Finally, after four cruel months, our national nightmare is over. Spring Training is finally here everyone! GET FIRED UP:
Pitchers and catchers officially reported to Fort Meyers yesterday, meaning we got some intense videos from the Red Sox Twitter account. The last two Sox seasons have been disappointing, from 2014’s lousy title defense to 2015’s brutal first two-thirds of the year, though there has been plenty of buzz surrounding 2016’s squad after a crazy offseason. There are so many storylines coming into this spring, such as:
- New stars David Price and Craig Kimbrel finally putting on a Red Sox uniform
- Who plays where (and when) in the outfield?
- Wondering whether the franchise’s young core, led by Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, can take the next step
- Who is the odd man out of the catching triumvirate of Blake Swihart, Ryan Hanigan, and Christian Vasquez?
- Hanley Ramirez, First Baseman: A Social Experiment
- Can Pablo Sandoval see his toes yet?
There’s even more going on than that, meaning there will be plenty for Red Sox fans to keep their eyes on for the next month and a half. One of those more subtle subplots involves one of the two remaining vestiges of former general manager Theo Epstein’s mid-2000s player development juggernaut: Clay Buchholz.
The addition of Price in November meant a lot of things beyond the obvious “He’s the ace…no really, he actually is” stuff. One such thing it did was place a lot of pressure on Buchholz to live up to the hype that has consistently surrounded him throughout his career. He will, in all likelihood, be penciled in as the number two starter behind Price, a role that fits his talent level but doesn’t exactly jive with his reliability and injury history. Buchholz has only thrown over 180 innings in a season once, and never thrown 20o. John Farrell believes that the Nederland, TX native can reach the latter milestone, although I, and just about every other cognizant baseball fan, have serious reason to doubt that. Buchholz has also only made 20+ starts three times (and never 30+), often missing huge chunks of the season due to injury. Last year was no exception, when he started only 18 games before being effectively shut down for the season in July, after hurting his right elbow in a start against the Yankees.
When Buchholz has been healthy, the results have been mixed, though he’s definitely had his moments. in 2010, his best “full” season, he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA, finishing sixth in that year’s Cy Young voting. He pitched brilliantly in the first half of 2013, and finished with a 1.74 ERA, but he got hurt in June and made only 16 starts all year. When he returned from his injury in September, he was effective but something seemed a little “off”. He wasn’t the same guy in the postseason, and those struggles carried over to 2014, when his ERA ballooned to 5.34, though he did make 28 starts. Last season was arguably Buchholz’s best, at least by advanced metrics. He posted a career high 3.2 fWAR despite starting only 18 games (and having the weirdest haircut in the majors), thanks to a pretty hefty ERA-FIP discrepancy (3.26 to 2.68).His 17.9 K-BB% was the best of his career, as hebumped up his strikeouts while cutting down his walks. If the Red Sox are getting that guy for 28-30 starts and ~180 innings, they’ll be in business. The problem is, for whatever reason, the more Buchholz pitches the less effective he seems to be, at least recently:
As Buchholz enters his age-31 season (though he turns 32 in August), the correlation between his effectiveness and durability is more relevant than ever.
One other Buchholz related note to look out for: last season he threw his four-seam fastball a career low 17.1% of the time. The reason for the drop off? His two-seamer took up 27% of his pitches after never throwing it higher than 11.7% of the time in a season. Perhaps this minor reinvention is what led to his success last year. Regardless, the Red Sox are going to need ’13/’15 Buchholz come April. If, like in 2014, he struggles following a relatively major injury, Boston’s rotation could be in trouble unless Rick Porcello or Eduardo Rodriguez really step forward. Price will be great, and will have a huge impact on this Red Sox team. But if Boston ends up being a contender in 2016, it will be because Buchholz finally pitches to his potential and makes 30 starts.
- Look. You, I, and everyone else on planet Earth knows that this whole “Throw Hanley Ramirez at first base and see what happens” thing is probably going to be a disaster. But at least Ramirez showed up early to camp and is saying all of the right things so far. I mean, he can’t be any worse at first base than he was at left field, right?
- Blue Jays third baseman and reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson signed a two year extension with Toronto earlier this month, which is a cool thing. Even cooler, though, is that Donaldson is going to be cameo-ing on this season of History Channel’s Vikings, which had its season premiere last night. The show (which is awesome, by the way, with last night’s episode being no exception) posted a video of Donaldson going from Most Valuable Player to Most Viking Player on their Twitter, and it’s worth a watch.
- The Red Sox’s new Spring Training hats are absolutely en fuego. Other awesome ones: The Royals, Rays, White Sox, Athletics, Brewers, and Astros.
- In other Sandoval related news, the Panda is going to try switch hitting again after giving up on it midway through last season. Sandoval hit .049 (2-43) against lefties from the right side of the plate last year, which embarrased him to the point of abandoning the concept all together. He is a career .261 hitter from the right-handed batters-box, even including 2015’s dreadful performance, so the hope is that he’s fixed whatever the issue was and can go back to being a serviceable switch hitter again. The good news is, there’s nowhere to go but up.
- It looks like Albert Pujols is going to start the season on the Angels’ disabled list. His contract, with five years and $165 million remaining, is one of the worst in baseball. It’s hard watching legends get old.
- The Yankees posted a really cheesy motivational sign on their Spring Training clubhouse door the other day. It turns out they basically just copied and pasted it from a CrossFit gym. The Yankees and CrossFit are two of my least favorite things in the world, so it figures they would be in cahoots.