Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Given that this is season one post 2014 NLDS, Clayton Kershaw has gone under an incredible amount of scrutiny among fans of opponents, beat writers, and heck even fans of his own team. Take a guy who’s posted two straight seasons of sub 2.00 ERA ball and peripherals to match and watch him fail inexplicably on the biggest stage AND on top of that, struggle in the area that he’s been so good at for his entire career (outpitch his Fielding Independent Pitching and expected FIP), and there’s little that can be done to change public perception about this player.
And granted, the worries were legitimate, Kershaw pitched a little over a month and a half with no ability to prevent runs like we’d seen every year outside of his rookie year, his ERA peaked at 4.32 after a miserable start against the Giants on May 21st (the Bumgarner dinger game) which means that the season was over for him and his decline had begun.
1.53 ERA 2.00 FIP 1.94 xFIP. Those are his figures ever since Bumgarner woke Clayton Kershaw up by hitting a home run off of him firing him up to break the narrative that lazy beat writers have created about his otherwise lost season.
Now, all this means is that he’s split his season into one mediocre half (9GS/58.1 IP of 4.32 ERA ball) and another half of superb pitching (9GS/64.2 IP 1.52 ERA ball), both of those stretches feature FIP’s in the 2’s, so it appears like the latter 9 games started are legitimate, but even with the bipolar season, his season stats read: 2.85 ERA 2.40 FIP 2.07 xFIP, that ERA is 21st in baseball, two names (Max Scherzer and Chris Sale) own better FIP’s, and nobody has a better xFIP.
By any measure, this is a great season in a vacuum. But hey, season’s can’t exist in a vacuum, nor could a real life vacuum hold Clayton Kershaw’s 2015 season, we have to put Kershaw’s season in context of A) What he has done and B) What he might realistically do.
So his 2015 season has been a relative disappointment overall, even if he’s turned the corner. By the time this postseason arrives, I feel like talk of “Kershaw” and “disappointment” will fade, but until then, a 79 ERA- for Clayton is -believe it or not- his highest adjusted ERA since his rookie year. I KNOW.
This mostly has to do with the fact that the league has become relatively better at the pitching thing, and the league has become relatively worse at the hitting thing. This isn’t a new development, strikeouts are at an all time high, ERA is plummeting to levels known only to the guys who threw off higher mounds back when smoking was a cool thing to do. A 2.85 ERA just doesn’t mean much anymore, and if you were going to make the argument that Kershaw hasn’t been as good as his career numbers would indicate, i’d nod and go in a direction opposite you
Right now he’s been a relative disappointment, but like I said, there’s every indication that by the end of the season, we’ll look at this as just another hall of fame caliber player in the midst of his physical prime:
Ironically, a 1.53 ERA and a 2.00 FIP split in his last 9 starts is eerily similar to what he did from June to September last season (1.38 ERA/1.80 FIP), but the point remains, if he simply meets his Steamer projections (keep in mind that projecting a 2.18 ERA is ambitious for a projections system), he will finish with basically the same ERA that he came into the season with.
And yeah yeah, comparing ERA across generations is dangerous, but this is the same ERA that has him above Hoyt Wilhelm as the best ERA a starting pitcher has compiled since the 1950’s (at least). It’s probably enough to talk about his candidacy as the best pitcher of our generation and I feel like a run prevention stat that significant automatically triggers the conversation that he’s on track to be an inner circle hall of famer. It’s a bold statement, but Clayton is certainly forcing it.
The point of this was to illustrate that not a lot has changed for Clayton Kershaw. It was basically impossible to repeat back to back sub 2 ERA seasons, and in that sense he might have peaked. The good news is that he doesn’t have to be 2000 Pedro Martinez for the rest of his career, he is doing just fine as it is.