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Clay Buchholz' slow start a major concern for Red Sox

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For Clay Buchholz, April is often a strong indicator as to whether he'll be good or bad in a season. April 2016 hasn't been friendly to him so far.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

We're only two Clay Buchholz starts into the season (going on three in about an hour), which obviously is big enough of a sample size to start freaking out about the fact that he's been terrible to the tune of a 10.00 ERA, 21.4% HR/FB ratio, and 6.00 BB/9 in nine innings pitched. Now, the easy thing to do is to just place it on the fact that Buchholz, like a circadian clock, switches off between good Clay and bad Clay every other year (with the major caveat of him actually being healthy and on the mound). When the San Francisco Giants are scheduled to win the World Series, Clay Buchholz is scheduled to be bad, just like how the sun rises every morning or how John Farrell continually makes questionable managerial decisions.

Much of the Red Sox success this season pivots on whether or not the team has a competent rotation behind David Price (which isn't a secret), and that might well pivot on whether or not Buchholz is any good. Obviously, small sample sizes aren't anything to write home about or make any declarative statements about someone's success, but there have been some interesting things to note in the early part of Buchholz's season so far. And Buchholz' Aprils have tended to inform how the rest of his year would go, especially recently.

Year April ERA Year ERA April K/BB Year K/BB April K/9 Year K/9 April FIP Year FIP
2011 5.33 3.48 0.94 1.94 5.00 6.53 6.58 4.34
2012 8.69 4.56 1.07 2.02 4.97 6.13 6.89 4.65
2013 1.19 1.74 3.00 2.67 9.32 7.98 2.36 2.78
2014 6.66 5.34 3.17 2.44 6.66 6.97 4.50 4.01
2015 5.76 3.26 4.13 4.65 11.88 8.50 2.61 2.68


Particularly when looking at FIP, it's almost scary how Buchholz's performance in April has carried over to the rest of the season, which doesn't bode well for the Red Sox when considering that  the 31-year-old hurler has posted a 7.80 FIP in two starts so far in 2016. The ERA from 2015 would certainly seem to be an outlier, but taking a closer look at how those numbers were produced, Buchholz was actually quite good to start the year aside from his one bad game against New York.

But beyond the career trend of April success and failure, there's been some interesting deviations off of Buchholz's career norms so far this month, which obviously need to be taken with a grain of salt (There's no need to smash away  "IT'S ONLY BEEN TWO STARTS YOU IDIOT!" on your keyboards. Believe me, this idiot knows).

The first is that his velocity is down ever-so-slightly. After averaging between 92.53 MPH and 93.35 MPH on his fastball last season, Buchholz has been at 91.88 MPH so far this year, and while that difference doesn't seem significant, it's not great for a guy who's never been one to blow his fastball by anyone, as evidenced by that moonshot Mark Trumbo hit a few nights ago. Hopefully as the weather heats up, so will Buchholz' velocity.

The number of flyballs Buchholz has given up so far this season is also slightly concerning. As a ground ball pitcher, Buchholz has kept between 46.6 percent and 53.8 percent of his balls in play on the ground in his career, a number that's dropped to 31 percent in his first two starts this season. On the other side of the token, Buchholz's flyball rate is sky high, at 48.3 percent, a number that's much higher than his usual career norms. Obviously, it's small sample size, especially when you consider one of the two opponents he's faced this season is the home-run machine known as the Baltimore Orioles, but that's obviously a mark where Buchholz needs to get back to his career averages.

Buchholz is a really easy target to criticize and dismiss. He's one of the most frustrating pitchers to watch on a consistent basis because we've seen the brilliance, but we've also seen the misery (and I'm not referring to whatever he's trying to do with his hair right now). We've seen the injuries. Oh so many injuries. And at this point, we've all given up on thinking that Buchholz will ever fulfill the potential that excited all Red Sox fans when he threw that no-hitter as a fresh-faced rookie.

So it's easy to write off Buchholz as a lost cause, because at this point, I kind of think of any contribution he provides as a cherry on top. But the reality of the situation is that given the current state of the rotation and the lack of consistently talented starters on the roster, the Red Sox really, really need someone that they can rely on beyond David Price. Joe Kelly is a complete wild card, Steven Wright isn't anything more than a fifth starter, Rick Porcello can be hit or miss, and Eduardo Rodriguez is gonna need time to recuperate after coming off the DL with a knee injury.

So that leaves Buchholz as the only pitcher who's actually pitched to the level of a top-of-the-rotation starter (beyond Price) for any sustained period in the past, which is a pretty scary thought. That means one of two things for this team. Either Dave Dombrowski needs to go out and trade for another high-quality pitcher if he wants this team to contend and go deep into the playoffs, or  Clay Buchholz needs to be good at throwing baseballs again, preferably for an entire season.

That's a pretty scary state to be in halfway through April.