First impressions: Buchholz vs. Kennedy

Clay Buchholz has made two major league starts. In case you haven’t heard, one was pretty good. Ian Kennedy has made one major league start. In a Draft Review I wrote last year, I said this about Kennedy:

“Another guy with outstanding arm action. Throws to a firm front side, which again helps ward off shoulder troubles. A guy in the Prior/Reyes mold although he has better tempo than Prior. A good pick here. He looks very polished. If he throws an easy 88-92, I can live with him not going “after it” as much I’d like.

Grade: B

I followed up that favorable review by answering a few readers’ questions (in the “comments” section) in which I addressed Kennedy:

“A guy who I’m starting to like more and more is Ian Kennedy. The more I watch the video, slow it down, the more I’m intrigued. I’d bet you really like his delivery. If you haven’t checked it already, go ahead and check it out.”

“If your mechanics look like Kennedy’s, you’re OK with me….”

Are three starts and a couple of draft videos enough of a sample to determine which pitcher you’d rather have? Probably not. But it’s sure gonna be fun to try.

Today, we examine these pitchers’ mechanics, approach and stuff to try to answer the question: Buchholz or Kennedy?

Two very different deliveries

Here’s a clip of their deliveries, synchronized to release.

Let’s highlight some of the major differences:

1) Buchholz’ lower body is more active than Kennedy’s. Even though their tempo looks similar, you can clearly see how much more energy and momentum Buchholz carries into footplant. Kennedy is more of a “tall and fall” guy and glides into footplant more passively. Both pitchers take 25 frames of video (at 30 frames/second) from the time each gets to the top of his knee lift to the time they release. Buchholz has a higher leg lift. Simply put, he covers more distance in the same amount of time (meaning he has better body speed).

Buchholz leads with his hips better as well. He does so while keeping his back shoulder over the rubber, creating a different “shoulder tilt.” This tilt matches their respective release points, as I’ll show you later. As I mentioned in my Draft Awards article, I call that “the move.”

This is what I mean…(and yes, I know the camera angles are different).

Buchholz has the more aggressive body move I prefer.

2) On the other hand, Kennedy has better arm action. He loads the scapula better, seems to have better elbow external rotation, and just looks “whippier” than Buchholz’s arm action.

Here’s a clip:

3) Speaking of arm slot/release point, Kennedy throws from a pretty typical three-quarters release point. Buchholz’ high arm slot resembles an Iron Mike Pitching Machine.

Check out these stills:

I’m not a big fan of changing pitchers’ release points, but I prefer Kennedy’s for one simple reason. In terms of command and rotational efficiency, a pitcher is better off not moving his head out of way to make room for his arm. You can clearly see how much more head movement Buchholz has in the few frames leading up to release. I do think Buchholz’ release point adds to his deception and works for him, as I’ll explain later.

4) Both finish their pitches very well, although I’d give the slight edge to Kennedy because of his superior front-side mechanics. One of the very noticeable traits of “Tom House” mechanics (think Mark Prior and Randy Johnson) is how well they firm up the glove side and “tighten up” to prevent them from “pulling off the pitch” and to get better “extension.” In the still picture above, notice the position of the glove and the lead arm elbow. Does it not look like Kennedy is “out in front” more?

Speaking of Tom House, it used to be that you could tell who was a “Tom House guy” by noticing a pitcher’s front-side mechanics and (unfortunately) his passive lower body (the whole “tall and fall” thing). Fortunately, I now hear that he advocates more of a momentum/tempo-based approach with a more active lower body.

5) Buchholz falls to his left after release. Not a biggie, but it puts Kennedy in better fielding position. Why does he fall to his left? Generally speaking, wherever the head goes, the body will follow.

Let’s step away from mechanics and talk about their stuff…

Fastball

From what I’ve seen so far, Kennedy’s fastball comes in 89-91 mph with the occasional 92. Buchholz’s fastball (probably because of his better lower body mechanics) has a little more zip to it as it comes in at 90-93 mph with the occasional 94. Mostly due to their respective release points, Kennedy’s fastball has more lateral movement (in to righties) than Buchholz’ almost straight over-the-top fastball. Due to truer 6 to 12 backspin (again, think release point) and better velocity, Buchholz’ fastball has better “hop” at the end. Both pitchers’ fastballs are “fly ball” fastballs.

Curve/Slider

Both pitchers throw a curve and a slider. Buchholz has a nasty, big-breaking and a more 12-6 type of deuce. Kennedy’s curve has a smaller, slurvier break to it. He seems to favor his slider/slurve over his curve, while Buchholz certainly uses his curve more than his average slider. Kennedy’s breaking pitches are more of a “swing and a miss” variety while Buchholz is better able to use his big curve to also freeze hitters expecting a high fastball. I’d like to point out again how their release points come into play here. With his higher release point, Buchholz is probably better off by sticking to his big, sharp curveball. Kennedy is better suited to throwing a slider/slurve that starts on the same (flatter) plane as his fastball and changeup.

Speaking of changeups….

The Hand of God

Cheesy name, I know. But do YOU have a better description for Buchholz’s nasty changeup? Does it not look like it drops from the sky? His release point helps here, that’s for sure.

Here’s a clip (synchronized to release) comparing Buchholz’s fastball to his deceptive changeup…

Think hitting a changeup is as easy as “keeping the hands back”? I stopped the animation on frame 17 for a reason. Without looking at his grip earlier in the clip, can you tell which pitch is which? If I remember correctly, the pitch on the left was a 93-mph fastball. On the right? A 79-mph changeup. Release occurs in frame 10 of this clip, and the fastball arrives at the hitting zone at around frame 23. Halfway through the pitch, it is very difficult (and almost impossible) to tell that the pitch on the right is a changeup. Buchholz jumps at you, has an unusual release point, hides the ball well, sells it to the hitter with his motion, and (in this case) releases the changeup on almost exactly the same plane as his fastball. Not only that, but to further add deception, it looks like he throws a four-seam changeup that spins almost exactly like his four-seam fastball. Very tough for a hitter to pick that up. In case you hadn’t noticed, these pitches were taken from the same at-bat as well.

I’ve done a few voice-over video analyses that talk about releasing pitches on the same plane and their effect on hitters.

Over at Baseball Think Factory, I wrote a brief article on Edwar Ramirez and how he “sells” his changeup.
Recently, I talked about Jake Peavy’s mechanics and what makes him so tough.

I didn’t mean to ignore Kennedy’s changeup. It is a very good changeup as well with many of the same characteristics. Kennedy’s changeup has less speed differential than Buchholz’, but is still his best offspeed pitch.

All this changeup talk reminds me of one Kevin Grijak, an ex-teammate of mine. Great teammate, hilarious guy, quite the character and a terrible poker player.

His veteran advice to young hitters on how to hit the changeup?

“Don’t miss the fastball.”

Priceless.

Approach and command

Buchholz relies on mixing his pitches, which he does extremely well. Kennedy relies more on command and from what I’ve seen so far (and this no knock against Buchholz), Kennedy has better command. In other words, Kennedy relies more on “hitting spots” whereas Buchholz relies on outguessing hitters. What has impressed me the most about these two young pitchers is that they are able to use all their pitches against both righties and lefties. In particular, I am very impressed when a righthanded pitcher is unafraid to throw changeups to righthanded hitters (and the same is true of lefty vs. lefty—think of Hideki Okajima). Like I said in the Edwar Ramirez analysis, I understand the argument against throwing changeups to like-handed hitters. Many pitching coaches discourage this practice. In my opinion, however, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Because their stuff is different, Buchholz is successful working the top and bottom of the strike zone, while Kennedy will have to stick with working in and out.

Different ways to attack hitters. Similar success so far in their careers.

Final thoughts

This is where it gets tough. Kennedy or Buchholz? Whom would I rather have? In the mechanics department, Kennedy has the more classic, more easily repeatable and cleaner mechanics. He has better arm action coupled with superior front-side mechanics. Buchholz builds better momentum, and seemingly jumps at hitters with the more aggressive lower body mechanics that I prefer. Barring a major injury and major mechanical changes, it is my belief that Buchholz has a better chance of keeping his velocity for a longer time because of his superior lower body mechanics. Incidentally, both Kennedy and Buchholz have slightly slower tempo when compared to their draft videos. Slowing down is something I’m against, but has seemed work with both these pitchers. I firmly believe that they could throw harder if they sped it up a tad and built up more momentum into their pitches.

Command-wise, Kennedy hits his spots better. I believe that it is mostly due to the simplicity of his mechanics and his front-side superiority. Buchholz has very good command as well, but I give Kennedy the slight edge. By the way, I’m fully aware that Buchholz has a better career minor league walk rate. I just believe Kennedy will have better command at the major league level.

Stuff-wise, Buchholz has him beaten, badly. Buchholz’ fastball has better velocity. His curve (I could call his curve the “hand of God” deuce too, huh?) and changeup are clearly superior as well. Better stuff, better momentum, a quirky delivery, great deception and an unusual release point and you have my reasons why I’d choose Clay Buchholz. Kennedy has been profiled as a No. 4/No. 5 starter at best. Even with just slightly above average stuff, I believe that he has a higher ceiling than that, with No. 4/No. 5 starter being the worst of his outcomes. I say this even though I see a lot of Mark Prior in his mechanics.

One last thing I’d like to point out. I tried to not let Buchholz’ no-hitter influence my decision. I’ve had a Buchholz article in mind ever since he made his major league debut on Aug. 17. As a matter of fact, this is a comment I made that same day at BTF’s Game Chatter:

“BTW, I just saw Buckholtz’ draft video, and not to keep piling on to the poor boy, but if you show Hughes and Buckholtz to me in their draft videos? I choose Buckholtz. I wonder if his mech’s have changed since he got signed. We’ll see but I like what I see so far…

I have a feeling that I’ll be writing a Buckholtz article in the very near future”

Wouldn’t it have made me look like a genius had I written it back then? Timing’s a bitch…

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Comments

  1. Mike said...

    Kennedy’s mechanics, specifically his arm action are terrible. He does the “inverted L” and his arm is not up at footstrike which demonstrates a timing problem. He already had a freak arm injury and I see TJ surgery or labrum repair surgery in his future. That “whipping” action you speak of is what elbow injuries are made of. The force required to rotate the arm at full speed in one direction, then stop and rotate immediately full speed in the other direction applies a whole crapload of force to the arm, most of which is absorbed by the UCL. You want to see good arm action? Look at Roy Oswalt or Justin Verlander.

    Second, Buchholz shows the ball to second base during his windup which means he is fully pronating his arm before it’s even ready to throw. This is likely one thing that has contributed to his shoulder issues. His arm seems to get up in time, but it drags behind even after his hips and shoulders have rotated which is also a concern.

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