitcher given the DHs and better overall hitters in the league, but quite frankly mindblowing - as is his 2.21 ERA - considering he pitches in the AL East, against top scoring and power-hitting Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays clubs.

It’s the longest stretch of not giving up an earned run since Pedro Martinez’s 35 scoreless innings streak in 2002. Buchholz’s ERA in the low two's is also vintage Pedro-ish and nearly a full run better than Sabathia's. Also note that Buchholz’s .222 BAA (batting average against) is not only tied for third in the AL but better than Sabathia’s (.247) and Hernandez’s (.225).

This article was first published and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

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