Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How to handle high-ceiling pitching prospects

Yesterday, I enjoyed a laugh at the expense of the zealous Sawx fans. Today, I give major props to the Sox front office for their smart handling of their high-ceiling pitching talent. Namely, Clay Buchholz. The same kid who tossed a no-hitter in his 2nd start ever, last season.

On May 15th this season, Buchholz was put on the DL for what was called a "cracked fingernail". He was sent to AAA once his DL stint expired.

Now, Buchholz was only mediocre in his brief 2008 before the DL, going just 2-3 with a 5.53 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. He finished an abbreviated 2007 with a 3-1 record but a sparkling 1.54 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Even more importantly, the Sox held this phenom OFF their post-season roster to manage his innings.

He pitched 125.1 IP in the minors last year, with an additional 22.2 IP in the majors. that's 148 IP. Going by the current rule of thumb, teams don't want to increase the workload over 30 innings over their previous high water marks. This year, he pitched 38.2 IP in the minors and 42.1 IP in the majors. With half the season yet to go, Buchholz is now fresh and ready to pitch another 100 IP with the big club and should be fresh for the post-season.

Rob Neyer noted this:

Buchholz is simply too good for the minors. In nine starts with Pawtucket, he's 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA, 43 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings. As a major leaguer -- yes, including that no-hitter last season -- he's 5-4 with a 4.15 ERA, 65 strikeouts and 30 walks in 65 innings.
Tom Verducci had this to say about Clay BEFORE the year started:
Keep in mind what the Boston Red Sox did with Clay Buchholz last year. The kid, who turned 23 in August, threw a no-hitter in his second big league start. As the Red Sox scrambled down the stretch to fortify their bullpen (Eric Gagne, anybody?), Buchholz looked like a perfect option in front of Jonathan Papelbon. But the Red Sox resisted pushing Buchholz and shut him down in September and the postseason. His innings increase in 2007? They shut him down right at +29, just under the YAE [Year After Effect] threshold.

Also from Verducci, who looks awfully precient these days, are his top 7 "at risk" players, identified in February 2008 and their current results:
  • Ian Kennedy, Yankees, 23 (+61 IP): 7.41 ERA, 8 starts, 0-3 record, injured/ineffective
  • Fausto Carmona, Indians, 23 (+56.1): 3.10 ERA but a 1.59 WHIP, 10 starts, 23:38 K:BB ratio, injured
  • Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies, 24 (+41 2/3): 4.21 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 86:57 K:BB ratio, 4-8 record
  • Tom Gorzelanny, Pirates, 25 (+40 1/3): 6.57 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, 6-7 record
  • Dustin McGowan, Blue Jays, 25 (+38 2/3) : 4.36 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 6-7 record
  • Chad Gaudin, Athletics, 24 (+36): 3.59 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, removed from rotation after May 3rd start
  • Yovani Gallardo, Brewers, 21 (+33): 1.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, was scintillating until torn ACL (had knee surgery in off-season)

So I can kid and have fun with my Sox buddies up North, but at the same time, we must respect and admire their management's ability to keep the big picture in perspective. Something that I don't think Hank does so well.

UPDATE: McGowan on the DL with a tear in his rotator cuff. 7/10/08

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