Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Since this was probably buried in the recap last night, I feel like we need to talk about Clayton Kershaw the morning after a performance that wasn’t good enough. Especially considering how much everybody else is talking about Clayton Kershaw’s performance last night.
Ahhhh. And then you have the defensively react towards anything negative directed towards Clayton Kershaw
October, it’s a gosh darned mess. Lets be clear for a minute, the people up top are far more likely to not be serious baseball watchers, the notion that Kershaw is the “Peyton Manning of the NFL” is misinformed at best and is a notion that is likely derived from only watching postseason baseball cause like it or not, the postseason is what ultimately matters in this sport, or any sport, really.
With that out of the way, lemme say that I absolutely love Clayton Kershaw. He is one of the all time greats, postseason success or not, he is the greatest pitcher of this generation, if he were to retire today, he should be an easy hall of fame inductee at age 27, he’s absurdly talented, and has dominated the position for so long that we expect a Clayton Kershaw Cy Young perenially.
Lets, though, try to look at this objectively, here are his career postseason stats 57.2 innings, 4.99 ERA 3.47 FIP 10.77 K/9 3.43 BB/9 1.09 HR/9 43.8 GB%
vs his regular season stats 2.43 ERA 2.62 FIP 9.75 K/9 2.60 BB/9 .54 HR/9 45.6 GB%
Aside from striking out batters, he’s been inarguably worse across the board when meaningful October baseball hits, any argument based in statistical values clearly shows Kershaw as being the superior pitcher prior to playoff baseball. Argue the sustainability/ reliability numbers all you want, but we do need to understand that he’s hasn’t been the same pitcher in his playoff career.
Now, 15.1 of those 57.2 innings came when he was 21 and 22 years old in the 2008 and 2009 postseason, it probably isn’t fair to include that with his playoff problems in 2015 considering that he basically raised his command grade from fringe average to an easy 60, not to mention him adding a generational slider along with the stuff he already had.
So his postseason stats since 2013: 42.1 innings pitched 4.68 ERA 12.39 K/9 2.77 BB/9 .85 HR/9.
For good measure, here’s his regular season stats since 2013 1.92 ERA 10.42 K/9 1.69 BB/9 0.47 HR/9.
Perhaps a better way of measuring this would be comparing his postseason stats since 2013 with his stats since he started winning Cy Youngs, but even then it’s tricky, so for the sake of symmetry, lets leave it like this, Kershaw, again, has been objectively worse across the board when it comes to postseason play since 2013 vs his regular season play since 2013. Not unlike his overall postseason stats since he came into the league vs his overall regular season stats since he came into the league, he’s been worse across the board save for some strikeouts. His ERA has doubled and then some, his walk rate is over a man an inning higher, his home run rate has nearly doubled, but his strikeout rate is higher by almost 2 batters per inning.
And like I said last night, his start yesterday was objectively mediocre at best. He walked 4 batters (3 in a row to load the bases), he gave up a home run, and wasn’t lucky enough to wiggle out of every jam that he created for himself. The Daniel Murphy home run came on a mistake pitch, Kershaw walked Reuben flippin Tejada, he couldn’t make that one pitch to get Curtis Granderson chasing, and you know what? It happens. But to pretend that there was no variance between his start last night and his overall 2015 performance is delusional at best.
He’s giving up more dingers, he’s walking more people, and he’s given up more runs than we’re used to seeing in the regular season. Now, the only problem with Clayton Kershaw in the regular season is that sometimes he’ll go through stretches where his command falls apart (May 17th, 2014 in Arizona April 11th, 2015 Arizona May 10th, 2015 Colorado) and this isn’t unlike any other pitcher who just struggles. Maybe Clayton is the kind of pitcher where these command problems get extrapolated in a high leverage situations, maybe Kershaw just needs to get in a groove to reach the godly precedent that he’s set before and that’s so difficult to reach when there’s an all out sprint to a championship happening.
Maybe we just need to lower our standards and be patient that he comes around, for what it’s worth he owns a career 2.94 FIP in high leverage situations, it isn’t anywhere near bad but it’s still a step down from his career performance.There will come a point (that point is now) where results need to happen, Clayton Kershaw did not choke last night, he also didn’t pitch a particularly good game by game 1 starter standards (and like it or not, aces have to be held to a higher standard than middle of the rotation type starters, it’s why they’re aces!), and you don’t need to look at just single game ERA figures to back that up, his fatal flaw was his unfortunate lack of command.
Kershaw will come around, he is too good not to and the series isn’t anywhere near over, but asking the question “what’s wrong with Kershaw in the postseason” is becoming a fairer and fairer question to ask. Honestly, if the Dodgers are going to do anything other than bow out meekly to a New York Mets team that is [whispers] really really good, then Clayton Kershaw *assuming the team isn’t swept* absolutely has to pitch a brilliant game without any qualifiers in his next start.