Tuesday, January 22, 2008
The Great Debate!
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.
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.
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.
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.