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May 3, 2013

BP Unfiltered

The Flimsy Case Against Clay Buchholz

by Dan Rozenson

As you’ve probably heard, pitcher-turned-commentator Jack Morris has accused Red Sox hurler Clay Buchholz of throwing pitches with illegal substances on his hand during his start on Wednesday against Toronto. Buchholz, his manager, and his catchers have taken turns explaining that that’s a ridiculous proposition.

I’m strongly inclined to defend Buchholz, given what amounts to pretty weak evidence for a strong accusation. Morris himself has said “I can’t prove anything,” but still “know[s] he was” throwing a doctored baseball.

The evidence consists of what Morris identified as a suspicious substance on Buchholz’s left forearm—identified by the Red Sox as rosin, a completely legal substance on the mound—and Morris’s apparent unfamiliarity with the tailing fastball. Here’s how Morris describes the discovery:

I found out because the guys on the video camera showed it to me right after the game. I didn’t see it during the game. They showed it to me and said, “What do you think of this?” and I said, “Well, he’s throwing a spitter. Cause that’s what it is. … What do you think? Look at the pitches. Fastball at 94 that goes like that,” Morris said, his hand darting swiftly down and away. “On a fastball?”

Morris seems very confident that he can identify a tampered pitch based solely on how it moves. Now, I don’t know exactly sure which pitch Morris means, but there’s a good guess as to one example, which was flagged by ESPN’s David Schoenfield. It’s a sinker on a 2–2 count to Jose Bautista that perfectly paints the outside corner. As Morris indicated, it “darts swiftly down and away.” View it in GIF form below:

Turns out, that’s a pretty ordinary sinker as far as movement is concerned—just extraordinarily well-located, and perhaps a little better than a typical Buchholz sinker. That pitch to Bautista had 8.6 inches of “tail,” or horizontal spin deflection, and 5.5 inches of “rise.” Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey throws a sinker, too. For his career, it averages 0.6 inches more movement both horizontally and vertically than Buchholz’s pitch to Bautista. Is Morris ready to indict Dickey for tampering with the baseball?

Pitchers can do lots of things with baseballs thrown at 95 mph without having to cheat. There’s nothing in the spin charts from Buchholz’s start in Toronto that indicates anything unusual about his pitches, and that’s probably why the Blue Jays didn’t say anything about it after the game. Morris should have followed suit.

If you need any more assurances that Buchholz’s pitches behaved quite normally in his last start, check the game logs for yourself on his Brooks Baseball player card.

Related Content:  Jack Morris,  Clay Buchholz,  Cheating,  Sinker,  Doctoring

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Richard Bergstrom

The thing that gets me is how many people on comment boards are saying no one would be using a spitter or scuffing the ball thanks to HD television...

May 03, 2013 12:01 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Dan Rozenson
BP staff

Hah, that's a funny view of things. It didn't stop Joel Peralta from putting pine tar in his glove last year.

May 03, 2013 12:16 PM
 
warpigs

Check out Verducci's take... It's actually pretty convincing in the opposite direction.

May 03, 2013 12:05 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Dan Rozenson
BP staff

I didn't find his take convincing at all. Verducci says Buchholz's sinker has much better movement this year. That is totally unsubstantiated by PITCHf/x data. He also says Buchholz was cagey with his answers. I didn't get that impression. It's a lot of smoke and mirrors, nothing based on any real evidence.

May 03, 2013 12:15 PM
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

I agree. I like Verducci but honestly, I thought he was way off base.

May 03, 2013 13:46 PM
 
warpigs

and I didn't mean to disparage your article...was typing on my phone. I just meant that if Verducci's claims are true about a glistening white substance - and the various uncorroborated claims he makes, that's rather interesting information. It's offset though by what you found in PITCHf/x.

May 03, 2013 16:14 PM
rating: 0
 
lipitorkid

That's not rosin, that's sunscreen and I've heard a MLB pitcher talk about how it's pretty common to use sunscreen to doctor a baseball.

May 03, 2013 12:15 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Dan Rozenson
BP staff

How do you know that's sunscreen? It looks like it?

May 03, 2013 12:18 PM
 
lipitorkid

What does liquid rosin look like? Is it white? Yeah it looked like sunscreen to me and based on the conversation I heard during the summer I put 1+1 together... but I could be wrong or so my wife tells me.

May 03, 2013 12:23 PM
rating: -1
 
lipitorkid

And I didn't mean to disparage your whole article with a one sentence retort. It's a well-written exploration/explanation of the topic. Personally I think you can do lots of things to make the ball move differently, but I think that unless it's a pretty common substance/technique it would be difficult to make it do what you wanted reliably. I think the consistency issue would be the biggest hindrance to doctoring the ball.

May 03, 2013 12:27 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Dan Rozenson
BP staff

You could be right. All I'm saying is people shouldn't speak in such certain terms when by Morris's own admission he has no real evidence.

"It could be sunscreen based on a conversation I had with an MLB pitcher" is a very fair thing to say.

I do appreciate you relaying the conversation, I just think it was phrased too strongly.

May 03, 2013 12:27 PM
 
JOARGE9481

Without a doubt he was using a "substance". MLB network had a still photo where you could clearly see that his glove side arm was absolutely glistening, while his throw side arm was dry as a bone. He also kept tapping his index and middle finger on his forearm.

As a side note, Eck had an absolutely moronic line of argumentation against Morris. "Your not even in the Hall of Fame yet". What does that even mean? He is paid to give his opinion. What does being in the Hall or not being in the Hall have to do with anything?

May 03, 2013 14:44 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Dan Rozenson
BP staff

"What does being in the Hall or not being in the Hall have to do with anything?"

It doesn't. More of a taunt than an argument.

May 03, 2013 14:52 PM
 
Llarry

Now go away you silly Detroit pit-cher or Eck will be forced to taunt you again.

May 03, 2013 15:22 PM
rating: 1
 
suchit13

I just find it ironic that Toronto broadcasters (Hayhurst and Morris) are implicating someone as a cheater, when their team has been accused of cheating on several occasions for stealing signs at the Rogers Centre.

May 03, 2013 15:48 PM
rating: -1
 
R.A.Wagman

While your look at pitch movement has merit, could there be a difference in *when* the pitch moves, as opposed to by how much?
To my understanding, that is not clear through PITCHf/x.

May 03, 2013 16:16 PM
rating: 2
 
Tommy Fastball

And, what the velocity is...

May 04, 2013 00:14 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

It would be an amazing coincidence that a cheating pitcher can get sufficient impact out of cheating to make it worth his while, but that somehow all the pitches we have don't look noticeably different either to the naked eye or to PITCHf/x.

May 06, 2013 07:04 AM
rating: -1
 
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