The more the media analyzes this whole controversy surrounding whether Clay Buchholz has been cheating by doctoring the baseball with a foreign substance, the harder it’s becoming to believe his and Boston’s denials of wrongdoing.
If you haven’t heard, Toronto Blue Jays broadcasters Dirk Hayhurst, Jack Morris and Mike Wilner have accused Buchholz and reliever Junichi Tazawa of using illegal substances to doctor the baseball. The controversy erupted after Buchholz’s Wednesday start. The Toronto camera crews came to Morris after the game to show him video of Buchholz repeatedly going to his left forearm to touch his fingers to a shiney, oily looking liquid.
Tazawa has decliend to comment on the subject. Buchholz has denied doing anything wrong.
“I put a little bit of water on my hip just to get it a little moist, because sometimes the balls they throw to you feel like cue balls off a pool table,” Buchholz said in response to the allegations. “You have to find a way to get grip. Definitely no foreign objects or substances on my arm.”
There are a couple of things wrong with his response on the topic. First, no one accused Buchholz of loading up the baseball by touching his hip. Second, Buchholz never actually answered the pertinent question – what was the substance that was glistening on his forearm? So in truth, his statement doesn’t actually address the issues giving rise to the whole controversy.
Red Sox manager John Farrell vehemently denied the accusations, telling Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe:
“It bothers me immensely when someone is going to make an accusation, and in this case cheating, because they’ve seen something on TV. He’s got rosin on his arm. I think rosin was designed to get a grip. But the fact is, he’s got it on his arm. I’ve seen some people who have brought photographs to me. They’re false, The fact is the guy’s 6-0; he’s pitched his tail off. If people are going to point to him cheating? Unfounded.”
We understand the need to defend your players. But Farrell’s statement is overly defensive and outright ludicrous in parts; particularly his claim that photographs and video images that comprise the key evidence against Buchholz are somehow false.
Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hoped to deflect attention away from his starter by trying to point the finger of blame to Toronto starter J.A. Happ.
“I saw Happ all night going to his forearm,” Saltalamacchia said. “Is he doing something? For them to point out one guy or two guys, I don’t think that’s right.”
There’s one big difference in the case of Happ and the case of Buchholz and Tazawa – Happ may have touched his forearm, but his forearm was not coated in any type of glistening substance. Hence the lack of controversy surrounding Happ’s actions.
The Red Sox have failed to adequately address the issue. Meanwhile, the circumstantial evidence has mounted against Buchholz and the Red Sox. Let’s just reflect on some of the things we know to be true about the Buchholz situation at this point.
The substance is not rosin
Rosin is a white, powdery compound. It is not a liquid. It is not oily. It does not glisten. Don’t believe us? Check out thisvideo of a rosin bag exploding on Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett.
If Buchholz wanted rosin, the rosin bag was well within reach behind the mound. The substance he kept dabbing his fingers over was not a powdery white. It was wet enough to leave it’s mark on Buchholz’s undershirt as well. Here’s a close-up shot.
The substance was not sweat
If it were sweat, then both arms should have the same amount of wetness and the same degree of sheen. Close-up photos reveal that Buchholz’s throwing arm appeared completely dry (we saw a side-by-side shot on MLB Network, but could not find an online photo to post here), and his glove arm was wet only from an area just above the elbow to the middle of his forearm. If it were sweat, there would be more consistency in the dampness. And if it was water, gravity would have run its course and dampened his arm all the way down to the hand.
Buchholz does not go to his forearm or hair as part of his normal pitching mechanics
As recently as Spring Training, Buchholz had a very simplistic approach to pitching. He took the ball from the catcher, sometimes touched the chain he was wearing around his neck, and then proceeded to throwing his next pitch. Here’s a clip of his mechanics from the 2010 season. Notice he does not touch his hair, does not touch his belt and does not touch his forearm, as he has been wont to do this season.
It’s obvious that all of the touches he’s doing now are not part of his typical routine. Which begs the question, why is he doing them now?
Buchholz’s pitches have noticeably more movement this season than in the past
This is particular true as it relates to the lateral movement of the right hander’s two-seam fastball and the downward action on his breaking pitches. Take a look at this highlight package from Wednesday’s win against the Blue Jays (we apologize, but you may need to click on the video to watch it at MLB.com).
Compare that with this highlight package published one year ago.
The increase in movement on Buchholz’s fastball and breaking ball from last year to this year is glaring. And unnatural.
Buchholz is not the only pitcher on the Red Sox staff who has been doing this
Just a day after the Buchholz controversy emerged, the Blue Jays broadcast team noticed that same glistening substance on the forearm of reliever Junichi Tazawa. Like Buchholz, Tazawa was touching that substance with the fingers of his pitching hand before each pitch.
A video of Tazawa going to his forearm, along with accompanying accusatory commentary of the Blue Jays announce team, can be viewed at this link from MLB.com.
This season, Buchholz has been performing at a level that far exceeds his career norm
The transformation Buchholz has undergone in just one year’s time almost boggles the mind. Through his first six starts this season, Buchholz is 6-0 with a 1.01 ERA, a .178 batting average against, and has allowed just one home run. in the same number of games last season, the right hander was 3-1 with a .909 ERA, a .343 batting average against, and had given up ten home runs. Excluding this season, Buchholz’s career ERA is 3.82 and hitter are hitting .245 against him. Though the sample size is small, the numbers this season are extreme outliers from those found on the back of his baseball card, which is cause for raised eyebrows.
Buchholz is off to a career start. He is 6-0 with an incredible 1.01 ERA. But are those numbers legitimate, or the product of an unfair competitive advantage gained from adding a foreign substance to the baseball?
At no point during any of his six starts has an opposing manager asked the umpiring crew to check Buchholz out to see if he is doing anything illegal. As a result, there is no way to know definitively whether the Red Sox starter is guilty or innocent of doctoring the baseball.
If the accusations are true, then Buchholz is as culpable as all of those major league players known now to have taken steroids. Using a foreign substance can increase a pitcher’s grip and can alter the flight of the baseball. It can give a pitcher greater command to locate his pitches, and can enable the pitcher to make the ball dart and move in ways it otherwise wouldn’t. That is, by definition, performance enhancement and should be viewed with the same contempt as the use of a foreign substance to become bigger, faster and stronger or to increase recovery time.
Fair or not, as the circumstantial evidence mounts against him, Buchholz is already being judged in the court of public opinion. He can do himself a service by coming forward and explaining what exactly it is that the videos and photographs (that Farrell has decried as fake) are depicting.
In today’s cynical sports society, Buchholz will have to continue to dominate in these next few starts – when his very act on the mound and in the dugout before, during and after the game will be scrutinized heavily – if he hopes to silence those critics who have already labeled him a cheat.