What’s more troublesome for Clay Buchholz: his strikeout deficiency or the inability to keep the ball in the park?
Perhaps the two are related. Buchholz has allowed more home runs on his fastball (five) than he has swings and misses (two) with it.
Let’s dive into the numbers, as Buchholz prepares to face the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.
* The home run problem: Buchholz has already allowed six home runs in 2012, just three shy of the total he gave up during his breakout 2010 campaign. Similarly, his 17 earned runs are two more than he allowed in his final 12 starts of that season.
Now, it’s unfair to compare the two seasons. For one, Buchholz had an abnormally low home run rate in 2010. He’s also coming off an injury that caused him to miss the final three-and-a-half months of 2011. So it’s understandable that he’d be a bit rusty.
But for a pitcher whose success was so closely tied to keeping the ball in the park, it’s noteworthy that Buchholz hasn’t been.
Five of the six home runs he’s allowed have been on the fastball. That matches the total he allowed on fastballs in each of the previous two seasons.
* The strikeout problem: Buchholz’s fastball is averaging 91.6 miles per hour, down from 93.9 mph in 2010.
The result? Buchholz is throwing his fastball less (a career-low 49 percent). The ones he does throw are being feasted upon. Opponents are swinging at 57 percent of them, up from 43 percent a year ago.
In addition to the low velocity, his fastball location has been off. Only 22 percent have been thrown low. Compare that to 33 percent in each of the previous two seasons.
The velocity figures to climb as he regains arm strength. But right now, Buchholz isn’t making anyone miss with the heater. Of his 79 fastballs swung upon, only two have been swings and misses thus far.
That leads to his strikeouts deficiency. His 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings is the ninth lowest among AL pitchers with three or more starts. Of his nine strikeouts, only two have come on the fastball.
Perhaps because he’s yet to regain the velocity on his heater, Buchholz keeps going back to the curveball with two strikes. That’s led to five strikeouts on the curve already. Back in 2010, he had just nine all season.