Studs and duds: September 12 – September 18

The Offensive Stud is a revolving door of Blue Jays at this point.

Offensive stud: Teoscar Hernandez (OF, Blue Jays). After a few days away, Hernandez is back on top.

The outfielder has continued his electric September by hitting .409/.480/.727 with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and 7 runs scored over the past week. He is slashing .371/.473/.726 with 6 home runs and 20 RBI this month and .304/.355/.527 with 28 dingers and 104 RBI on the year.

The Blue Jays are so stacked that his 4.0 WAR ranks just 5th on the club, though he paces the team in RBI and his OPS+ (138) is second behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 176. Since 2018, Hernandez has averaged 34 home runs, 97 RBI and 90 runs scored per 162 games.

Honorable mention: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (OF, Blue Jays; .994 OPS, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 7 R, 3 BB).

Offensive dud: Aristides Aquino (OF, Reds). Aquino remains the week’s worst with his 0-for-7, 4 K, one error performance.

When he’s on, he’s on, but the 27-year-old has been plagued by too many cold streaks this season. In one seventeen at-bat stretch in late July and early August, he had just one hit for a .059 batting average; from August 20 to September 3, he had a single hit in 27 ABs for a .037 mark.

While his power potential cannot be denied—he averages 32 home runs per 162 games—his inconsistency cannot be, either. How much of a leash does Cincinnati give him? His defense is middling, his speed is negligible (one steal this year) and his on-base percentage is paltry (.305 for his career). They’re in the thick of the playoff race. It’s amazing they’ve stuck with him so long.

Dishonorable mention: Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF, Brewers; 0-for-9, 6 K).

Pitching stud: Max Scherzer (SP, Dodgers). Welcome back Max, we haven’t seen you in what, a couple days?

The 37-year-old Scherzer is pitching like he is in the middle of his prime—he is 2-0 in his past two starts, allowing just 3 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 16 batters, in 15 innings of work. He didn’t surrender an earned run, but that’s nothing new—Scherzer hasn’t given one up in five straight starts, meaning he is riding a 37 inning scoreless streak.

It’s a little soon to say, watch out, Orel,” but this run shows just how much the righty has aged like fine wine. He now stands at 15-4 with a league-leading 2.08 ERA in 29 starts this year; he’s tossed 169 innings, but just surrendered his 100th hit on September 12.

With an ERA+ of 195, he is on pace to have the highest full-season mark of any pitcher since 2018 and the highest among pitchers his age or older since 2005, when 42-year-old Roger Clemens had a 226 mark.

Honorable mention: Aaron Nola (SP, Phillies; 11 IP, 19 K, 1 BB, 1 W).

Finnegan debuted with a 2.92 ERA in 25 appearances last year. (Wikipedia).

Pitching dud: Kyle Finnegan (RP, Nationals). Well, Finnegan was having an excellent season before this hiccup.

Prior to September 15, he had a 2.61 ERA in 59 appearances; that number is up to 3.39 now, thanks to a two-game stretch in which he allowed 7 hits, a couple home runs and two walks in 2 1/3 innings of work. He blew two saves and took the same number of losses, bringing his record to 5-8.

Though his campaign has had its ups and downs, he was on the right track until this blip—from August 15 to September 12, he had an 0.68 ERA and .174 OBA in 13 appearances. In just a couple innings, all that progress was undone.

Dishonorable mention: Tyler Wells (RP, Orioles; 1/3 IP, 1 L, 1 BSV, 2 ER).

Studs and duds: September 9 – September 15

Offensive stud: Teoscar Hernandez (OF, Blue Jays). Tally another hit and RBI for Hernandez last night. Since September 9, he’s slashed .516/.571/.839 with 2 home runs, 9 RBI and 12 runs scored, meaning that he hasn’t had an average under .500 in any given seven-day span since that ending September 12.

Granted, his week’s performance is heavily weighted by a 5-for-5 game against Tampa Bay on the 13th, as well as a 5 RBI showing against Baltimore the day before. I’ve made the point recently, but it’s worth reiterating: Hernandez’s hot hitting could not have come at a better time. The slugger is a huge reason Toronto is in the thick of the wild card race.

 Honorable mention: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (OF, Blue Jays; .393/.485/.750, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 9 R).

Despite his anemic career line, Young still owns a decent 109 OPS+. (Wikipedia).

Offensive dud: Andrew Young (2B, Diamondbacks). It hasn’t been a pleasant week … or season … or career … for Young, who over the past seven days went 2-for-16 with 6 strikeouts and a couple errors. The infielder has struck out 45 times in 91 at-bats this season and carries a line of .209/.298/.484. His slugging mark is solid as 7 or his 19 hits were doubles, while 6 went over the fence.

Last year, he batted .192 in 26 at-bats; for his career, he’s hitting .205 with 55 Ks in 117 at-bats. Uninspiring though his performance might be, Young is lucky to be in the major leagues at all as he was a 37th round pick in 2016. Such high rounds don’t produce too many big leaguers (he’s the only one from 2016 to reach the majors so far).

 Dishonorable mention: Josh VanMeter (IF, Diamondbacks; 1-for-13, 5 K, 2 E).

Pitching stud: Robbie Ray (SP, Blue Jays). So far I’ve counted three Toronto players in this piece that are either studs or honorable mentions. It makes sense the Blue Jays are doing so well right now.

Ray won his 12th game last night, striking out 13 batters and allowing just one run in 7 innings; over the past week, he’s tossed 11 1/3 frames and struck out 21 batters. Even on the 10th, when he lasted less than 5 innings and surrendered 8 hits, 2 walks and 3 earned runs against Baltimore, he still managed 8 Ks.

He has developed into one of the game’s premier strikeout pitchers and now leads the American League in that category with 233; he’s also pacing the loop in ERA (2.64), starts (29), innings pitched (177 1/3), ERA+ (167) and H/9 (6.9). His career 11.3 K/9 ratio is most all-time, but it is trailed closely by Chris Sale and Yu Darvish.

Honorable mention: Nestor Cortes Jr. (SP, Yankees; 12 1/3 IP, 16 K, 2.19 ERA).

Wells debuted with a scoreless inning against Boston on April 4. (Wikipedia).

Pitching dud: Tyler Wells (RP, Orioles). Most struggling teams usually have at least one bright spot. For the Orioles, Wells isn’t it.

The rookie blew both his save opportunities and earned two losses this past week, surrendering 6 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks in 1 1/3 innings of work. It sullies what was a decent campaign: Prior to imploding, he hadn’t allowed a run in 11 straight appearances and had brought his season mark down to 3.27.

But with relievers, all it takes is a couple bad outings to ruin a good thing, and that is exactly what happened. Wells’ mark is now up to 4.17, though his K/9 IP ratio is still a solid 10.7. If he can get the long ball under control, he could be a solid pitcher. He’s surrendered 9 home runs in 54 innings this season.

Dishonorable mention: Alberto Baldonado (RP, Nationals; 2 2/3 IP, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 BSV, 1 L).

Clay Buchholz was as good as Walter Johnson and Pedro Martinez. Sometimes.

Clay Buchholz never lived up to the high expectations set for him. (Wikipedia).

A quick glance at Clay Buchholz’s career stats and you see that, eh, he wasn’t bad. Ninety wins, a couple All-Star selections, a 13-year career. The kind of run to tell the grandkids about.

He was supposed to be better than that, though. He was supposed to be a superstar, an ace, a legend. And if you take a closer look—sometimes, he pitched like one.

Selected by the Red Sox 42nd overall out of Angelina College in Texas in 2005, the right-hander tore through Boston’s system and was in the majors by 2007. His ERAs his first three years in the minors were 2.61, 2.42 and 2.44, respectively. He had 171 strikeouts in 125 1/3 innings between two stops—including Triple-A Pawtucket—in 2007.

This kid was good.

And Baseball America thought so, too. They ranked him the 51st-best prospect in the sport going into 2007.

Making his big league debut on August 17, 2007, Buchholz went 6 innings against the Angels, allowing 8 hits and 3 earned runs. Despite winning the game, it was not a stellar start for the top prospect.

Perhaps he wouldn’t live up to the hype …

…never judge a book by its cover.

Facing Baltimore in his next showing, September 1, he silenced the bats of Nick Markakis, Miguel Tejada and the rest of that (admittedly mediocre) team, allowing no hits and just three walks to become the first pitcher to toss a no-no in his second career start since the White Sox Wilson Alvarez did it (also against Baltimore) in 1991.

He also had nine strikeouts in that game. Shades of Walter Johnson, anyone?

Then he earned another win in relief on September 6, not surrendering a run, and on September 19, his final appearance of the season, he allowed just one earned run in 4 2/3 innings.

In his first big league stint, Buchholz went 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 303 ERA+. He became the first starting pitcher to post an ERA+ that high in his first season (min. 20 IP) since the Orioles’ Bob Milacki in 1988. It’s only happened three times since 1950 (Cisco Carlos was the other, in 1967) and 11 times, ever, if you include available Negro league data. The last time a National Leaguer did it was in 1907.

Yeah, it’s a rare feat.

The folks at Baseball America were impressed. They ranked him #4 on their top 100 prospects list going into 2008. It’s hard to illustrate how elite that ranking is. He was placed on a pedestal higher than Clayton Kershaw (#7), Joey Votto (#44) and Max Scherzer (#66). Derek Jeter was once ranked #4. So was Chipper Jones.

And Baseball Prospectus liked him even more. They put him at number 2.

But even the best can let us down.

In 2008, he fell to 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA; in 76 innings, he allowed 93 hits. Whether it was pressure to perform or issues with mechanics or lingering health problems—he’d experienced shoulder fatigue the year before—he left the baseball world wondering, what the heck happened?

Buchholz’s 2.33 ERA was second in the American League in 2010. (Wikipedia).

But the old Buchholz was still there. In the minors that year, he had a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts, averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He just didn’t show up on the big league stage.

2009 was an improvement, but it was like when your stocks tank and they’re working they’re way back up. Yes, it’s better than before, but still not where you want to be. In 16 starts, he was 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA. Once again, he performed like a future superstar in the minors, going 7-2 with a 2.36 mark in 99 innings.

He just needed to translate that to the majors.

In 2010, it looked like he finally arrived. Making 28 starts for Boston, Buchholz went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and 187 ERA+. In 173 2/3 innings, he surrendered only 9 home runs. He was an All-Star. He earned Cy Young support. He was the first Sox pitcher to have a full season ERA that low or ERA+ that high since Pedro Martinez, and was just the third since 1944 to accomplish the feat. Babe Ruth did it. So did Cy Young and Smoky Joe Wood.

Buchholz was back, baby.

Or not. In 2011, he made just 14 starts and had a 3.48 ERA; his number in April was 5.33. In 2012, he was 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA. That year, he carried an ERA over nine into early May and a mark of 6.58 into June.

Superstardom was put on hold.

Briefly, once again, it seemed. Beginning 2013 with a 1.01 ERA through May 1, the resurgent hurler was 9-0 with a mark of 1.71 through June 8 … just to suffer a neck strain and miss the rest of the month, July, August, and early September. He returned to make four starts to finish the year and didn’t skip a beat—he lost just one game, on September 21, and was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA and 237 ERA+ in 16 games on the season.

Greg Maddux had an ERA+ of 230 or greater twice, in 1994 and 1995. (Wikipedia).

The only other Red Sox starting pitcher with an ERA+ over 230 in a season of 15 games or more was Pedro Martinez, who did it in 1999 and 2000. Excluding Negro leaguers, it has only happened 13 times in the history of the game. The club includes Walter Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson and Christy Mathewson.

Buchholz was back, baby. For real this time.

And again … or not. He was 8-11 with a 5.34 mark in 2014 and that began his spiral into mediocrity. From 2014 to 2017, he was 23-29 with a 4.73 ERA in 430 1/3 innings. On December 20, 2016, Boston gave up on him and traded him to the Phillies for a minor leaguer of no consequence,  Josh Tobias.

After a poor two game stint with Philadelphia in 2017, he was given his walking papers after the season and joined the Royals, who ditched him in May 2018 before he could play a game. The Diamondbacks picked him up less than a week later, put him in their rotation and — oh yeah! Clay Buchholz was back, baby!

In 16 starts with them, he was 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA and 209 ERA+. Sure, it was a stunted campaign, but it was an unbelievable one—besides Buchholz, no Diamondbacks starter who played at least half a season has ever posted an ERA that low or an ERA+ that high. Not Randy Johnson. Not Curt Schilling.

You know what happened next. He was granted free agency the following season. The Blue Jays signed him. He went 2-5 with a 6.56 ERA in 12 starts.

There would be no next time. Buchholz rode his last rodeo in Toronto to conclude an underwhelming career. He finished with six seasons with ERAs over 4.50 and three of 6 or higher.

For half his career, or thereabouts, he was awful.

For a third of it, however, he was legendary. Between his 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2018 seasons, Buchholz tossed 403 innings and surrendered just 92 runs for a 2.05 ERA. He was 39-11, a winning percentage of .780. His lowest ERA+ was 187.

Here is a list of nine illustrious baseball names: Pedro Martinez, Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Randy Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Bill Foster, Lefty Grove.  Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers, or Hall of Fame-quality players all.

What do they have in common? They’re the only other starting pitchers with four or more seasons with an ERA+ of 180 or greater.

Buchholz is number ten.

Remove those Hall of Fame-level years from his ledger, and his career numbers look like this:

51 wins, 58 losses, 4.81 ERA.

Buchholz might be the best worst pitcher ever.

Random autograph of the day: Brandon Cromer

You might be more familiar with Cromer’s brothers, Tripp and D.T., both of whom reached the major leagues. However, Brandon had a strong baseball pedigree in his own right, being taken as a supplemental pick by the Blue Jays in the 1st round of the 1992 amateur draft. His 1994 season stands out for a negative reason — in 80 games and 259 at-bats in Single A, he hit just .135. That’s with a ‘1’. Astonishingly, the Blue Jays moved him up a level the next year anyway, where his averaged improved over 100 points to a still meager .237. Cromer never put it all together, so — though he hit 24 home runs his first and only full year at Triple A — he never reached the majors. A fourth brother, Burke, played a couple years in the minors, as well.