Injuries likely played a part in Buehler’s “struggles”, though his overall numbers in eight starts in 2020 weren’t horrific:
42 Strikeouts (10.31 K/9)
11 Walks (2.70 BB/9)
35.5% Groundball Rate
Obviously the strikeouts were still there, but his control has taken a clear step backwards after a 1.83 BB/9 in ’19. Those issues have been magnified in the playoffs, with 6 BB in 8.0 IP, while he also continues to struggle going deep into games. In his two playoff starts he’s gone 4.0 innings in each, and he only went past 5.0 IP in two starts this season (and never more than 6.0).
Neither of those “issues” are long-term concerns and the pure stuff was impressive (15 swinging strikes). The more glaring question is with the potential risk for home runs, though he limits the hard contact (25.8% Hard%) and has shown more groundball stuff in the past.
When you look at his Groundball per Balls in Play per pitch, they were all down slightly in ’20:
A lot of that could likely be credited to the consistent starts and stops, as well as the Dodgers bringing him along slowly during the second spring training. You could argue that he wasn’t put in position to be at full strength, and dealing with things like blisters only compounded it.
The fact is that the pure stuff clearly remains, and while it’s easy to be concerned by a bump in his control or a few more home runs we shouldn’t be. Buehler has shown to be elite, and that’s where he’ll remain in 2021.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball