Coming into the year, Arizona was poised to own one of the most daunting starting rotations in all of baseball. Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, and Zach Godley all boasted sub 3.50 ERA’s last season, and that’s not even mentioning this year’s CY Young candidate Patrick Corbin.
Unfortunately for Arizona, a lot hasn’t gone their way. Taijuan Walker’s season ended 3 starts into the season after opting for Tommy John surgery, Shelby Miller’s season has seemingly been ended with elbow inflammation, and Robbie Ray has been limited to just 15 starts due to oblique injuries.
Yet, there’s been a light, a glimmer of hope, that’s done nothing short than save this team’s rotation from falling too far below excellence. That man is 34 year old Boston-veteran Clay Buchholz.
If you had told me at the start of the season that Clay Buchholz would be an ace on one of the best pitching teams in baseball, I would’ve laughed. Had you predicted he’d hold out a 2.47 ERA over 12 starts, with a WHIP of just 1.068, I’d call you a fool. But here I am, jaw on the ground, dumbfounded at the numbers Buchholz is putting up.
Buchholz was a former first round pick who pitched with the Red Sox for 10 years. He owned a 3.15 ERA between 2010-2013,which included two all star appearances and one top 6 CY Young campaign. However, Buchholz went on to post a 4.60 ERA over the next 3 seasons with an astoundingly high WHIP. Boston chose to not resign him in 2017, so he took what was left of his talents to Phillidelphia, where he made two starts before opting for season ending Tommy John surgery.
The rest is history in the making. Bucholz signed a minor league deal with Arizona, and he’s done nothing but succeed since. Buchholz has only given up more than 2 ER in a start twice this season, and yet still the Diamondbacks won both of those games. He’s averaging more than 6 innings per start, and most recently is coming off of a complete game gem on the road.
The big reasons for his success thus far have been his cutter and his changeup. Opponents own a measley .317 SLG rate on his cutter, while no one has hit it for a homerun yet this season. His cutter has also led to the most swings and misses of any of his pitches, which is a first in his career.
(ignore the 2017 mark on that graph, he only pitched 7 innings so the numbers aren’t very true)
His changeup has been even more lethal, leading to an opponents BA of just .120. He leaves his changeup in the bottom third of the strikezone or lower 55% of the time, which has helped him hold out to a 40.6% groundball rate.
12 starts is a sample size, but it’s a large enough sample to get excited. His strike % is at a career high, and his BB rate is flirting with a career low, showing that Bucholz’s success isn’t just a fluke of luck. The DBacks currently sit atop the NL West, but with the Dodgers and Rockies hot on their tail, Buchholz was the best thing to happen for this team all season.