Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Great Debate!

(Winslow Townson/Associated Press)

Jerry Crasnick opened up a huge can of worms when he dare uttered the words, "Joba Chamberlain vs. Clay Buchholz". He spoke to nine mystery personnel from the Eastern League, and reported that most of them preferred Chamberlain. And it's clear that Crasnick himself rather prefers the hefty Nebraska native. But he eluded to a great divide between talent evaluators, saying that Baseball America's Jim Callis and John Manuel are so divided on the issue, that they should duke it out in a steel cage match.

A was a bit surprised to read that there is so much debate, however, and I wonder how much of this is Callis trying to create a story. From everything I've read up until this point, Buchholz seemed rather decisively to be the preferred pitcher. Every ranking of MLB prospects that I've seen, including the rankings on Scouting Book, have ranked Buchholz as the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. And John Sickels of minorleagueball.com has echoed that sentiment. And I'll be surprised if the prospect rankings of Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus agree. But that doesn't mean the issue can't be discussed.

Clay Buchholz

The greatest strength of Buchholz is that he has three plus pitches. His strongest, and best strikeout pitch is his straight changeup. His second best pitch, which is also quite the strikeout pitch, is his dramatic hard 12-6 curve. And his third best pitch is his two-seam fastball.

Many make the mistake of saying that his straight fastball is his best pitch, as that's the pitch that he can occasionally get up to 97 mph. But Buchholz probably uses his four-seam fastball only once for every three or four times he uses his four-seamer.

Buchholz has an extreme over-the-top delivery which puts extra downward movement all of his pitches. This often makes it difficult for hitters to square up with the ball. Buchholz mixes in his pitches very well, not over relying on any one pitch, and gets an equal amount of outs on the ground and in the air.

Joba Chamberlain

The greatest strength of Chamberlain is that he can throw the ball very hard. This doesn't just mean that he can get his fastball up to triple digits. He has late zip on his fastball, and the speed of his slider makes it a strong strikeout pitch. Although, as a starter, Chamberlain's velocity will go down. Before making the change to the bullpen, Joba's fastball typically sat around 92-95 mph.

Unlike Buchholz, Chamberlain doesn't have a plus third pitch. And how he continues to develop his curveball and changeup, will likely have quite a bit to do with his future success at the major league level. Even Crasnick, who likes Chamberlain quite a bit, said that his curveball on a good day is only "above average" and on some days it's actually rather bad. Crasnick referred to Joba's changeup as a work-in-preogress. It is likely his worst pitch.

It will be interesting to see how Chamberlain mixes in his pitches as a starter, as it wasn't really something he had to do out of the pen. If he relies almost exclusively on his fastball and slider, the results could be like those of Randy Johnson in 2006.

One minor issue with Chamberlain, which doesn't exist with Buchholz, is his history of injuries. Chamberlain was quite heavy in college, and used rather heavily in the Big 10. He does have more wear on his body than the typical 22-year-old and he has had multiple injuries. It may not help that new Yankees manager Joe Girardi has a history of overworking his starters, as he did with Marlins pitchers Scott Olsen and Anibal Sanchez.

Conclusions

I think Chamberlain could immediately be a shut-down reliever at the major league level. But as a starter in 2008, he will be learning on the job. The reality of the situation is that Joba's third pitch is still pretty raw, and he may have had backwards development in it as a reliever in 2007.

I think Buchholz is a question mark as well, although I think he's proven more as a starter. I don't think it's transition to the role will be quite as rough. It's easy to be excited about these pitchers but they are very young and will be on limited innings workloads. I think a lot of people overestimate the kind of impacts these players will have in 2008.

20 comments:

Michael said...

i guess he is definitely more proven with his two starts!!

God said...

Few points

1. BA rated Joba higher

2 Joba Curve is above average or even a plus pitch on a good day i have seen him pitch when it is above average and it wasnt anything like his slider but when he has that curve on it is great

3. His injuries were all wieght related
he has been doing better at conditioning


Its so close but i would take Joba because i dont like how skinny Clay is for a starter (i know he will most likely fill out a little more but still i dont just he would hold up)


just my 2 cents

Michael said...

well clay has put on a few pounds this off-season. i think that isn't going to be a problem for him.

Royal Rooters said...

1. God, do you have a current list where BA ranks Chamberlain higher? If so, I'd love to see a link to it.

2. I watched video of him and he really struggled with throwing his curve in the majors. Maybe it was nerves, but most of the times he attempted to throw his curve he hung it and he eventually abandoned it and stopped throwing it all together.

3. If Joba was heavier for most of his career, that wear is still on his body. The wear on his groin and knees especially doesn't just disappear when he loses the weight.

Royal Rooters said...

Michael, he actually started three times. It's not just the fact that he started though that makes him more proven. It's the fact that he was able to mix in his pitches well and pitch effectively even deep into games.

Facing four batters who have never seen your slider is a lot different then facing hitters three or four times and having to try to get them out in different ways.

Royal Rooters said...

1. God, do you have a current list where BA ranks Chamberlain higher? If so, I'd love to see a link to it.

2. I watched video of him and he really struggled with throwing his curve in the majors. Maybe it was nerves, but most of the times he attempted to throw his curve he hung it and he eventually abandoned it and stopped throwing it all together.

3. If Joba was heavier for most of his career, that wear is still on his body. The wear on his groin and knees especially doesn't just disappear when he loses the weight.

Michael said...

i'm no doctor, but i simply can't imagine a 22 year old man not being able to recover from the "wear" on his body from being somewhat overweight.
perhaps if he was morbidly obese....

Michael said...

he may well be more proven then from his three starts.

the point is neither are proven at all.

Royal Rooters said...

Judging by the number of teams that passed on him, I think it's safe to say that plenty of talent evaluators thought he was at high risk for injury. The fact is, he has an injury history, and it's not all weight related either. He's had issues with his knees, and his triceps. So it's not just his legs that were the issue.

And actually, Joba was in fact morbidly obese. He weighed 290 pounds when he transfered to Nebraska.

Royal Rooters said...

Yes, I totally agree. That's part of the reason why I said I thought people were overestimating the impact that these players will have next year.

Casey said...

Another point that gets left out: Chamberlain will have to carry more of a workload and sooner. At best Bucholz will pitch out of the 5-hole next year. Yanks might need Chamberlain as a 3-hole pitcher.

Joba hasn't faced a batter more than once on a night. What happens the second time through the order when batters start timing his pitches a little better?

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Royal Rooters said...

Good point. Joba will be counted on for a larger workload. And Joba only pitched 112 innings last year, so if the Yankees are going to use him as a starter, they'll be asking for a very dramatic increase in his innings. Most people don't think they'd allow him to pitch more than 150 innings next year which means either he'll be moved to the pen or he'll have to be shut down in the second half of the year.

Buchholz on the other hand pitched 147 innings last year. His cap for 2008 will likely be much higher (around 180 probably).

It will be interesting to see how Joba does when he has to face the same pitcher twice. He gets most of his strikeouts on sliders outside of the zone. That's easy to do when no one's seen your slider before, but hitters will be more inclined to lay off the pitch when they recognize it.

Royal Rooters said...

*same hitter twice

Michael said...

i don't know where you people are getting your information regarding joba's increased workload, or more erroneously as the "3rd starter"

Robert said...

Michael: Pettite is clearly the Yankees #1 starter and Wang is #2. Mussina has shown steady percentage drops or increases in all pertinent categories, Igawa is thus far a bust (though he did show some bounce-back at AAA, a 3.69 at that level is not going to be that great at the majors) and Clemens isn't going to pitch again. Whether Chamberlain is going from the setup position to either 3 or 4 or even 5, that's still a massive increase in work-load, but particularly if he's middle-of-the-rotation. Last year, AL #3 starters pitched an average of 172.2 innings, whereas Chamberlain last year pitched 24 innings at the major league level and just over 80 innings in starts.

Michael said...

robert it isn't at all clear who the #1 or # 2 yankee starters are, unless you are joe girardi.

and yes, we all know that joba will be pitching more innings this year. all of the above mentioned young guys will be pitching more innings this year.

i just don't know where people get off proclaiming what the projected yankee rotation will be when they have nothing to do with it and have no information to back up their reckless claims.

Royal Rooters said...

Michael, what information have I said that's erroneous about his increased workload?

Robert said...

My point was, using league-average figures for middle-rotation pitchers, he will have a substantially increased workload. Which you're agreeing with now?

Royal Rooters said...

Just to clarify Robert, in case you're confused, Michael is a separate commenter here, he's not the Michael that helps to write for the site.

Robert said...

Thanks, I did know michael was a seperate person. (Love this blog by the way, some great stuff, this article included!)