The Dodgers have amassed an interesting collection of left-handed relief pitchers, the latest of which is Ryan Buchter, a minor league free agent signed Friday who spent the last three years in the Braves' system.
Buchter, who turns 28 in February, made his major league debut for Atlanta in June. He has pitched in just one major league game to date, but earned the win for pitching a scoreless 12th inning last June 20 against the Nationals.
Outside of 10 days in the majors, the 6'3, 240-pound southpaw has spent the entirety of the last two seasons in Triple-A Gwinnett, with one big difference between 2013 and 2014.
Buchter was drafted by the Nationals in the 33rd round in 2005, and in his first seven years in the minors — in the Nationals, Cubs and Braves systems — struck out 25.8 percent of his batters faced, and 10.5 per nine innings. Those figures ballooned in 2013 to 37.6 percent and 15.0 per nine, before falling back to 23.2 percent and 9.0 per nine in 2014.
Though Buchter's strikeouts plummeted last year, he did improve his walk rate, down from 18.6 percent in 2013 to 14.8 percent in 2014.
The left-hander credited the spike in strikeouts in 2013 to the adoption of a weighted training program, working with Driveline Baseball before the year.
"The weighted ball program does so much more than add velocity; it’s a great opportunity to stretch out your arm and back of the shoulder," Buchter told Kyle Boddy of The Hardball Times in 2013. "I notice a little extra life to my fastball, that little extra ride to miss a bat or even just miss a barrel."
With those 103 strikeouts in 2013, he was one of only six minor league pitchers to strikeout triple digits that year.
Matt Eddy of Baseball America described Buchter's repertoire before 2014 as a "plus fastball with tailing life in low 90s from three-quarters slot. Fringe, low-80s slider," and noted, "He’s a tough look for same-siders with his across-the-body motion, which helps his slider play up, but righties make more contact and more hard contact."
Buchter's ground ball rate decreased from 40.5 percent in 2013 to 33.7 percent in 2014, per Minor League Central, which also showed his line dive rate increase from 17.2 percent of batted balls to 19.3 percent.
Buchter has been hell on left-handed hitters the last three years. holding them to just five extra-base hits in 297 plate appearances, hitting .170/.307/.212, with a 32.7-percent strikeout rate and 14.8-percent walk rate.
Boddy in the Hardball Times article used a few pitches to show Buchter's pitch mix. First, a fastball described by Boddy as 93-95 mph that touches 96:
Here is Buchter's slider:
If Buchter can find some modicum of control, he could very well be in the mix for a spot in the Dodgers bullpen as the second lefty behind J.P. Howell, competing with fellow non-roster invitee David Huff plus Paco Rodriguez, Daniel Coulombe and Adam Liberatore.
Otherwise Buchter could find himself in Triple-A for a fourth straight season, but part of what could be a deep and talented Oklahoma City bullpen.