Monday, May 30, 2016

Buster Olney Marvels At Kershaw

From ESPN insider (link for subscribers only), Buster Olney opined on how incredible our own Clayton Kershaw is:

We are witnessing the eighth consecutive season in which Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw has an ERA below 3.00, and Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis mentioned in conversation Saturday that Kershaw has been so good for so long that you grow accustomed to his excellence. But what Kershaw is doing this season might be a case of the best pitcher of all time doing his best work, particularly in how he controls the ball-strike count.

Kershaw, who is set to start against the Mets and Bartolo Colon on Sunday, has 95 strikeouts and five walks this season and a 19-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is vastly better than Phil Hughes' major league-record 11.6-to-1 ratio for a full season -- and more than double Kershaw's career-best of 7.71-to-1.

Ellis said the difference for Kershaw has been the way he has executed strike 1 on the first pitch of at-bats, not just throwing a strike designed to get ahead in the count, but firing a quality strike, a particularly well-placed fastball or slider to the fringes of the zone. Once Kershaw gets strike 1, Ellis said, "The world opens up to him," because at that moment, opposing hitters are at the mercy of his whole repertoire, from a fastball he throws in the low-to-mid 90s, to the slider he is throwing harder than at any point in his career, to the curveball that crashes downward, like a roller coaster.

That's a tall order. In Kershaw's most recent start against Cincinnati, Ellis' sense was that the Reds' game plan was merely to put the ball in play -- not necessarily with authority, but to avoid the strikeouts -- an approach that minimizes the possibility of hitters doing major damage.

The numbers bear this out: When Kershaw has gotten ahead in the count with a first-pitch strike this season, opponents are batting .113 thereafter (17 hits in 151 at-bats), with only one extra-base hit. When Kershaw starts out with a 1-0 count, opponents are hitting .221 with seven doubles and a home run in 86 at-bats.

Cincinnati's approach isn't ideal for any lineup, but against the pitcher who might be the greatest of all time, maybe that sort of concession is inevitable.

From ESPN Stats & Information, more on Kershaw:

  • The Dodgers are 9-1 when Kershaw starts this season and 17-23 when anybody else starts. That's the equivalent of a 146-win team when Kershaw starts and a 69-win team when anybody else does.
  • Kershaw has 95 strikeouts and only five walks this season. From the Elias Sports Bureau: No pitcher in modern major league history (since 1900) has had fewer than seven walks at the time of his 100th strikeout of a season. Cliff Lee had seven in 2010, and next up is Curt Schilling, who had eight walks when he recorded his 100th strikeout in 2002.
  • As mentioned above, Kershaw has a K-to-BB ratio of 19.0 (95 K's, 5 walks). That would shatter the modern-era record of 11.6 (set by Phil Hughes in 2014). If he makes as many starts as he did last season (33) and averages the same number of strikeouts and walks per game as he's averaging this season, he'd finish the season with 314 strikeouts and 17 walks. The fewest walks in major league history in a 300-strikeout season is 33 by Schilling, who paired that with 316 strikeouts in 2002. Also, Pedro Martinez had 313 strikeouts and 37 walks in his incredible 1999 season.