Let me tell you a story. There once was a pitcher with enormous talent. In the minor leagues, he struck out many batters (9.18 K / 9IP), but he was never truly dominant (4.79 ERA, 1.39 WHIP). After three years in the system, in which he never topped A-ball, he was left unprotected by his club. Another team, sensing opportunity, quickly snapped him up in the Rule 5 draft, and put him on the major league roster.
Our pitcher's major league's dreams were suddenly coming true. However, his rookie season was nightmarish. In five starts he went 0-3 with a 9.82 ERA, 13 BBs to 13 Ks; he never made it through the 6th inning, and only amassed 22 innings. As a reliever he was better, but not by much. In 64 relief innings, mostly mop-up duty, he had a 5.34 ERA, with 41 BBs to 51 Ks, and 8 HR. But despite his rookie year 6.49 ERA and 1.81 WHIP (!), the organization stuck with him.
The following year, our pitcher logged only 43.2 innings at the major league level, and he was better, but hardly dominant (4.74 ERA, 1.51 WHIP). In his third season with the club, he was sent down to the minors for two months to perfect his stuff. After returning, everything clicked for him, and he went on to become one of the best pitchers in recent memory.
No two baseball players are alike, but the story of Johan Santana strikes me as worth relating in the wake of Clay Buchholz's demotion. Our society, and in particular the internet, is all about instant gratification, and waiting makes us not only impatient but irate. But baseball is a slow, and sometimes cruel, sport. It took about six years for Santana to unlock his potential, including three seasons at the major league level. Halfway through the Astros gave up on him, letting him go in the Rule 5 draft.
Good players can take time to develop, and watching the process can be painful. The rookie seasons of Johan Santana and Clay Bucholz are quite similar, in many ways:
Santana, 00: 86 IP, 6.49 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 51 K, 44 BB, 11 HR.
Buchholz, 08: 76 IP, 6.75 ERA, 1.763 WHIP, 72 K, 41 BB, 11 HR.
Buchholz has major league-quality pitches, particularly his curve and change, and his fastball can look good as well. While many great prospects have failed, I am confident that he will figure it out, although it may take a while. I trust our Front Office has the patience to let him develop, and that he will find success in a Red Sox uniform. I believe in Clay Buchholz.
The night is darkest just before the dawn, and... I don't want to get sued, so I won't finish that. Some people, on this board and others, have started talking about trading Buchholz, saying that he won't make it in the big leagues. The only reply to that line of thought is to look at the picture below, and ask yourself, how good would you feel watching him tear through our lineup in an A's or O's uniform.
"Armed and dangerous" via blog.masslive.com
In my mind, Buchholz is going to be a great major league pitcher; it's just a matter of time. Sending him down now is fine, but the team needs to stick with him for as long as it can. Theo and company have shown patience with Jon Lester (although not with Cla Meredith), and I expect they will do so again with Clay. I hope Red Sox Nation can match this patience.