Joba vs. Clay and Clay vs. Joba. That’s all we seem to hear in the world of prospects ever since last season when these two enigmas exploded on to the scene and helped guide their respective teams into the playoffs. Both players play on major market teams, both players play on World Series contending teams and both players play on opposite sides of the biggest rivalry in sports today: Yankees vs. Red Sox.
So is all the hype for these young guns worth it? You better believe it. If their star potential wasn’t obvious enough before they made their debuts then their dazzling work on the mound this past summer and fall shouldn’t have left any doubt in your mind.
With that being said we now have to do what we analysts do and compare and contrast these young righties to figure out who is better and why. I plan on breaking down each pitcher individually (in alphabetical order to not show favoritism) and their specific games by first looking at their arsenal of pitches and then following that up with their pitching makeup (everything else that goes into being a pitcher). Hopefully this will help give a better look at them and just why they are two of the most impressive young pitchers to hit the Majors in quite some time.
• Buchholz has a nice combination of a two and four-seam fastballs that sit anywhere in the low to mid-90’s. His two-seamer has the better movement and can bust in on lefties while the four-seamer could use a little more movement on it to make it more effective. He also works his large arsenal of pitches off of his fastball very well thanks to the great movement on his secondary pitches.
• Chamberlain on the other hand is a power pitcher with a big frame whose fastball sits in the mid to upper-90’s and occasionally hits triple digits. He also has very good control of his fastball and is able to locate it anywhere in the zone. This also helps set up his slew of secondary pitches.
Decision: Chamberlain gets the edge with his fastball due to having quite a few more mph on it as well as having better movement.
• Right off the bat Buchholz has a major advantage in this competition due to the fact that he has one of the best change-ups in baseball. The pitch settles in right around 80 mph which he uses as one of his two out pitches and is almost unhittable when he is on with it. What makes it so hard to hit is that he disguises it so well with his normal delivery that it becomes very deceptive.
• Chamberlain has been working on improving his change-up and it is getting better with time. As of now it is sitting in the low-80’s and is lacking enough movement to make it a stand out pitch. It is effective enough of a pitch to incorporate into his game plan but it will take more work to be a solid Major League pitch.
Decision: This one isn’t even close as Buchholz holds a MAJOR advantage over his adversary in this battle. Anytime your pitch is one of the best of its kind in the game today, it’s is very difficult to find someone to rival it.
• Almost as good as his change-up, Buchholz’s knee buckling curve freezes hitters in their tracks. It’s a hard breaking 12-to-6 overhand curveball that just drops right off the table. Like his change-up, he uses it as his out pitch (depending on which pitch is on that night) and will usually sit in the 76-81 mph range. With a solid fastball and one other out plus pitch, the thought of being a batter and worrying about a second can’t be easy.
• Chamberlain is also at a bit of a disadvantage with this pitch too as he doesn’t use his curve as much as Buchholz for a couple of reasons. For one it’s not nearly as good as his fastball or slider which he predominantly uses coming out of the bullpen. Secondly it just isn’t that effective of a pitch for him yet as he doesn’t have reliable control over it. It is more of a slow looping curve that generally sits between 79-82 mph. This approach is ok during his time in the bullpen when a dominating fastball and hard slider will work great, but he may want to fine tune it a little more before joining the Yankees rotation.
Decision: Buchholz wins this battle too as, like their change-ups, Chamberlain’s curveball isn’t even in the same league as Buchholz’s.
• As Buchholz’s fourth pitch, his slider comes in somewhere in the low to mid-80’s. Right now it is an above average pitch but shows the potential to be yet another plus pitch. As scary as that sounds, his slider has continued to improve over the past few years and isn’t far off from being yet another plus pitch to add to his bag of incredible pitches.
• Chamberlain’s other dominating pitch is his plus slider. It sits in the neighborhood of 85-89 mph and is used just as much (and effectively) as his fastball. As a power pitcher, Chamberlain uses his hard slider as his strikeout pitch as he keeps it low in the zone and constantly over matches hitters as they swing and miss. When he has it working it is a simply devastating pitch that even if you know it is coming is almost impossible to hit.
Decision: While Buchholz continues to improve his slider, the edge right now has to be given to Chamberlain simply because of how nasty of a pitch it can be. Now in a few years the tables may turn on who has the better slider, but for now Chamberlain can rest assured he has locked this up.
Pitch Repertoire Results: Even though these two split the four pitches by each winning two, I have to give the edge to Clay Buchholz in the pitch repertoire category for a couple of reasons. As I mentioned, Buchholz has one of the best change-ups in all of baseball and a curveball that isn’t far behind. While Chamberlain has a fantastic fastball-slider combination working for him, the fact that Buchholz has an increasingly effective slider on the rise gives him the slight edge in this match-up.
• Buchholz’s delivery looks like you are watching an instant replay on a loop. He has a very repeatable motion after some great strides towards improving it over the course of the last couple of seasons. His delivery melds perfectly with his pitches as he’s able to throw his fastball and change from the same arm slot with the same motion to help make it that much more untouchable. The only concern I have with his delivery is the high arm angle that he pitches with. It could be an issue down the road with injuries so it is something they will need to keep an eye on.
• Chamberlain grades very high when it comes to his delivery despite the fact that it at times can seem a bit violent. But anytime you have a pitcher trying to hit triple digits on the gun you are going to see some sort of effort put into it. Chamberlain’s strong frame and powerful legs are used very prevalently in his delivery which is where he generates his dominating stuff.
Decision: Again, this is an extremely difficult decision between these two. I am going to give the slight edge to Chamberlain because he’s able to repeat his motion so consistently and with so much force.
• Just like his delivery, Buchholz is very much under control with his pitches. He has solid mechanics from the moment he starts his movement all the way until he releases the pitch.
• While Chamberlain has a very good delivery, he does have a little room for improvement in his mechanics. The real test will be when he moves from the bullpen to the rotation and has to go 6 or 7 innings versus one or two.
Decision: Buchholz edges out Chamberlain due to his ability to stay in control at all times without showing any flaws.
The Big Game Factor
• Buchholz is built to be a big game pitcher for the blood thirsty Red Sox Nation. This kid does not rattle easily and has the presence on the mound to pitch in a very intense city like Boston.
• Like Buchholz, Chamberlain is perfect to pitch in a big time city like New York for a big time team like the Yankees. It has been said numerous times that he has ice water running through his veins and has shown it coming down the stretch run last season.
Decision: As of right now it has to be given to Chamberlain. While Buchholz had some incredible performances at the end of last season for the Red Sox (including a no hitter), Chamberlain was put in some of the most intense situations out of the bullpen at the end of games when the Yankees’ season was on the line. In my book that is proof enough for me.
On the outside you wouldn’t think these two pitchers would have anything in common. One is a wiry 6-3, 190 pound string bean and the other is a meaty 6-2, 230 pound beast. Each have different dominating pitches yet each have an excellent make-up. So as different as they may be, they seem to be just as similar.
The best part about doing the first ever “Versus Series” column with these two is I really can’t go wrong no matter who I choose. As for my final decision, I know I am going against the grain and may have a lot of people argue with me, but I have to go with Clay Buchholz by the narrowest of margins. After the 2008 season I may sing a different tune when we get a chance to see Chamberlain start, but for now I am going to give the nod to Buchholz for his overall ability as a pitcher both now and into the future.
These are just two more stars that have been injected into the intense Yankees vs. Red Sox rivalry and I can’t wait for the opportunity to see them go head to head very soon.