Monday, July 18, 2011

Kershaw's Batting Motivation: Bills

And I'm not talking Chad Billingsley, necessarily. No, a small feature article in ESPN the Magazine's July 25 issue (no link) by Molly Knight revealed what's really behind Kershaw's increased potency from the plate this year:

Once hapless at the plate--[Kershaw] went 3-for-55 in 2010--the 6'3", 215-pound southpaw leads all big league pitchers with 11 hits and is flirting with a .300 average. "I was tired of being awful," says Kershaw, whose team was last in the NL West through July 4. "The playful banter from teammates can hurt."

It can also be motivational. Fellow starter Chad Billingsley, whose locker is next to Kershaw's and who is tied for fourth among hurlers with eight hits, claims the 23-year-old spent more time in the cage this off-season than he did on the mound. Kershaw denies this allegation, saying he took BP from the mechanical arm at his local putt-putt facility only twice. The jabs are playful, yet the pair have more than a passing interest in each other's batting statistics. LA's rotation conducts a "small monetary" competition, in which various plate outcomes have assigned point values. For instance, a home run collections 10 big ones. Missing signs or failing to drop a bunt docks your total. At the end of each month, the pitcher who has tallied the most points takes the pot.

At least that's the way the fantasy league rules read when Brewers starter Randy Wolf created them for the Dodgers in 2009. A 13-year vet, Wolf brought the pool with him to Milwaukee last season, and Brewers righthander Yovani Gallardo geared up for the challenge, posting the best batting average (.254) of his career. "It's a fun way to get guys going," says Wolf, who's also made stops in Philadelphia, San Diego, and Houston. "I hate the mentality that our at-bats don't matter."

The article also has a sidebar that says, based on weighted runs created, Dodger pitchers are worth 4.8 runs as batters this season (through July 4), second best in the NL behind the Brewers and 15.2 runs better than the last-place Pirates. Then the sidebar goes on to remind us that the Pirates are better off in the standings (they are 0.5 games out of the NL Central lead). Thanks a lot.