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Ryan Buchter : Diamondbacks Primary Left Hand Reliever?

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A possible bargain reliever that could work out well

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Look up the definition of journeyman left hand reliever, and you might find an image of Ryan Buchter. You probably also will find his picture next to the definition of perseverance as well. Signed to a minor league contract by the D-backs a couple of days ago, he’ll make 925K if he makes the major league roster.

I’m highlighting him and will go into some depth here because I think there is a pretty good chance that he makes the major league roster. He’ll be vying to fill the role that Andrew Chafin filled. The team does not have much left-handed relief depth, and Buchter has had enough success to warrant a shot at the D-backs 2021 pen. Before I dive into his numbers, I want to recount his winding path.

He was drafted out of high school back in 2005 in the 33rd round by the Washington Nationals. He toiled for 9 minor league seasons before finally making his MLB debut in 2014 for all of one game, one inning with the Atlanta Braves, who by that time were already his 3rd major league organization. He spent all of 2015 in the minors again. Signed by San Diego in December 2015, ( his 5th organization) he finally won a spot in the 2016 Padres bullpen.

Buchter pitched well for the Padres in 2016 and the first half of 2017 but was traded at the 2017 deadline to the Kansas City Royals, who traded him to the A’s in January 2018, where he pitched two years before becoming a free agent and signing with the Angels last year. He was released in September, signed by the Yankees, but did not appear with them.

Adding it all up he’s on his 10th MLB organization (including Cubs twice), been traded 4 times, and 6 times signed as a free agent after being released, DFA’d or non-tendered. Phew! (There is thorough recounting on his Wiki Page ). He’s married and has a daughter, and I can’t imagine what that’s been like for his family. He turns 34 in February.

What he throws:

Insights gained from his Baseball Savant Page

Buchter uses three pitches, Four Seam Fastball, Curve, and Cutter. His pitch distribution has changed over the years however. He had his most success in 2016-17 while throwing over 80% fastballs. His Curveball use has increased every year however, culminating in 31% usage in 2020 in a very small sample size. He throws slightly more fastballs against right hand batters, but the difference isn’t that large.

  • His average 4 seam velocity has remained right around 92.5-93 MPH and he will top out around 96 sometimes.
  • He gets above average vertical movement on his 4 seam and cutter, but below avg Vertical movement on the curve.
  • On the other hand his Curve creates well above average Horizontal movement, as does his 4 seam, while the cutter has below average horizontal movement.
  • His spin rates dropped across the board in 2020, but there was no corresponding drop in movement. Anecdotally, I notice this more frequently than one would imagine.
  • Despite no real degradation in velocity and movement, his fastball has not been as effective the last few years, while the Curve has been more effective, (hence the greater usage) The cutter is his least effective pitch. Below are Pitch Values from FG, (Linear Weights Runs above/below average per 100 pitches thrown)

How much he’s pitched:

Over his MLB career he’s appeared in 267 games but thrown just 220 innings. He’s averaged just 2.5 outs per game, and over the last 3 seasons that’s dropped to just 2.1. BR Reliever Section link

In 2016-17 he only had the platoon advantage (facing LHB) about 1/3 of the time, and did really well against RHB. But in 2018-19 RHB hit him hard. VS RHB Split Here As a result over last 3 seasons his platoon advantage, i.e. percent of PA facing LHB has jumped to over 55% as teams have limited his exposure to RHB.

The significance here is of course the 3-batter minimum rule that went into effect last year. How that plays out for the D-backs remains to be seen, manager Torey Lovullo will need to feel confident to let Buchter face more RHB under the current rules.

Also notable from the reliever section link above is the leverage he has been placed in. His aLI or Average Leverage Index is 1.00, meaning overall he’s been used in very neutral or moderate leverage situations. (87 Hi Levg, 71 Med levg, 104 low Levg)

Peripherals:

Thanks to a very low BABIP against of .247, coupled with a high K rate (10K/9, or 27% of PA) he has allowed a miniscule .200 Batting avg against, or 6.4 Hits per 9.

But there is a catch. He’s also walked 4.2/9. He’s also an EXTREME flyball pitcher.(53% vs. 36.4% for league avg reliever) In fact since 2016 the only reliever with a higher Fly Ball Percentage is Tyler Clippard. Fly Ball Report Here Being an extreme fly ball pitcher helps suppress BABIP, as the balls that don’t go over the wall will typically turn into outs 85% of the time. So at these extremes, continued low BABIP would be expected. The question is how many homers has he given up. The answer is not as many as one would think. His career 9.7% HR per Flyball rate is pretty good actually, better than most of the guys at the top of that list linked above. 1.1 HR Per 9 (28 in 220 IP) in his career isn’t bad.

Of those 28 HR, 18 have been solo shots and only 4 of them have been three run homers, the other 6 being two run shots.

The Results:

Buchter has a very good career 2.90 ERA, vs. a 4.11 FIP. (145 ERA+). He has 4 career bWAR and has averaged 1.1 WAR per 162 games.

While I’ve often advised caution when you see big gaps between ERA and FIP , in extreme cases, where a guy is either an extreme fly ball pitcher suppressing BABIP, or extremely good at inducing double plays, like a Brad Ziegler, it can be somewhat sustainable.

Of course with relievers you can’t only look at ERA. The combination of sample size and inherited runners can make things very misleading.

Over his first 3 seasons he allowed just 14 of 66 or 21% of inherited runners to score. That was well below the league average of about 30%. But the last two seasons that has jumped to 18 of 44, (41%). His ERA and FIP have risen over the last two seasons as well, (3.16/5.30 FIP) with a WHIP pushing 1.5, alongside a whopping 10 homers allowed in 51 IP. So while there is a good track record of success, there is also some decline in the most recent past. There is a reason he was available on a minor league deal.

PROJECTION

ZIPS and Steamer are not optimistic. They combine to project him to a 4.83 ERA, 5.09 FIP. The main reason is they project 1.68 HR/9 which would be quite bad. They also project regression to a .299 BABIP on top of that, although I would think that is being over regressed and their formulas can’t quite capture his Fly ball, BABIP repressing ways.

SUMMARY

I suspect there could be something in the pitch usage and sequence patterns and the changes that have occurred as I outlined above that have had something to do with his struggles with the long ball. Of course it could just be poor command in the zone too. Hopefully the D-backs coaches and analytics team can come up with a game plan to get him back on track. The “stuff” doesn’t appear any different from the Baseball Savant pages, so there should be some hope here. I’ll leave with this little comparison. I mentioned he’s here to replace Andrew Chafin. Well, he’s at least been more than the sum of his parts perhaps, the exact opposite of Chafin. Hopefully that continues in Arizona