In an off-season filled with signings that required extensive use of Wiki and Baseball Reference to figure out who they were, one among them really captured my attention; Taylor Buchholz.
Probably the least familiar among names like Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Willie Harris and Scott Hairston, Buchholz to me seems to have the most upside and could offer the most bang for the buck. Let me explain why.
Obviously, for the amount of money we were willing to pay, all of the players we signed came with a lot of risk and a variety of built-in issues ranging from being too old, reclamation projects, battling back from a serious injury or coming off a terribly bad season. There’s no sure thing in the entire lot.
Taylor Buchholz falls into the “battling back from a serious injury” group. He missed all of the 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but thanks to some remarkable medical breakthroughs with the procedure, TJ survivors have done quite well upon their returns to the game, especially for those who were under 30 years old as Buchholz. In some cases, they even come back better than before their surgery.
Buchholz came back last season and pitched in only nine games, going 1-0 with a 3.75 earned run average in 12 innings. The numbers are not nearly as important as the fact he felt great and suffered no setbacks with his arm. Five more months off will give him even more time to heal and max out his arm strength.
It wasn’t long ago, that Buchholz was a highly regarded prospect who had a lethal 12-6 curveball that many scouts considered to be the best in the minor leagues at the time.
Buchholz was well on his way to becoming one of the league’s premier relievers posting a pristine 2.17 ERA and an even more remarkable 56/18 K/BB ratio over 66 1/3 innings with the Rockies during the 2008 season. I see no reason why we cant expect to see that kind of performance again, and perhaps an even stronger one given the pitcher-friendly park and improved defense.
Mark Simon, who does a spectacular job for ESPN and is a die-hard Mets fan, posted some additional information that makes me even more confident that Buchholz could end up becoming the catch of the day (or offseason) for Sandy Alderson.
Simon delves deeper into the science and mechanics of Buchholz in 2008 and cites some great data from Inside Edge;
But the numbers that really jump off the page are the ones we get from our Inside Edge Scouting Service, which does video review for every pitch thrown in the major leagues. Inside Edge charted Buchholz throwing 330 breaking balls in 2008 and its value came in being one of the game’s ultimate swing-and-miss pitches.
Let me quickly recap some of the findings from that analysis:
1. In 2008, no right-hander was better at finishing off a hitter with a two-strike breaking ball than Buchholz.
2. When hitters made contact with a Buchholz curve, they hit it “well” 16.7 percent of the time, significantly below the average for right-handers (23.5 percent).
3. Opponents hit just .116 against Buchholz’s curveball, swinging at it 136 times, and missing 71 times. Ranked fifth best among all right-handers.
4. Buchholz’s 2008 put-away rate with his breaking ball (38.5 percent) was the best for any right-handed pitcher in the game.
Simon concludes that the Mets may have found their eighth-inning man for 2011. To learn more about what these numbers mean and how they are determined, read the full article on ESPN New York.
If he makes the Opening Day roster, and I see no reason why he wont, Buchholz will earn $1.2 million dollars, far less than what we paid for J.J. Putz, Pedro Feliciano and Hisanori Takahashi who all flirted with the setup role in previous seasons. Bobby Parnell is probably the favorite for the job going into spring training, but he certainly doesn’t have a lock on it. Keep an eye on Buchholz in the coming weeks, I think you’ll all like what you see.
In closing, I’ll say just this… It’s a nice feeling to know that in Taylor Buchholz, we got a pitcher who Theo Epstein wanted very badly. The Red Sox GM claimed Buchholz on waivers from Toronto, non-tendered in hopes of getting him to take a lesser offer, and ultimately made him an offer that was immediately shot down by Buchholz. Instead, the young right-hander accepted a similar deal to play for the Mets. You don’t see that happening very often.