Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, April 18, 2016

Clay Buchholz Lacks the Passion, Will and Desire to be Great

Clay Buchholz is now 31-years-old (32 in August) and in his 10th season with the Red Sox (though he pitched in just four games in 2007).

During his time in Boston, Buchholz has shown flashes of brilliance, but has mostly confounded all observers. How can a guy with so much potential never fully realize it?

It’s rather stunning that after a decade in the majors, Buchholz has never made 30 starts or thrown 200 innings in a season. He has spent too much time on a a trainer’s table, and not enough on he mound.

The righty was on the disabled list seven times in his first nine years. Yes, he’s fragile, and that’s well established.

Here's a look at Buchholz's injury history:

15-day DL: Right fingernail tear (blister)

Games missed: 16

15-day DL: Left hamstring strain

Games missed: 18

60-day DL: Low back stress fracture

Games missed: 93

15-day DL: Esophagitis

Games missed: 20

60-day DL: Right shoulder bursitis (neck strain)

Games missed: 82

15-day DL: Left knee hyperextension

Games missed: 28

Yet, I think there’s more to Buchholz’s struggles than just the physical ailments. I think he is mentally weak and totally dispassionate, and I’m not alone.

In 2014, Buchholz went 8-11 with a 5.34 ERA in 28 starts, logging only 170 1/3 innings.

The following spring, his former teammate, Curt Schilling, said the problem is that Buchholz lacks a true competitive spirit and a passion for the game.

“I don’t think he wants to be (an ace),” Schilling told reporters. “I think there’s a level of commitment mentally and physically you have to have, and there’s a ‑‑ you have to have a little bit of a dark side, I think, in the sense that losing has to hurt so bad, that you do whatever you can do to make sure it never happens again. I’ve never felt like that was... Clay is just kind of, hey, I’m going to pitch today.”

Schilling also said he sees mental weakness in Buchholz.

“He’s unbelievably talented, obviously, physically. But there’s another level to the game, and I think that's the reason he’s been inconsistent. Cy Young potential in numbers one year to what-the-hell-happened next year is upstairs,” Schilling continued. “I think it’s all above his shoulders.”

Perhaps the expectations were too high for Buchholz after he no-hit the Orioles in 2007, in what was just his second career big-league start.

But he’s been an All Star twice: in 2010, when he posted a 2.33 ERA over 28 starts, and in 2013, when he posted a 1.74 ERA over 16 starts.

Schilling recently added to his April 2014 critique of his former teammate.

“We need to move on from an expectations perspective,” Schilling said on WEEI. “Here is the thing: sometimes you are what you are. Clay Buchholz was not going to come out of the gates this year and throw 222 innings, win 19 games and make 33 starts. He’s never done it. I am convinced — and this is not a personal thing. I like Clay. It’s just, he’s not the guy. That no-hitter skewed it all. We go back to one game and a couple stretches where he was as good as anyone in the game, but that is something he ended up not wanting bad enough to make it happen.”

And there’s the heart of the matter: Buchholz simply doesn’t want it badly enough. That’s the sort of thing that will always eat at those with less aptitude, but more passion. How can a guy with so much raw talent be so cool and emotionless about the game?

Ask yourself this: have you ever seen Buchholz get excited? It’s that lack of passion and commitment which has kept him from achieving his full potential and becoming a truly great pitcher — rather than a mediocre, unpredictable one.

As much as Buchholz has shown flashes of brilliance, and even dominance, he has at other times looked completely overmatched and way out of his league for entire seasons.

2008: 6.75 ERA and 1.76 WHIP over 15 starts

2012: 4.56 ERA and 1.33 WHIP over 29 starts

2014: 5.34 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over 28 starts

Some fans are still waiting for Buchholz to blossom, realize his full potential and become a Cy Young winner. That ship has sailed.

It’s long since time accept that Buchholz is a No. 3 starter who will at times look like an ace, yet at other times will look like a guy who is lucky to be in the majors.

The frustration of fans, scouts and executives will continue because Buchholz simply lacks the will and desire to be truly great on a consistent basis.


TJ Mahar said...

And yet, guys like this will command ridiculous contracts simply because what they do is so difficult. Many of us have similar issues in that we are "good at what we do" and are proportionately rewarded, yet are simply not passionate about whatever career we may have. The difference is as fans we think guys in the majors should feel differently since their level of compensation is so high. But these guys only have known one job since, well, forever. Clay is really talented for his vocation. He, like so many of us, just doesn't like it that much. And they pay him so much money to be "ok" that there's really no reason to change. Heck he's 32 not 26. There's no way this guy changes now. We should just be happy he's even a 3 and move on when this contract is over. It won't bother him a bit either way. And in the meantime he will confound us fans, who are more passionate about what he does that he is.

Sean M. Kennedy said...

That is the problem with guaranteed contracts; they disincentive many players, and teams are paying for past performance, as opposed to current performance. The Red Sox hold another one-year option on Buchholz for next season, at $13.5 million. It will be interesting to see how they proceed. In reality, Buchholz is pitching for that option this season.