Thursday, December 16, 2010

Clay Buchholz

In reply to a comment that someone "expect[s] Lester and Buccholz to be as good or better" in 2011 as they were in 2010:

I wouldn't. Not Buchholz. Lester is Lester - he's established, in my mind, a consistent performance level, and I expect him to be a top starter again next year, in Cy Young contention if he can avoid the slow starts that have hampered him the past couple of years.

But I wouldn't be at all surprised if we've already seen Clay Buchholz' best season. Not that I expect him to be bad, because I don't, but I don't expect him to put up another 187 ERA+ (tied for the 73rd best season in Major League history1.) I don't think his peripherals support it.

FWIW, Baseball Prospectus has continued working on the concepts which Voros McCracken first identified in DIPs, that pitchers have very little control over what happens to balls in play, and that pitching skills primarily manifest themselves in walks, strikeout and home runs allowed. While that's overly broad and not absolutely true, it does provide what has proved to be, over the years, a useful framework for projecting pitchers. The newest manifestation is SIERA, which is Skill-Interactive ERA. Last year, Buchholz put up a 2.33 ERA with a SIERA of 4.29. Of the 318 ML pitchers who threw at least 50 innings last year, only 7 had a better ERA relative to their SIERA than Buchholz. He could very easily pitch better in 2011 than he did in 2010 and still see his ERA go up by a run.

That's not to say that SIERA is the be-all and end-all, or that it's perfect in all cases, or that Buchholz doesn't do something which causes his SIERA to skew higher than his real run-prevention ability (though in 2009, he put up an ERA of 4.21 on a SIERA of 4.16) or that he won't continue improving or anything like that. But in my opinion, it's very unrealistic to look for an ERA+ over 140 from Buchholz this year.

2010 ERA vs. SIERA - Red Sox Starters

Jon Lester3.253.2

Daisuke Matsuzaka4.694.36

John Lackey4.44.27

Josh Beckett5.783.84

Clay Buchholz2.334.29

1 - Here's the list of pitchers that have put up multiple season at 187 or better ERA+:

Pedro Martinez
Walter Johnson+
Randy Johnson
Greg Maddux
Roger Clemens
Christy Mathewson+
Cy Young+
Dazzy Vance+
Hal Newhouser+
Lefty Grove+
Mordecai Brown+
Sandy Koufax+

Everyone on the list who is eligible is already in the Hall-of-Fame, everyone else is headed there (depending on how the voters eventually deal with Clemens.) There are a bunch of pitchers that managed to do it once (including Hall-of-Famers Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn and Lefty Gomez), but only all-time greats have done it more than once. I think it's unlikely that Buchholz is going to be an all-time great, and people need to be realistic about what they're going to get. It's easy to imagine him pitching as well or better in 2011, and people being disappointed with his 3.45 ERA...

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