By Christian S. Kohl
Both Clayton Kershaw and Clay Buchholz find themselves off to absolutely electric starts in the 2013 season. Their numbers in nearly every statistical category are downright silly, each dominating their leagues with extreme precision. Every GM would donate a kidney to sign either of these young dominate aces. So begs the question, which of them is the best?
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The nod in the early going from a pure stat splits perspective is Buchholz, who is pitching totally outside of his head. He sports a 1.62 ERA, 77 strikeouts in as many innings, and has surrendered just two home runs while featuring an unblemished 8-0 record. Kershaw, almost equally impressive, has fired his way to a 1.85 ERA across 87 innings, while recording 82 K’s as he compiles a more pedestrian 5-3 record. Clearly, run support factors in heavily in such a limited sample, however.
More to the point, in a comparison of the two in terms of who better to trust long term as a franchise ace, most if not all nods go to Kershaw. Not simply because he throws left-handed, or that he is 25 and Buch is now 28. The durability of Kershaw inspires more confidence than Buch. In what is his seventh year of work in the majors, Buchholz has never recorded a 200 inning season. Kershaw sports three, including two over 225 innings. He bests Buch in career WHIP, 1.11 to 1.30. Buchholz has also surrendered more home runs lifetime despite pitching 316 fewer career innings.
For the less statistically oriented and more subjective fan, Buchholz also is more of an unanswered question than Kershaw. Buch’s injuries in 2011 led to difficulties in 2012 relocating his elite stuff. He all reported issues with his delivery and kinks in his mechanics. While he exhibits an unquestioned mental toughness, the longevity of this run he is on remains difficult to handicap. Conversely, Kershaw has displayed a pattern of workhorse dominance more or less consistently throughout his entire career. He also applies less pressure to his defense, consistently recording strikeout totals which dwarf those of Buchholz by a margin of nearly 2:1 lifetime.
Right now, Buch is the better story, as everyone enjoys a good comeback. He has always been a tough competitor who battles during every start, and his ferocious beginning to 2013 feels entirely earned after putting in the difficult work to recapture his stuff these past few years. Kershaw is every scout’s dream, the robot who fits every physical and velocity profile and simply delivers without wavering. Both of these guys are incredibly special to watch, and their futures remain bright for the next decade and possibly beyond. But the more likely to maintain this level of play by the end of 2013 and beyond is Kershaw without question. Like every GM in the world, if tasked between picking either of these hurlers to anchor my staff, I take Kershaw without hesitation and sleep without an ounce of regret. He wins this week’s showdown of elite fireballers.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.