2011 Projection: Can Clay Buchholz Replicate His ’10 Success?

It was a tremendous 2010 campaign for Clay Buchholz, who emerged as a great fantasy option despite pitching in the ultra-competitive AL East.  Now, owners have to decide if they think he can replicate these impressive numbers, or if a regression is in his future:

17 Wins
173.2 Innings
2.33 ERA
1.20 WHIP
120 Strikeouts (6.22 K/9)
67 Walks (3.47 BB/9)
.265 BABIP

The ERA was sparkling, though you can easily attribute that partially to his luck metrics.  Not only was his BABIP on the lucky side, so was his strand rate (79.0%).   In fact, among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, Buchholz’ strand rate was the eighth best in the league.  Is this something that we can realistically expect him to replicate?  Probably not.

A fall in his BABIP and strand rate will certainly hurt his ERA.  You also have to wonder if he can repeat his performance within the AL East:

  • Baltimore – 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 15.0 IP
  • Blue Jays – 3-0, 0.41 ERA, 22.0 IP
  • Rays – 1-1, 0.98 ERA, 18.1 IP
  • Yankees – 1-1, 5.84 ERA, 12.1 IP

While he did struggle against the Yankees, he was lights out against the other three teams.  While the Rays lineup will look significantly different in 2011, the Blue Jays can score runs and the Orioles have taken strides to improve their lineup.  It is hard to imagine seeing these types of miniscule numbers for a second consecutive season.

Of course, his likely decrease in luck will also affect his WHIP, which is seemingly a lock to increase.  Yes, he could improve on his walk rate (his career minor league rate was at 2.54), but an increase in BABIP is obviously going to lead to more hits.

However, there is something that will help to offset that.

While Buchholz may not have been sparkling in 2010 in the strikeout department, there is reason to believe that he could take a significant step forward this season.  Over his minor league career he posted a K/9 of 10.23, including an 8.86 at Triple-A in 2008 (43.2 IP) and an 8.9 at Triple-A in 2009 (99.0 IP). 

Is he going to suddenly evolve into a pitcher who is going to strikeout over eight batters per nine innings?  It’s not likely, considering that he had more than seven strikeouts in a game just three times, the last of which came on June 15.  Would it be a surprise to see him improve his strikeout rate by at least one strikeout per nine innings?  Not at all.

Let’s see how it all adds up for 2011:

195.0 IP, 17 W, 3.46 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 162 K (7.48 K/9), 68 BB (3.14 BB/9)

Those numbers certainly would put him in the discussion of the Top 20 starting pitchers, and while I feel like he belongs there (click here for my recent rankings) it certainly is a fine line between 15 and 25.  Clearly, with the upgraded lineup, his wins potential is significantly better than a lot of other pitchers out there, helping to give him an edge.

While his luck will likely decrease, an improvement in strikeouts will certainly go a long way in helping to offset that.  He’s not going to replicate last year’s surprising success, but he should continue to be one of the better options in all formats.  As a SP2, he certainly should have plenty of value.

What are your thoughts on Buchholz?  How good could he be in 2011?  What type of numbers do you see him posting?

Make sure to check out some of our 2011 projections:

One comment

  1. T-BZA says:

    He has a quality hook in his arsenal that could be an out-pitch, but he doesn’t throw it enough to keep hitters honest (8.6% according to FanGraphs).

    That’s good from a health standpoint, but makes me wonder if his BB/9 will catch up with him this year. Mid-range SP2 seems safe with upside if he can K kids with more of that Uncle Charlie.

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