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.

Grade: B+

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22 comments

  1. Francisco (FC)

    October 08, 2014 09:38 AM

    Waiting for the obligatory complaints regarding generous grading in 5…4…3…2…1

    • tbarr

      October 08, 2014 08:26 PM

      im sure francisco believes his opinions on religion and politics ,gay rights etc. are the only opinions worth anything. i happen to believe a different opinion doesn’t equal a wrong opinion. at least not always. would be a boring chat if everyone was a head in the sand homer

  2. Chris

    October 08, 2014 10:01 AM

    Here I am…

    Another B+. How arent we still playing with all these awesome performances?

    • Bob

      October 08, 2014 11:27 AM

      The biggest offensive contributors on any team are supposed to be 1B, LF, and 3B. These positions are less defensively-demanding, so you can sacrifice some defensive skill for greater offensive production. In the case of the 2014 Phillies, they got next to nothing from Howard, Brown, and Asche – the positions where offense is supposed to be generated. Not only was their production bad compared to players in their positions, it was so bad that they were some of the worst, regular baseball players at any position. Howard, Brown, and Asche all deserve F’s. Maybe you give Asche some leeway because it was his first full year, but nothing over a D in my mind.

      The other Phillies’ players were net positives as compared to other players at the same position. They were mostly above average. Comparing players at the same position based on fWAR with over 400 PAs, Ruiz was 7/23; Howard was 28/31; Utley 8/25; Rollins 4/27; Asche 28/31; Byrd 15/30 in RF; Revere 22/34 in CF; and Brown 31/31. You cannot get that limited amount of production from your 1B, 3B, and LF and have a good chance of competing.

      • Chris

        October 08, 2014 11:44 AM

        Do you know offensively from June 1st on….. Utley’s and Howard’s numbers are nearly identical? Thats a 110 game sample.

        The point that very few here can understand because its not written on fangraphs is that we have a bunch of poor hitters on the team (actually we may have one of the worst hitting teams in the major when you factor we play in one of the friendliest stadiums in baseball.)

        But what everyone is doing is to rationlize why their favorite players stunk this year.
        Revere – well he hit .308 and stole 49 bases despite having no power and playing poor defense.
        Ruiz – well he walked a lot and got on base. Provided no power, cant frame, had a hard time reaching 2nd, was better than his backup, and has a horrible contract.
        Utley – didnt hit outside the first two months, wasnt that great defensively – but he hustled and is the most awesomest player ever.

        The fact is compared to the rest of the league….. we have below average player. at nearly every position. Utley hit something like .230 in his last 110 games. Ruiz hit .250, Rollins .240, Brown .230. Howard .220, Ache .250, Byrd .260…. and the only one whohad a decent average could barely hit the ball out of the infield.

        Yes OBP is very important, so walking is a must in todays game (isnt ironic that Howard has the 2nd highest walk rate on the team, but we rarely mention that because we may actually have to say something positive about him) but you still have to hit guys in. Look at the team that made the playoffs in the NL. Ouside the Giants (who still have 4-5 hitters better than what we have), they all can hit, and hit with power.

        We have no hitters on this team…..so saying .250 is average and we have a bunch of above average players in regards to position is just simply not true. Yes, Howard and Brown were AWFUL in every sense of the word this year. But if you look at the OBP. The difference between Utley and Howard is .29 points or over a course of a season…. or Utley reached bases 19 more times in 2 more games. Not an astronomical number.

        When people realize that guys like Ruiz, Utley, Revere (especially Revere, because Amaro would be dumb enough to give him a 5-6 year deal) are not that much better than guys like Brown/Howard the sooner we can look forward to 2017. Next year is shot. 2016 doesnt look promising either.

        but to give high grades to below average players shows we are still stuck in the past despite the performances on the field.

      • tbarr

        October 09, 2014 12:28 PM

        using your numbers byrd should get a C grade and revere probably a D. i think that is what the negative comments are saying. not saying there weren’t some decent years,but certainly not a lot of A or B type years. not sure about the parts were better than the sum. the year turned out pretty much like all the experts predicted.

  3. Ginner207

    October 08, 2014 11:23 AM

    Everyone keeps complaining about the grades these guys are giving but I tend to agree with what they’re saying. You can’t look at a David Buchanan and expect him to give you a top of the rotation performance but if this guy is what you have going as your sixth starting pitcher than what he did this year is definitely worthy of a B+.

    • tbarr

      October 08, 2014 11:38 AM

      i get what you’re saying and i’m not saying buchanon wasn’t a nice surprise. and if francisco has a problem with others opinions then so be it. buchanon was a fall back option and did decently. however you have guys like tanner roark of the nats and degrom of the mets and others that were lights out. what would you give them a++++++++++. just saying the grades,in my opinion are a little high. i know the worst are yet to come but its hard to imagine a team that bad having this many good grades. seems to me when all is said and done the average grades are going to be way above average for a horrible team

      • Austin

        October 08, 2014 12:18 PM

        First off, the Phillies were expected to be very bad. But in my mind they had a bunch of players (Hamels, Buchanan, Utley, Rollins, Ruiz, Byrd, Diekman, Giles, DeFratus, Papelbon) perform a little better than we would have expected and as a result those players should get above average grades. You’re right the worst grades are still to come, but I feel like there were only a few players that performed worse than expected (Howard, Brown, Ashe), but they all performed WAY below what we expected. And so in the end the team wasn’t bad because they had a bunch of small disappointments, they were bad because they had a few really really big ones.

      • Francisco (FC)

        October 09, 2014 01:15 PM

        That’s the second time you mention me. You assume way too much about me. Nowhere in my first post do I say other people’s opinions are invalid. The type and frequency of negative comments have simply become predictable so I’m just amused at the level of vitriol thrown at the blog by some commenters.

        But hey, go ahead and keep trashing me for things I have not said at all.

  4. Chris

    October 08, 2014 12:29 PM

    Do people realize that Utley and Rollins got on base basically 1 more time every 10 games compared to Howard?

    Yet Rollins and Utley performed higher than what we expected and Howard was way worse than what we expceted. Huh??????

    This statement “I think in the Phillies’ case, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.”

    The whole package stinks because the parts stink. Thinking individual players outside Hamels, Giles, and Paps were more than fine and adequate is the Amaro way of thinking. Unless you walks 120 times a year…. hitting .240/.250 IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. And when your WHOLE team hits between.240-.260, it means you cant hit. We dont hit for power, we dont hit for average, and we dont walk.

    But other than that…. the parts are “fine.”

    • Chris S.

      October 08, 2014 02:59 PM

      Comparing Chase Utley to Ryan Howard is like comparing a Space Rocket to a Single engine airplane. Chase Utley play defense well, hits well, and runs well. Ryan Howard does none of those things well.

      • Chris

        October 08, 2014 03:20 PM

        Then why did for the majority of the year did Howard and Utley hit basically the same. The numbers from June 1st on (110 games) Howard and Utley were virtually identical.

        And Chase Utley is a fair defender at this point. His body just doesnt allow him to be a plus defender like he once was.

      • Chris S.

        October 08, 2014 04:15 PM

        Just as a side note about Utley that I think is awesome is that he has the second most fWAR over the last decade of baseball behind only Albert Pujols (60.2) who has played roughly a whole year more than Chase Utley (57.4). He is ahead of Miguel Cabrera (57.1) who has been playing as full-time regular longer than him, and has accumulated more than 200 extra games to Chase in the decade time span. Also Jimmy Rollins is 13th on that list. We really were lucky to watch these two players throughout their entire careers. Someone should do a write up about that if they haven’t already.

      • Bob

        October 08, 2014 06:15 PM

        Ryan Howard cannot play 2B. It’s impossible. Utley’s numbers aren’t good for a 1B , but Utley has more value because he plays 2B. Look at the offensive league averages of a 1B compared to a 2B. For 1B to 2B: Avg. .252/.250; OBP .326/.307; SLG .419/.364; wOBA; .328/.298; and wRC 109/88. 1B are expected to, and do, hit much better than 2B. Those are some significant differences in what the league average 2B is supposed to do offensively.

        Ryan Howard’s seasonal numbers fell below all the averages at 1B. If he could play 2B, he’d be an above average 2B hitter. But he plays at an offensively demanding position and hasn’t comparatively produced.

      • Chris

        October 08, 2014 07:12 PM

        Are we paying Utley 15 million a year to hit .230 with an OBP of .312 over the last 110 games? And have him until 2019?

        If you dont think Chase is part of the problem, then we are at an impasse.

      • Bob

        October 09, 2014 07:39 AM

        Who is this magical 2B that you would sign to replace Chase Utley who can hit .340, belt 40 hrs, and drive in 250 runs? We can look at the top 10 second baseman in WAR last year with 400 PA and we’ll try and find and upgrade that the Phils could’ve made:

        (1) Zobrist – Has been with Rays since 2006. AFAIK, he’s happy there, has had the chance to move, but stayed. You would’ve had to sign him in 2009-10. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 0%.

        (2) Kinsler – With the Rangers his whole career up until he was traded to Tigers for Fielder. Phillies might’ve gotten him if willing to absorb his salary 5/85, but they didnt’ have a Fielder to trade for him. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 0%.

        (3) Cano – Phillies would’ve had to out bid the Mariners. Maybe a 10/250 would’ve gotten it done. They definitely could’ve done this but you’d probably complain that they paid too much. And he only hit 14 HRs last year. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 100%.

        (4) Altuve – Under the control of the Stros and they signed him to a player friendly extension. Didn’t hit the market. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 0%.

        (5) Dozier – Under team control. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 0%.

        (6) Kendrick – Whole career with Angels. AFAIK, he likes it there and wants to stay. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 0%.

        (7) Pedroia – Has an 8/110 K. Red Sox whole career. Wanted to stay and got paid handsomely for it. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 0%.

        (8) Utley

        (9) Walker – Arb player. Whole career w/ Pirates. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 0%.

        (10) Gordon – Under Dodgers control. Whole career w/ Dodgers. Chance Phillies could’ve signed him: 0%.

        So, the only player we had a realistic shot at getting was Cano who you’d have to pay over 10/240. Kinsler is getting 16mm next year. Cano 24mm. Pedroia 12.5. While 15 isn’t great, it’s about going rate for a 4 WAR 2B. Again, who is a middle of the order bat 2B who can put up 4 WAR to replace Utley? No one. You’re creating a fictional 2B and criticizing the Phillies for not getting him.

      • Chris

        October 09, 2014 08:22 AM

        Who says you have to sign a high priced free agent 2B? Utley’s numbers werent so great that they would be irreplaceable. How about another starter? Or a LF? 15 million dollars can sign 2-3 players who can make a world of difference on a team looking to rebuild.

    • Chris

      October 09, 2014 08:27 AM

      And to be honest, if the Phillies were a smart organization, they would have had Asche learning how to play 2nd by now, so he could slide in and Franco can take over at 3rd. Asche’s hitting numbers are not far off from Utleys. He would struggle at 2B to start fielding wise and obviously would be a downgrade, however he is young/cheap where Utley is not. You can easily find a 4 and 5 starter and wont be locked up until 2019 like we are with Chase.

      Again, I know Utley does no wrong. But again. In his last 110 games, hitting wise, he was as bad as Howard. You’re telling me we cant replace that? Oh, wait…. his WAR is awesome, I forgot. Right now Freddy Galvis would probably supply as much if not more power than Utley does.

  5. nocable

    October 08, 2014 02:55 PM

    I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t escape the feeling that Buchanan will get hit harder & harder the more times he’s seen around the league. He just doesn’t have an out pitch & his command is not pin-point/consistent enough to overcome his mediocre stuff. He’s basically surviving on a tricky delivery/change up combo: something that usually gets exposed by major league hitters with time. He’s an excellent 6th, 7th, 8th type guy to have in the org, but don’t see him as a viable part of the regular 5 man rotation.

  6. Chris

    October 08, 2014 04:21 PM

    -
    -16

    Utley and Rollins do not get to those plateaus if Howard isnt behind him. Someone once said here Howard will go down as one of the most overrated players in Phillies history…. well he will actually go down as one of the most underrated players. He made everyone better just by his presence. The sabremetrics field hasnt caught up to the value a prime Howard brought to the rest of the team.

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