Thursday, August 21, 2008


When talking about a younger player still in the developmental stages, I don't like to use the word "demoted" when they get shipped to Pawtucket or Portland. Buchholz being sent to Portland is very close to a demotion, but still isn't. He's going up there to rebuild his confidence. The Red Sox also want to keep him away from the mound, because quite frankly, he sucks.

To describe Clay Buchholz's appearance on the mound in one word:


And hitters see that, and get even more confident. Pitchers are supposed to be the predators in baseball, not the prey.

There's no doubt that Buchholz has the talent, and the skill to be a solid Major League pitcher, slotting into a rotation as a #2 or #3 starter. And I'm not basing this on the no-hitter. Combining his performances in late 2007, and April of 2008, his numbers are good, especially for a kid:

43.1 IP, 40 H, 20 BB, 1.38 WHIP, 17 ER, 3.53 ERA, 3 HR, 49 K

But he hasn't had a Quality Start (6+ innings, 3 earned runs or less) since April 26th. He hasn't gone 5+ innings since August 4th. His starts have become devastating. He can't get past the 4th inning, handing the ball to the subpar bullpen. He has given the Red Sox very little chance of victory when he's pitching.

Where has the confidence gone? He certainly wasn't scared when he tossed a no-hitter last year. But he went from the calm and cool of a Tom Brady to the deer in the headlights of a Reche Caldwell. Why?

All Major League players hit snags, fall into slumps, go through bad stretches. For whatever reason, they're a little bit off, a little unlucky too, and they struggle. For almost all Major Leaguers, their first slump in the Majors, is also the first slump of their life.

Right before he made his Sox debut in August of last year, Buchholz prophetically said:

"The confidence you have in college, if you're a dominant player, hitter, or pitcher, you're confident everywhere you go. You get drafted and your confidence goes down, you're like, 'All these guys are really good, too. So I might not be that good.' You start second-guessing your stuff. That's when you get in trouble. That was the biggest change for me. At times I would second-guess my stuff instead of throwing it. That's when I got hurt."
History tends to repeat itself.

Buchholz went to Angelina CC, where he was lights out, winning Eastern Conference (junior college) Player of the Year. He was drafted in the 1st round, tore through the lower levels of the system, and won Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2006 and 2007.

Here's how good Clay's career looked before 2008:

Angelina CC12-11.050.85
A Lowell0-12.611.04
A Greenville9-42.621.04
A Wilmington2-01.130.88
AA Portland7-21.770.89
AAA Pawtucket1-33.961.16
Boston Red Sox3-11.591.06

He hit a bit of a snag in AAA, but hardly long enough, or even bad enough to be considered a true slump. On May 7th of 2008, he a real rough patch. And he hasn't been able to get out of it. We've seen some clean innings, but then he'll allow a hit or two, and fold like Superman on laundry day. His demeanor is fragile. He goes to the mound with a shred of confidence, but loses it when he makes any sort of mistake.

Other young pitchers like Papelbon and Lester have been able to work through their slumps. Buchholz is mired in his. A slump is like quicksand; the more you panic, the worse it gets. Buchholz is panicking. And neither he, nor the Red Sox can afford the fruits of this panic.

This move was necessary, and overdue. I don't want Buchholz starting anymore games for the Red Sox in 2008.

But who the hell is going to replace him?

Hartford Courant
The Baseball Cube
Boston Globe

Photo Credits:
AP Photo/Nick Wass
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh