This year will mark Buchholz’s seventh full season in the majors. (Feel old yet?) Since being called up near the end of the 2007 season, he has hurled a no-hitter, led the American League with an ERA+ of 187 in 2010—a season he won 17 games and posted an ERA of 2.33—and went 12-1 with an ERA of 1.74 last year.
Buchholz has also never pitched more than 189 innings or 29 starts in a season. In his six full years in the rotation, he has cleared 20 starts twice, 2010 and 2012. In 2012—granted it was a lost season for everybody—he carded an ERA of 4.56 in the biggest workload of his career, surrendering 25 home runs.
Which Buchholz we see this year will go a long way in determining if the Red Sox are going to have a serious chance in repeating as world champions. If they are going to win the AL East, they are going to need him to display the filthy selection of pitches he featured before injuries knocked him out for most of the second half of the season.
Although Jon Lester remerged as the staff ace for the playoffs, Buchholz was the ace the first half of last season. When Buchholz returned for a few playoff tune-up starts, he lacked the confidence in the same pitches that garnered him an All-Star selection a few months earlier.
Buchholz was so unsure of his ability; he nearly talked himself out of a start in Game 4 of the World Series. He gritted out four innings with no earned runs before turning things over to Felix Doubront and the Red Sox bullpen.
With all the open talk about Buchholz’s health, jaws dropped around New England when Lester revealed he had pitched the end of the regular season and playoffs with a bad back. Not one word was said.
Only three times in Buchholz’s six seasons has he thrown more than 100 innings a year, including the injury-plagued 108 1/3 he threw last year. That is a huge problem.
Boston has incredible veteran depth in the rotation from John Lackey and Jake Peavy behind Lester, but the days of Peavy eating 200 innings in the rotation are over. If Lackey can clear 200, consider his season a huge success, although anything around 175 is a positive.
Buchholz has to show he can be that No. 2 starter. He needs to start 30-plus games and throw over 200 innings for the first time. Even with an apparently deep bullpen, he has to pitch deep into his starts to ensure the pen behind him gets the rest they need to help shore up the back of the rotation.
Buchholz has shown over the years he has all the talent in the world. Now, he needs to get himself in the right mental and physical shape to turn that potential into giving his team what they need to win.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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