Every story I’ve seen about new Mets reliever Taylor Buchholz makes some sort of reference to the 12-to-6 breaking ball that made him one of the most effective setup men in baseball in 2008.
That season for the Rockies, Buchholz allowed 45 hits and 18 walks, striking out 56 in 66 1/3 innings pitched. His 2.17 ERA comes with a pair of caveats, though in my mind they essentially offset each other.
2008 MLB Ranks
Buchholz did allow seven unearned runs in 2008, so he wasn’t entirely flawless. But he also did a nice job stranding nine of the 10 baserunners he inherited upon entering games.
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.
Hitters swung at Buchholz’s breaking ball 136 times.
They swung-and-missed 71 times.
The 52.2 percent miss rate ranked fifth-best among the 317 right-handed pitchers we included in our check (those who threw at least 100 breaking pitches that season). Among those it rated better than: Brad Lidge and A.J. Burnett, who based on the former players I’ve talked to, had among the elite breaking pitches in the game.
Opponents hit .116 against Buchholz's curveball, though that number (while quite good) is a little misleading because he's normally throwing the pitch in highly favorable counts.
Of perhaps greater significance is his "Well-Hit Rate," which Inside Edge calculates subjectively, but based on line drives and deep fly balls. 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).
With two strikes that season, no right-hander was better off at finishing a hitter with a two-strike breaking ball than Buchholz.
Earlier this year, we devised a stat –- putaway rate -- which we defined by the following formula:
Strikeouts with a specific pitch type/No. of times the pitcher threw that pitch type with two strikes.
Buchholz’s 2008 putaway rate with his breaking ball (38.5 percent) was the best for any right-handed pitcher in the game.
The problem is that Buchholz himself was put away for much of the last two seasons. He’s thrown just 12 major league innings since that terrific 2008. There was one good sign from this limited sampling though. Of the 18 times a hitter swung at a Buchholz breaking pitch, eight swung and missed.
If he can maintain that sort of rate and regain the velocity on his fastball (which dropped from 92 mph to 89 mph post-surgery), the Mets may have found their eighth-inning man for 2011.