Point: It's just one start
Clay Buchholz came out for his first start of 2016, and promptly screwed it all up. But that's okay, because it was just one start on a strange night in Cleveland.
Pitchers have bad nights all the time. In fact, just a few days into the season, it seems to be happening all over the place. Your current earned run leaders are: Tyson Ross, Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, and Michael Pineda. And while it's possible that the Diamondbacks are just the world's most pitiable wasteland of a team, it's more likely by half that bad starts happen to good pitchers. We saw it ourselves with what the Red Sox did to Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Not quite a Buchholz-level beatdown, but not what the Indians were hoping for from either, to be sure.
In fact, Clay Buchholz himself provides a very good example of that from just last year. No, not in his seven excellent innings against Philadelphia in start the first, but in his awful outing against New York in his second start of the year--a nine-run mess which makes his day against Cleveland look downright impressive. Over the next 16 starts, Buchholz pitched to a 2.80 ERA with 95 strikeouts and 20 walks. Yes, his season ended there, but honestly, at this point we'd all take half a season of Good Buchholz, right?
Listen, Wednesday was just not Buchholz' night, and it had every reason not to be. The wind was making balls carry in center and right in a big way, and if his changeup was high school reliever level, Pedro Martinez himself would tell you that's not exactly concerning:
In cold weather pitchers will throw a lot of flat change ups and not so good sliders. It takes time to adjust from hot to cold temperatures— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) April 7, 2016
We saw a lack of command out of Buchholz last night, yes. But we also saw some very nice cut fastballs and curves, and there may be no better portent of success for Buchholz than if his cutter is amazing, or just plain decent.
There is no need to be alarmed. It's one game. Buchholz will be fine.
Counterpoint: It's 2016 so Buchholz is a disaster and all hope is lost
Yeah, that's nice, me. Here's the problem: not even you believe all that, deep down.
Here are two pitchers for you:
4.41 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
3.03 ERA, 7.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
The first pitcher is Clay Buchholz. The second pitcher is also Clay Buchholz. The difference? The first line comes from even-numbered years, the second from the odd.
2016 mod 2 = 0. We are screwed.
Yeah, you've got that Yankees start from game two to talk about. I've got six earned runs in four innings against Milwaukee on April 5, 2014. And seven earned runs in four against Detroit on April 8, 2012. Put that against his two excellent starts to begin 2013 and 2015, and it seems like there's a pretty obvious pattern here, with April 6th, 2016 clearly fitting into the wrong side of things.
Buchholz is so damn predictable that at this point it feels unnecessary to bother with the rest of this charade. He'll be crap for way too long, but the Red Sox will never put him on the disabled list for long either because they love punishment or are afraid to reset the clock. Because sure as can be, when 2017 rolls around, we'll be in for another edition of Clay Buchholz, Ace Pitcher. Right up until he breaks again. Buchholz is good for about 100 innings of top stuff every two years, and the rest of the time is a waste.
The Red Sox aren't going to cut their losses right away because they don't want to look like reactionary loons. And good on them. I wouldn't throw away the off chance that this is just an isolated blip on the radar in a season that's almost certainly been overfull of them thus far.
But don't give him too long to sink this ship, because by God he will take that opportunity. Even-year Buchholz inherited the legacy of Josh Beckett. There's no escaping the pattern, you can only hope to minimize the damage. In much the same way the Red Sox can't let the likes of Pablo Sandoval or Hanley Ramirez sink their season (the latter is thankfully not looking like a problem right now), they also have to be willing to be quick to pull the trigger on Clay Buchholz. If it's May, and you still can't convince him it's 2017 or something, don't be afraid to make the move to one of the backup options.