2014 Phillies Report Card: David Buchanan
On May 21, Cliff Lee hit the disabled list for the first time. Their pitching depth in the upper minors thin, the Phillies turned to a 25-year-old rookie to fill Lee’s spot in the rotation, an unheralded seventh-round draftee who made an impression in the spring. That rookie, David Buchanan, would go on to spend the next month-and-a-half pitching frequently respectable outings. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The Phillies don’t have a starting pitching prospect ready to blow the doors off the joint. Their upper minors are relatively thin, and Buchanan’s minor league track record didn’t imply that he was about to duplicate what a healthy Cliff Lee could have provided.
But when Lee hit the DL and Buchanan got the call, far worse than what he provided could probably have still been deemed “acceptable.” From May 24 up until the All-Star break, Buchanan threw 59.1 IP of 4.40 ERA baseball, striking out 39 and walking 17. He was optioned back to Lehigh Valley to continue getting regular work as Lee made his return, but was back in early August after Lee could no longer make it work.
His second-half run was even better, with 58.1 IP of 3.09 ERA production backed by 32 K against 15 BB. He drastically cut his HR rate (9 allowed pre-ASG, 3 post-ASG), and ended up finishing his year with 16 straight outings of three ER or fewer allowed.
Problems? Of course. Buchanan’s stats bear some similarity to latter-day Kyle Kendrick, a player who also started his career with some specious quality, but soon spiraled into a frustrating up-and-down, back-and-forth tenure that somehow lasted eight seasons. Generally, guys who strike out fewer than 5.5 every nine innings don’t manage to be as successful as Buchanan was in 2014. There are exceptions, but even those tend to be outliers (except in the cases of Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson, who have made their entire careers out of pitching to the right spots without blowing people away).
Having to lean heavily on a pitcher like Buchanan moving forward is a dangerous proposition, but that’s a separate concern. In the context of 2014, Buchanan was a success. He provided stability and modest innings and figures to be competitive for a roster spot again in 2015. He was good enough to prevent bullpen overuse – inasmuch as he could reasonably prevent such a thing – and became the sixth Phillies rookie pitcher since Cole Hamels to have 1.4 rWAR or better in a season. He was good enough when “good enough” meant a lot more than that to the team. Here’s hoping he can keep it up.