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The Flyby - Confessions of Overconfidence

We had two responses, and they both spoke of thinking a player would be great... and then they were not.

Division Series - Cleveland Indians v Boston Red Sox - Game Three
Clay Buchholz is one of those guys people loved to love and then love to hate, and then hate to love and then hate to hate. Conflicting feelings abound with Buch.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

For this weekend’s FanPost Friday, we had two responses, involving two very different players. However, there was a common thread that bound the two together: both played for the 2013 Red Sox. Yes, the same 2013 Red Sox that won the World Series. Further, both played in the World Series.

Will Middlebrooks - gosawks

What they said: Not much. The Will Middlebrooks content, word for word is “I don’t want to talk about it. *sheds a tear* Let’s move on.” They expressed they will probably be wrong about Jalen Beeks, which would suck, because he’s our best starting option in the high minors. If he sucks, we might be in a spot of trouble. Joe Kelly 2020, or something.

While gosawks didn’t give us much Middlebrooks content, I will be happy to pick up the slack, and do the dreaded task of “talking about it”.

My history with Will Middlebrooks is interesting, for lack of a better word. Coming up through the minors, I don’t recall being too invested one way or the other, but do vaguely recall finding his power stroke intriguing. He didn’t catch my attention until 2011 when he was in AA Portland. And with how he played, he probably caught everyone’s attention (as far as prospect fans go, anyways). He hit .302/.345/.520 in 96 games, with 18 home runs, and 25 doubles. In short, he showcased a good power stroke, both for hitting the long ball, and for getting the ball into the gap. However, the biggest flaw in his game had yet to be addressed, and as we know now, it never got addressed.

Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox
Will Middlebrooks had too much swing and miss in his game to realistically succeed at the MLB level.
Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

You don’t need to look at his FanGraphs page to know that he struck out a ton, even in the minor leagues. You also don’t need to look to know he was never the best at drawing a walk.

In retrospect, we probably should have known the magic of Will Middlebrooks was never going to last. He had a fundamental flaw with his ability to get on base at the higher levels, and it just was unsustainable.

His first 169 games in the major leagues gave reason for optimism, if you were just looking at counting stats. You can do significantly worse than 32 doubles and 32 home runs. You would be hard pressed to do worse than 33 walks and 168 strikeouts in that same timeframe. Of the 260 players in the majors to get 600 plate appearances over those two years (2012-13), Middlebrooks ranked in the bottom 30 in walk rate, as well as the bottom 30 in strikeout rate. For clarity’s sake, I’m saying Middlebrooks was bad at taking walks, and struck out a ton. Only two players in that time-frame were in the bottom 30 in both statistics: Middlebrooks, and J.P. Arencibia.

This is a list of the 30 worst players at striking out over 2012-13 (min: 600 PAs). Highlighted in yellow are players who were also in the worst 30 players at drawing walks.

After 2013, the wheels totally came up. Will Middlebrooks played in 178 games over the next four seasons for four different organizations: the Red Sox, Padres, Brewers, and Rangers. In those 178 games, Middlebrooks hit .198/.246/.310. His contact rate declined every year, while his swinging strike rate increased. I think the rest of it is history.

Where is Middlebrooks now? He signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies organization, then broke his leg in spring training. More importantly, and more positively, he and former NESN sideline reporter Jenny Dell are expecting their first child, and we should all be very happy for them.

Clay Buchholz Broke My Heart - itsjustglorifiedrounders

What they said: Young and naive, oh so young and naive! Love at first sight! And then the worst thing ever happened, Buchholz let them down. Buchholz pitched like a lean, mean, string bean machine until he didn’t. Now, they never get their hopes up for any individual player. They have never felt a love so intense and strong as their first. And that’s how young love is. Cruel.

With the joking aside, I’m not sure there’s a more curious player in recent Red Sox history, as far as performance poles goes. With Josh Beckett, the difference between his good years and bad years was pronounced, but you could see where the wheels came off, and just accepted it as part of the experience. With Daisuke Matsuzaka, when he struggled, you knew why he was struggling. With literally every reliever to ever grace a Red Sox uniform, you just expected disaster. Success was a happy accident.

Arizona Diamondbacks  v New York Mets
Yeah, Buchholz pitches for the D’Backs now.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

With Clay Buchholz, you often had a player that you knew could be an ace, but always found different ways to miss the mark. When he was healthy, and pitching to his potential, it was a sight to behold. His 2013 season in particular (you know, when he was actually healthy) was the best example of what I’m talking about.

That season, Buchholz only pitched 108.1 innings, but in those 108.1 innings, he was as unhittable as any other starter in baseball. Of starters in MLB to amass at least 100 innings, the only names to have a lower batting average against were Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw, Tony Cingrani, and Jose Fernandez. Of these names, Buchholz had the lowest K rate, and the worst K/BB ratio. And yet, like Clay Buchholz, it just worked most of the time.

When you talk about Clay, you have to talk about the good and the bad. The good is eminently his ability to get out of jams, limit runs (for the most part), and keep the ball in the yard (usually). The bad... well there’s the walks, the injuries, the inconsistency from start to start most years, and generally being nerve-wracking to watch. It was like watching Heath Hembree pitching every fifth day for half the game. Not that Hembree or Buchholz was bad, both get kind of a bad reputation for being worse than they actually are/were, but there are guys you just don’t trust. Buchholz was one of those for me.

For all the talk of how I didn’t trust him, young me, back in 2007, was given every reason to trust him. In his second MLB start, he no-hit the Orioles, while striking out 9 batters. For every reminder of these good games, there were a couple stinkers that made you want to give up on him all the same.

XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game
This is a picture of Clay Buchholz pitching during the 2007 Futures Game. Feels like forever ago.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

In 2016, the Red Sox did just that, shipping him off to Philadelphia (huh, Middlebrooks is in Philly now) for Josh Tobias. Buchholz currently pitches for the Diamondbacks, and has one of the weirdest lines I’ve ever seen a modern starter have, even if it is in only a two game sample (3.3 H/9, 1.6 HR/9, 0.8 BB/9, 4.1 K/9).

I don’t miss Buchholz, but I do miss what he represented for my late-childhood following of the Sox, foolish nativity.

That’s it for this week. Do you have a player you were wrong about?