Can The RedSox Fix Allen Craig?

At the time of the deadline deal with St. Louis involving John Lackey, Allen Craig was a complete mystery. After posting a weighted runs created of at least 134 in each of the previous two seasons, Craig was slumping badly in 2014 to the point where the Cardinals deemed him expendable. The Red Sox had interest in him as a buy-low candidate that could potentially add some thump to the lineup. The only problem so far is that Craig has been much worse in Boston than he was in St. Louis. Much (.100/.250/.200), much (36.7 K%, .148 BABIP) worse (.278 wOBA, 74 wRC+). So what exactly is going on with Allen Craig, and can the Red Sox ever expect him to get back to being the middle of the lineup force he was with the Cardinals?

One of the anomalies of Craig’s struggles is that his batted-ball profile has very little year over year variation. Craig’s linedrive (21.4%), groundball (46.4%), and flyball rates (32.1%) with the Red Sox are almost identical to his career rates (22.8%, 46.6 %, and 30.6% career, respectively), so there is really nothing there to be concerned with. As mentioned above, his BABIP and strikeout rate with the Red Sox are abysmal, and this could be playing a role in the off year. During his productive years with the Cardinals, Craig posted unusually high BABIPs (.334, .368), so some regression should have been expected. However, there has to be something else at play here than just a ridiculously low batting average on balls in play.

Could there be something in the way pitchers are attacking Craig in the American League? When compared with his career marks to date, it seems that pitchers in the AL have a different gameplan against Craig than those in the Senior Circuit. With the Red Sox Craig is seeing fewer fastballs (47.9% with Red Sox, 55.3% career), roughly the same amount of sliders (17.1%, 17.5%) and changeups (9.2%, 9.5%), and many more splitters (5.1%, 1.6%). The splitter has been a serious problem for Craig this season, as he is currently half a run below the average hitter (-0.5 wSF) against the splitter on the year. Craig has also been below average against the slider (-2.2 wSL) and changeup (-0.6) in Boston, giving him little advantage in the box. This breakdown makes it pretty clear why Craig has been seeing fewer fastballs in Boston.

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and it is no different here. While it is much easier said than done, Allen Craig needs to adjust to the different way he is being pitched with the Red Sox. Craig is seeing fewer fastballs because he has been bad against offspeed stuff in 2014. Pitchers notice this trend and feature splitters and changeups and breaking stuff; Craig needs to adapt. Pitchers have adjusted to him, now he needs to adjust to how he is being pitched. Along with that, the strikeouts need to come down as well, but that can be addressed if Craig gains a better understanding of how he is being pitched. With a few tweaks to his approach, there is reason to believe Craig can be at least a productive hitter for the Red Sox at some point in the future.

Clay Buchholz Continues Disappointing Season For Boston Red Sox

Clay Buchholz got roughed up in losing his latest start for the Red Sox. Stop us if that sounds familiar. It has been the same old story for Buchholz in 2014; sub-par start after sub-par start with a trip to the Disabled List mixed in. Unsurprisingly, Buchholz got rocked again on Wednesday against the Angels at Fenway Park, giving up 6 runs, 7 hits and 2 walks in 6 innings of work. It’s not just about performance for Buchholz at this point (or lack thereof), but about how he gives up runs. Buchholz was actually cruising through the first four innings against LAA, until he promptly loaded the bases and walked in a run. We have all been saying the same thing for some time now, but with the focus for the Red Sox becoming evaluating 2015 pieces, Buchholz’s days as a starter for the Red Sox should be numbered.

Needless to say Buchholz has been awful in 2014. The ERA (5.94), the WHIP (1.55), BABIP (.337), and Average Against (.291) are stratospheric, leading to much of Buchholz’s misery on the mound. While the peripheral numbers still suggest that he has been the victim of unfortunate luck (the aforementioned BABIP, 62.9% strand rate) and could be pitching more effectively (4.36 FIP, 4.18 xFIP), it is becoming clear that Buchholz is pitching to his poor surface numbers. Watching a start makes most of Buchholz’s problems pretty apparent. Location has been a serious problem, particularly leaving pitches up in the strikezone. The following two graphs illustrate the vertical location of Buchholz’s “out pitch,” the changeup, in 2014 to illustrate his location issues.

Vertical location of Buchholz's changeup from 4/5/14 to 5/26/14

Vertical location of Buchholz's changeup from 6/25/14 to 8/3/14

Another issue Buchholz seems to have is with his own perception. Following his shellacking at the hands of the Angels, Buchholz apparently “felt good with just about every pitch.” This has actually been another recurring theme with Buchholz throughout the course of the year; no matter the outcome, he always seems to “feel good” during every start. The problem is that he has had very little to actually feel good about. These quotes reveal several potential issues with Buchholz. One is that he has no competitive drive, and that he accepts losing and underperforming as long as he “feels good” during his starts. Another is that the Red Sox believe that his ego is so fragile that he needs to be given a silver lining out of every single start, again regardless of outcome. Either scenario is unacceptable from a pitcher that is supposed to be at the top of a rotation. With every seeming denial of reality, Buchholz is looking less like the ace he could potentially be, and more like the back-end starter he currently is.

The Red Sox need to start being honest with their assessment of Buchholz. The team’s stated goal is to use the rest of 2014 to evaluate their pieces for 2015, and they should start sticking to their guns. At this point they have seen all of the numbers, all of the starts, and they now know what they have in Buchholz. There really is no point in having Buchholz continue to take starts away from younger pitchers like Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes who deserve a look in the big leagues. The Red Sox would be better served sending Buchholz to the bullpen, both to try and regain some of his previous form, as well as to open up a rotation spot for a younger pitcher that could help next season. At this point, the excuses are getting tired, and there is no reason to keep sending Buchholz out at the expense of the team’s development.