Thursday, August 21, 2008

Passing the Buch-holz

Few professions expect the youngest members to be at the peak of their craft. Is baseball so different?

Clay Buchholz achieved baseball immortality with a no-hitter in his second start, but Great Expectations haven't achieved fulfillment in year two. Yet the day after Clay gets relocated for more seasoning at Portland, the United States mens' and womens' 400 meter sprint relay teams BOTH drop the baton in the semifinal heats. Move over, Clay.

Roger Kahn's "The Head Game" reviews some of the great pitchers through time, and the title is no accident. A great career requires unusual health, superior ability (the stuff the make people miss), and consistent attack of not only the strike zone but hitters' weaknesses.

Left-handed hitters often have a 'blind spot' down and in (note Jacoby Ellsbury), as they become accustomed to seeing right-handed pitchers whose 'natural corner' is down and AWAY. Right handed hitters often struggle with hard stuff up and in, and breaking stuff down and AWAY. If a hitter is up on the plate, he is confident he can handle the inside stuff (remember Carl Everett?), and batters who stand far away from the plate always seem to be handle the outside pitches as they usually DIVE INTO the pitch. In generally, lefthanded hitters prefer the ball down, relative to right-handers, although there are exceptions, guys like Hafner and Thome who can drive the stuff upstairs.

The best pitchers can control BOTH SIDES of the plate. Jon Lester's success evolved not only through health, but with control of his cutter where he can attack right-handers down and in. With the southpaw's NATURAL movement down and away to right-handers, they have to respect the outside fastball, leaving them vulnerable to the hard stuff in. The Yankees' Ron Guidry had particular dominance down and in.

All of which brings us back to Buchholz. Everyone knows about his secondary stuff, the 12 to 6 curve and the terrific change. But Clay hasn't been able to control the strike zone with his fastball, and also has not maintained his composure in the midst of 'luck'. Last night Jay Payton hit a dribbler that Buchholz couldn't corral. That led to an Oriole uprising that was the beginning of the end. Previously, the White Sox had a couple of Texas Leaguers fall in, before titanic homeruns.

What we can all hope for is a mature and professional Buchholz, who realizes that his work ethic on the side, weights, running, and film study will bring him long-term success. Ability seldom suffices in competitive professions. Perspiration and desire can bring Buchholz back to prominence, if he wants it enough.

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