Let’s not remember Clay Buchholz like this.
The Red Sox lost Buchholz’s last start, 21-2.
He hasn’t finished the sixth inning since May 20, when he walked four, gave up a home run and took the loss.
The last time he started a game without giving up a home run was April 28, when he walked four and gave up five runs in a loss to the Braves. With that win, the Braves improved to 5-17.
It’s been a rough year for Buchholz.
Buchholz is no stranger to rough years. In 2014, he carried a 5.34 earned run average through 28 starts as the defending champions sank to last place. In 2008, he finished 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA, walking almost five batters per nine innings.
Saturday’s start may be the last one Buchholz makes in a Red Sox uniform. Many fans will celebrate when the door slaps his number 11 on the way out. Some will have high hopes for a post-Buchholz rotation, believing that any call-up from Pawtucket could do better.
Others, though, will remember Good Clay.
Good Clay pitched a no-hitter in his second big-league start, striking out nine Orioles.
Good Clay finished 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA in 2010, yielding just nine home runs in 173.2 innings.
Good Clay started 2013 with 12 starts in which he struck out 81 batters in 84 innings, giving up just two home runs and 16 runs in all. He got hurt that year, but returned to finish 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA and capture a second World Series ring.
Red Sox fans have seen a lot of Bad Clay, and a lot of it is recent. His Red Sox resume is certainly flawed by several injuries, prolonged control problems and this year’s propensity to leave fastballs over the middle of the plate, leading to fly balls over the middle of the Green Monster. But if he is done in Boston, his Red Sox resume is, on balance, a strong one.
He won 76 games and lost just 60, despite an ugly 3-9 record this season. His 4.00 ERA is seven percent better than the league average over the past decade when adjusted for the hitter-friendly environments in which he’s done most of his work.
Over the past 10 years, eight starting pitchers have pitched at least 250 innings for the Red Sox. Of those eight, only Jon Lester has a better ERA than Buchholz. Only Lester has more wins than Buchholz. Only Lester and Josh Beckett have more strikeouts.
Beckett is a particularly illuminating comparison for Buchholz. Traded with Mike Lowell for Hanley Ramirez in advance of the 2007 season, Beckett was hailed as a Boston hero after leading the Red Sox to a championship his first year in Boston. He was an All-Star three times with the Red Sox, starting two Opening Day games and six postseason games. He struggled toward the end of his Boston tenure, but is widely remembered as the ace of some really good Red Sox teams. In 1,035 innings with the Red Sox, Beckett had 73 wins and a 4.00 ERA, striking out 950, walking 264, and giving up 117 home runs. In 1,109 innings, Buchholz has 76 wins and the same 4.00 ERA, striking out 859, walking 399, and giving up 112 homers. Throw Good Clay and Bad Clay in a blender, and they come out looking a lot like a Red Sox hero.
If Clay Buchholz leaves Boston, likely for Pawtucket and then another team’s AAA affiliate, he’ll take with him the stain of major league baseball’s worst ERA and second-worst home run rate. He’ll be a symbol of a Red Sox team with a historically-great offense still struggling to find enough pitching to stay in the division race.
He’ll also leave with a winning record, a no-hitter, two All-Star selections, and two World Series rings.
We got a lot of Good Clay.