After turning into one of the best pitchers in the American League in 2010, Buchholz now is as untouchable as they come. He's cheap, young, under team control through 2014 and just about to hit his stride. What is unknown is where the ceiling lies for Buchholz, a scenario which makes the anticipation for next season so intense. Everyone wants to know, how will Clay Buchholz follow up his 2010 performance?
After going 17-7 and ranking second in the American League with a 2.33 ERA, it would seem Buchholz is near that ceiling. His manager seems to disagree.
"I don't think anybody thinks it’s a flash in the pan," Terry Francona recently said. "He's gonna get better. The game's slowing down for him. He's developing his pitches. It's exciting. When you have good, young, sturdy pitching that glass looks a lot more full."
As we pointed out in our look at fellow All-Star Jon Lester, the development that Francona alludes to should allow Buchholz to at least have the opportunity to improve on those numbers, as hard as that will be. Much of it has come from Buchholz becoming a bit more "sturdy" himself.
The 26-year-old entered the major leagues with a killer curveball, a potentially potent changeup and little else, save for a frail frame that would not survive the rigors of a full season at the highest level. While slowly filling out his 6-foot-3 physique, Buchholz was able to add a heavy dose of power behind every one of his pitches.
His fastball has increased in average velocity from 91.1 mph to 94.1 mph since he broke in during the 2007 season. His increasingly effective slider has jumped nearly 8 mph in that time while his curve and change have also shown significant leaps in speed.
Buchholz has become a power pitcher without losing any feel for finesse in the right situations. With another year of physical maturity that ought to continue.
Not that the tall Texan was ever a problem child, but it was also evident that he had turned a corner in terms of his mental maturity. He has become a husband, a father and — following the footsteps of his many charitable teammates — a familiar face in philanthropic causes, most notably the Jimmy Fund.
Buchholz is bigger, wiser and now knows what it takes to go from trade bait to untouchable. It all paints the picture of a guy well-positioned to build on the incredible progress he has already made.
Each day of November, NESN.com will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.
Thursday, Nov. 25: As he approaches the age of 45, will Tim Wakefield continue to be effective?
Saturday, Nov. 27: Will the AL East be as strong as it was in 2010?