Monday I made a big deal about Tim Byrdak and the difference in his effectiveness versus RHB and LHB. But the truth is that Byrdak does not have the biggest L/R platoon split among the team’s relievers. That distinction belongs to Taylor Buchholz, who has been murder against RHB and nearly as bad against LHB as Byrdak is versus RHB.
It’s hard to determine at this point if Buchholz has been a good reliever for the Mets. On the surface that seems ridiculous, as he sports a 1.66 ERA and a career-high 9.97 K/9. Additionally, Buchholz has tamed the walks that plagued him upon his return to the majors last year. After posting a 4.50 BB/9 in 2010, that number is down to 2.91 so far this year.
But the flip side of that is that Buchholz has allowed six of his 11 inherited runners to score. Heading into Tuesday’s games, 105 relievers had inherited at least seven runners this season and Buchholz had the 15th-highest percentage of his inherited runners score.
And while Buchholz has a shiny ERA, he’s been quite fortunate in that regard. He has an unsustainable .216 BABIP and he has stranded every single runner that he has put on base. His xFIP checks in at 3.08. Combine that with his IR scored numbers and it paints a picture of a much more ordinary reliever.
As implied earlier, each of the four runs allowed by Buchholz has come via a HR, three of those to LHB. Lefties have a .988 OPS against him. But he has faced more RHB (47) than LHB (39) and he has been 1968-vintage Bob Gibson when a righty steps up to the plate. RHB have just a .357 OPS against Buchholz and have just 1 BB compared to 17 Ks.
The big difference is his curve ball, which has been nearly unhittable for righties this year. According to Joe Lefkowitz’ Pitch F/X tool, Buchholz throws his curve 50.3 percent of the time to RHB, who swing and miss 25.6 percent of the time versus his hook. And when they do connect against his curve, righties hit fly balls 70 percent of the time. Since fly balls are the batted ball least likely to produce a hit, the result has been a lot of outs with his deuce.
However, the curve is less effective versus lefties. Buchholz still uses the pitch extensively, as he throws it 28.6 percent of the time to LHB. But lefties do not pop the pitch up. Instead they have an 83.3 ground ball rate against his curve.
The pitch that Buchholz throws the most to lefties is his two-seam fastball, which he throws 35 percent of the time. He features a four-seamer 21.4 percent and a change-up, typically the pitch that righties try to neutralize lefties with, 15 percent of the time.
The two-seamer is the one he has allowed the three HR with and it also carries a 22.2 LD%. Overall, Buchholz has had good luck with his change-up, but he has only thrown it 8.8 percent of the time, usually when he is behind in the count.
In his career, Buchholz does not have an extreme L/R split. RHB have a .688 OPS against him lifetime, while LHB check in with a .735 mark.
While the evidence against Byrdak is compelling that he should not face a RHB, the case for management to avoid sending Buchholz versus LHB is simply not there. While it would be nice if he threw fewer two-seamers and more off-speed pitches, it also seems likely that he will have better success against lefties in the months ahead simply by regression, even if he keeps his current pitch breakdown.
While he has not pitched as well as his ERA indicates, Buchholz is still an important part of the team’s bullpen. When Pedro Beato returns from the disabled list, perhaps Terry Collins can use the Rule 5 pick in situations with runners on base and utilize Buchholz in more situations where he starts an inning fresh.