Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kershaw's Future Continues To Look Bright

From ESPN.com (insider only), a qualitative and statistical appreciation for Clayton Kershaw's improving presence on the mound:

We're dreaming on the kind of numbers Clayton Kershaw can put up at his peak, and he continues to make strides forward in his third big league season. He ranked 24th in our Player Rater among starting pitchers last season, and has moved into the top 15 this year, thanks to ranking in the top 10 in the National League in wins (10), ERA (2.96), and strikeouts (138 in 130 2/3 innings.) Of course, he's also fourth in the league in walks.

Still, the trends continue to be encouraging for the 22-year-old southpaw. His strikeout rate continues to hold steady at more than 9.5 batters per nine innings, while his walk rate, which is remains higher than you would like, has dropped from 4.8 batters per nine to 3.9 this season, and it's starting to help him address the criticism that he doesn't go deep into games often enough, running his pitch count up too early. His innings pitched per start has increased in each of his seasons in the majors, and is at 6.2 this season.

"I think I'm just doing a better job of throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters and making them earn their way on base more," Kershaw said. "It makes everything a lot easier. Sometimes it's just a rhythm thing and a comfort thing on the mound, and sometimes I lose the feel. I just don't throw a lot of strikes at times. I know I walk a lot of guys and it's something I have to work on, and everybody asks me, 'Why do you do that?' and I don't know. If I knew, I wouldn't do it. It's just the way it is sometimes."

Kershaw is actually a bit of a changed pitcher this year, as he uses his slider a lot more and trusts it more against right-handed batters, which keeps him from nibbling as much. Although scouts have always raved about the big break on his curveball, it's become more of a chase pitch outside of the zone. The slider is a good breaking ball he can use to throw strikes, yet still be an effective pitch, playing off his 92-94 mph fastball. He has a changeup that he's largely relegated to his back pocket because of the way his feel for a slider (a pitch he rarely threw as a rookie) has progressed.

"The curve is always going to be there," Kershaw said. "My slider doesn't have as big a break, so it's easier to throw for a strike at times. Sometimes when I get behind in counts and don't want to go with a fastball, it's an easier pitch to flip up there for a strike and get back in the count. My curve breaks so much that sometimes it's hard to control. The slider's been working a little better right now, so I've stuck with it."

Obviously, Kershaw and his fantasy owners still would like to see the walk rate cut even more, especially as his stuff is good enough that he can continue to be just as effective working in the strike zone more often. Although Kershaw generally repeats his delivery pretty well, he could still use a touch more consistency in that regard, which could help limit the free passes even further. At times he's not finishing his delivery as well as he should, cutting his body off instead of staying through the pitch, which causes his fastball to wander. That said, there have been some incremental improvements, and I have no reason not to expect more of them. Have I mentioned he's still just 22?

One other thing to mention is Kershaw's homer rate, which continues to be miniscule. He allowed just 0.4 homers per nine innings last season, and is at 0.5 this year. A deeper look at the numbers will show what appears to be fortunate luck in terms of his homers-per-fly-ball ratio, which is less than 5 percent for the second straight season. (The average is around 11.5 percent.)

According to Baseball Info Solutions, Kershaw ranked first in the major leagues in lowest-homers-per-fly-ball percentage last year among qualified starters, and ranks sixth this season. (Six other starters have ranked in the top 20 in each of the past two seasons: Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Cain.) Such a low level is still a little unsustainable, but my guess is he has a good chance to at least stay better than average. It's one of the reasons Kershaw's elevated walk totals haven't come back to haunt him as much as you might think.

What also helps is that Kershaw induces a lot of poor contact with the quality of his arsenal, ranking in the top 10 among qualified starters in infield fly ball percentage in each of the past two seasons. He's getting a good amount of weak "can of corn" flies and infield pop-ups. Ideally, we're hoping for a few fewer base runners going forward to help blunt any ERA hit caused by a few more balls leaving the yard.

Obviously, Kershaw is very good now as evidenced by his top-15 standing among starters in the Player Rater, but there is the sense that we may not have seen his best season yet, which is even better news for his keeper and dynasty owners.

Forget the fantasy owners. I'm more stoked he's a Dodger. Keep up the great work, Minotaur!

photo: Chris Williams/Icon SMI

16 comments:

Dusty Baker said...

I love how you just said FU and pasted so much of this proprietary article! Fight the power, Sax!

Mr. Customer said...

Hey, it's properly attributed. They can suck it.

Josh S. said...

Hey, T.J. Simers wrote a schlocky, ill-timed, ill-conceived, insulting hit-piece on the Dodgers.

It must be a day ending in y.

Mr. Customer said...

T.J. can bite my shiny metal ass.

Mr. Customer said...

The side bar is still unstuck in time.

Josh S. said...

Hey, Mr. C! You sent Victorino to the DL. Nice work!

Mr. LA Sports Fan said...

He still calls us the Choking Dogs? How can we choke if we've never had a lead?

Josh S. said...

This team with a three-game winning streak and lights-out starting pitching is an EMBARRASSMENT!

Mr. Customer said...

@Josh

Hit by a train, or is that too much to hope for?

Mr. LA Sports Fan said...

He blames us for the Padres' success? WE'VE ONLY LOST TO THEM ONCE, EVERYTHING ELSE THEY DO HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH US, MORON.

Josh S. said...

@Mr. C:

Oblique strain, so the word train is there, at least.

Mr. Customer said...

Perhaps he strained it dodging a falling anvil.

MR. F said...

Thanks to you guys, I don't even have to read the Simers article. Take that, L.A. Times!

Dusty Baker said...

I want to stomp the shit out of Simers. And I haven't even read the article.

rbnlaw said...

Simers obviously writes his columns weeks in advance.

And by "writes," I mean he rehashes things he wrote 5 years ago. Truthfully, I expect better from a major metropolitan newspaper. . .and the L.A. Times. Somewhere in SF, Scott Ostler is smiling.

Betsy said...

@DB - had to go over to the LFP to listen to Tommy tell TJ to go you know where after reading his article. He's such a piece of garbage