After a mediocre, low-strikeout 2012 season, Clay Buchholz is missing lots of bats while emerging as first-place Boston's ace. Buchholz has struck out 47 hitters in 44.2 innings pitched (9.5 K/9), a marked improvement over the 6.1 batters per nine he put down last season. A certain mustachioed color commentator thinks Buchholz is taking a page out of Gaylord Perry's playbook by throwing a spitter, a charge that Buchholz vehemently denies:
"Loading up with what, rosin?" Buchholz said. "I get wet from my hair. Are they talking about the stains on my shirt? There probably are stains on my shirt, because I've been wearing the same shirt for the last three years." (ESPNBoston.com)
Whatever the truth value of Jack Morris' spitball claim, can we all at least agree it's time for Clay to do some laundry? Ick. Whether by spitball or sheer smell of his uni, Buchholz has induced plenty of Ks this season by freezing hitters. Overall, about a quarter of the strikeouts registered by pitchers this season have been called strike threes. But more than half of Buchholz's strikeouts been of the looking variety:
Most looking strikeouts among MLB starters, 2013
The vast majority of Buchholz's looking Ks (18) have been on fastballs, with just a few curves and cutters sprinkled in. He's catching righties and lefties alike with glove-side pitches thrown just off the corner of the rule book-defined strike zone:
Location of Buchholz's looking strikeouts
Maybe he's throwing a spitter. Or, maybe his well-worn shirt is offending hitters' olfactory senses enough that it's hard for them to swing. Either way, Buchholz's big increase in Ks means his breakout passes the smell test.