Clayton Kershaw and The Playoffs

If you’ve been watching the Dodgers in the playoffs the last 5 years, and Clayton Kershaw’s starts especially, you’re familiar with the script. The “narrative” remains that Kershaw can’t get it done in the postseason despite nearly resurrecting his reputation after a strong showing in the 2016 playoffs until Game 6 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. The same was the case for his run in 2017 until his implosion in Game 5 of the World Series against the Astros. Aside from the Cubs winning their first world series in 71 years, and the Astros winning their first ever title, the story is still the same for Los Angeles, and Kershaw.

Fair or not, Kershaw’s results in the playoffs have been less than the spectacular results Dodger fans have been accustomed to during his reign as this generation’s greatest pitcher. However, results can often be misleading, especially in small sample sizes in baseball. Since 2013, the first season the Dodgers made the playoffs after Kershaw became the most dominant pitcher in the game, the Dodgers’ ace has started 17 postseason games with a record of 7-6 in those starts, far below his winning percentage of .714 in regular season starts since 2013. But for anyone who’s witnessed each of those 17 starts spanning five postseasons, you may suspect the story goes beyond just wins and losses, and if you’re a Dodger fan who had that same terrified feeling after Dexter Fowler’s bloop  double (7% hit expectancy) to lead off the disastrous Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS you may know what I’m talking about.

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First, let’s take a look at Kershaw’s postseason statistics since 2013:

GS IP H ER BB K ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
17 102 80 49 26 123 4.32 1.04 10.85 2.29

 

Next, let’s look at those starts individually. Kershaw surrendered just 3 earned runs or less in 11 of those 17 starts. The cumulative stats for those 11 starts:

GS IP H ER BB K ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
11 68.2 39 15 16 84 1.98 0.81 11.06 2.11

 

Those numbers are much more in line with what Clayton Kershaw has been in the regular season from 2013-2017, when he posted a 1.95 ERA, and 0.87 WHIP.

Now, let’s examine the statistics from the 6 starts that Kershaw allowed 4+ ER:

GS IP H ER BB K ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
6 33.1 41 34 10 39 9.18 1.53 10.53 2.43

 

Clearly, these are the starts where Kershaw’s reputation has been tarnished, and his postseason numbers have been skewed. How can this be explained? Is Kershaw selectively falling apart at the most

inopportune times? Is he failing to get outs due to his own faults? Is he losing control when the Dodgers need him most? Well, not if you look further. Over these crucial 6 starts, he’s recorded 39 strikeouts for a K/9 rate of 10.53, nearly identical to his more successful playoff starts. He must be walking more hitters, right? Wrong. He walked only 10 batters in these starts, and three were intentional. His BB/9 rate of 2.43 is right on par with his career numbers, as well as in his other postseason starts that produced much better results.

So, what is it then?

How about an astronomical BABIP of .402! That’s right, despite producing a comparable strikeout rate in even in his best four seasons in a hall of fame career, batters in these six starts have recorded 41 hits in 102 at-bats. To compare, from 2013-2017, the lefty’s BABIP is .268. And his BABIP in his 11 successful postseason starts? .244. Just a bit better than his career rate. This stat has largely been considered to be out of the control of the pitcher when posting comparable peripheral stats. Essentially, Kershaw has been the victim of extreme bad luck at the worst possible time.

What can Dodger fans, or Clayton Kershaw himself, hope to see looking forward? They have to trust that these numbers even out as the sample increases. As long as Kershaw continues to be as dominant as he has been over the course of the previous five seasons, and controls what he can control, great things may be ahead for the 30-year old, and these memories of playoff failures could become a distant memory.

Chad Clarke

I grew up in San Diego a lifelong Dodger fan. The only nosebleed I’ve ever had was minutes before Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. I used to dress up as Steve Sax every Halloween, and Mike Piazza is my all-time favorite player. I patterned my windup in Little League after Orel Hershiser, and called my own baseball video games as if I was Vin Scully. I used to work in basketball, but have been drawn back to baseball in recent years. I’m fascinated with the strategy and decision-making involved in the game, and glad I can write about it here. I love to discuss opposing viewpoints, so feel free to comment and I’ll try to respond.

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24 thoughts on “Clayton Kershaw and The Playoffs

  1. I think the BABIP is not actually extreme bad luck, but a combination of poor game calling in the late innings (3rd time around), and Kershaw’s tendency to try to pound strikes when it’s a “lesser” batter up against him. Hitters are lining up to crush his early strikes in the late innings, especially when he historically try to throws strikes when he’s behind in the count, instead of going with the low offspeed pitches more and walking the batter if necessary. Hopefully having to deal with diminished speed all year this year will finally get Kershaw to the promised land.

  2. Kersh has had to adjust. He is more of a finesse guy now than before. He cannot leave the ball up in the zone because it gets hammered. But it makes sense to star Ryu over Kersh because it keeps them in sync with what they finished the season doing. Ryu, Kersh, Buehler, Hill. I am fine with that and Ryu has been excellent at Dodger Stadium.

    1. Actually his loss of velocity has made it necessary to get up in the zone. His low fastballs get hammered, his high fastballs still get people out. His loss of velocity has also made his curveball less effective, people can sit on it, his less effective fastball now allows hitters to have a little better chance of waiting a bit longer to pull the trigger against both his fastball and his curveball.
      Jansen has the same problem with his fastball, his lower velocity now has his low fastballs landing in the stands. If Jansen can get better location on all his pitches, he can spot that lower velocity fastball high in the zone, recording outs. Just take a look at some of the HRs he gives up, they are low pitches – being deposited in the stands.

      BTW, I’m still laughing at Badger’s statement on why he is not posting very much in here. If you know his further back (before this blog) history, he has been chief of negativity and whining. I like Badger, he has some good takes at times but he really can talk out of both sides of his mouth quite often. (Get ready, this will draw him out to post, lashing out at me for calling him out. Trust me I know this guy all too well. Wait for it)

      1. (Get ready, this will draw him out to post, lashing out at me for calling him out. Trust me I know this guy all too well. Wait for it)

      2. That’s not fair True. Badger is an even keel type of guy. When FBZphiles are going overboard he pulls them back. He admitted last year that he did not think they would win 100 games and gave the kudos when it’s due. This year, from April he’s been consistently optimistic about this team.

        Badger has been a very good and one of the most fair posters here.

      3. True
        Badger has always been very professional when we have had disagreements and we have many times. He has never attacked me personally but has voiced his opinions on whatever subject we have discussed. He adds a lot to any discussion and I hope he returns. I know I am one of the people he refers too about bitching and whining but on some subjects I am very passionate and I hope he understands. Come on back Badger cause you need to do some more pushups.

  3. 4 managers now out of work. Showalter and Duquette out in Baltimore. Gibbons in Toronto, Scioscia and Molitor in Minnesota. No NL skippers yet and the Cubs announced that Maddon will be back. Judge hits a laser shot in the first to put the Yankees up. Now is 3-0 in the 6th. Bad news for Package, Dodgers announced today they are talking to Dave Roberts about an extension…..sorry Pack……Brewers say they will have a bullpen game for game 1 with the Rocks. Dodgers will announce 25 man roster on Thursday. As far as Badger goes. The guy knows his Dodger baseball whether anyone here knows it or not. His reasons for not posting lately are his business. He has always been very steady in his posts, and I do not see a lot of negativity in anything he says. I am more negative than he is. I was not sure this team would get this far, and frankly, the way they opened the season, the consistent lack of production with men in scoring position, something that still rears it’s ugly head. They got where they needed to be, but it was not easy. They lost to teams they should have stomped. So that they are hosting the Braves is to me, a minor miracle. I still do not think that they have the stuff to win the world series, and just winning the pennant would be a surprise. I think the Brewers, if they beat the Rocks, will be a major obstacle. Beating the AL representative will not be easy at all. 3 of those teams won 100 games or more. Boston has great pitching and a very long and tough lineup. The Yankees just pound you to death and we all know what the Astros can do. Cleveland is the weakest of the bunch. If the Indians were by some miracle to advance to the series against the Dodgers, the Dodgers who won 1 more game than the tribe would get home field. That would be their best case scenario.

  4. Michael
    Well, I would not expect anything less from FAZ other than reuping Dummy. The real loser is Matt Kemp who will not get to play other than maybe .a pinch hit because the Braves will start all right handed pitchers. I never thought the Dodgers would stoop to such low standards but they have if they do not play Kemp. Using favoritism for Joc is uncalled for. The Dodgers do not need to platoon Kemp as he hits right handed pitchers better than Joc. Matt Kemp is an ALL STAR and it is just a crime he falls into the FAZ jail.

    1. Cannot really complain about Pederson playing. He does have a flair for the dramatic. Another leadoff homer. The 3rd game pitcher will probably be a lefty. And I am not sure they dissing Kemp there Pack. Kemp will get his shots. But is he on this team next year? Matt can’t complain. He is getting a lot of money. And to his credit, the man has been a great team mate all season long and he has been in no way the cancer he was once described as. And his second half in all honesty has not nearly been as good as his first half was.

  5. Back on Kershaw, and our team generally.

    It’s been a tough year and a year of a lot of adjustments, for the team as well as us fans.

    The biggest difference this year on my opinion is the shakiness or our relief corps. Its still mighty iffy and Jansen is a huge question mark. Is is as bad as the Mattingly bullpens? Well I would say yes. But I’ve got a bit more faith in. Roberts and Honeycutt, than Mattingly. We will see.

    Our defense is good, and I believe will be better than last year’s run. It had better be, especially in the late innings.

    Our lineup is the same old same old. One day they show, then they disappear the next. I don’t think they are working the count as much as last year, and despite the noticeable improvements in approach from Joc and Puig and Kike, I don’t think we are better than last year. Certainly not anything to bet your house on, or even your second car.

    One area where I do feel a lot more confident is our starting pitching. We’ve finally got 4 quality starters that don’t strictly rely on their “stuff”. You may think Buehler is like a right handed 24 year old Kershaw but I beg to differ. Buehler is a bulldog with stuff. And I really think Kershaw has learned a lot in his struggles. Hill is still hit and miss, and Kershaw is not going to go into the 7th on many nights anymore, but overall I feel that we can win the tight pressurized games. Or have a better chance at them than last year.

    It’s going to be a wide open and wild playoffs this year, for both leagues and for different reasons. We’ve got a bunch of teams with different strengths and weaknesses in the NL, and then in the AL, we’ve got multiple juggernauts pounding each other into smithereens.

    1. It’s pretty apparent to me that True Blue is only looking for attention and replies.

      I’d treat his silly post about other posters the same way everyone has treated:

      His moronic nicknames (what has happened to the clever Ed Dinger, or Bert, or Granmal?)
      His very rare (thankfully) homophobia.
      His “blame the audience” apology for the Timmons escapade.
      His general inane postings.

      Let’s ignore them. It’s pretty easy.

  6. A few other angles

    -Inherited runners allowed to score
    -Lack of solid relief options
    -Poor pitch selection
    -Sign stealing / not switching up signs
    -Lack of mound visits / general time wasting
    -Refusal to pitch around certain hot hitters
    -Poor infield positioning
    -ibb used to set up double plays that never happen, sometimes leading to extra baserunners / runs
    -offense not scoring runs putting extra pressure on pitching and defense

    ***Note to True Blue: Pace yourself there, you may wear yourself out with all the shadow-boxing.

  7. Hey True, I will call you out. I have known Mr. Badger the longest of anyone on this blog and I will ask you to please show your cards. What is it that you say you know. If it is the banter that went on between him and Mr. Timmons then that is awhoe different story. Yes they went toe to toe and they both felt very strongly about their positions. It is in the past. Don’t sit there and try to play games. Say what you have to say. I will defend Badger to the end of the earth. He is a stand up dude. He speaks his mind and stands behind it. When disagrees he does it in nice and more often than not in a very humorous way. So say what you have to say. If not SHUT THE F#CK UP!!!

  8. Today’s LA Times:
    [Yasmani] Grandal’s final numbers illustrate elite production at his position. His 3.6 FanGraphs WAR was second among catchers, behind only J.T. Realmuto, who is regarded as the game’s premier backstop. He ranked second in Baseball Prospectus’ framing metric, providing further evidence of his reputation as a standout framer. His 24 home runs were second and his .466 slugging percentage was third. Most importantly, he had the highest walk rate.

    “When you factor in the offensive bar at the position and just, I think, that position takes such a toll on your body, which is a big part of why the offensive bar isn’t extremely high,” Friedman said. “And he’s obviously significantly above that bar…The overall production and value is really high.”

    The performance surfaced at an opportune time. Grandal is a free agent this winter. He’ll enter the fray atop the free-agent catching crop and should garner a multiyear contract. A strong postseason would only help bolster his standing on the market.

    http://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/la-sp-yasmani-grandal-dodgers-20181003-story.html

    I know much less than the Times reporter or Friedman, but I’m wary of Grandal’s streakiness and his all-or-nothing penchant at the plate. That said, good catchers are like good men, hard to find.

  9. Roster not set as of yet. Will be interesting to see who is in the bullpen. Yankees-Sox again. Should be a total blood bath. Brewers-Rockies should be a slugfest too unless one of those two pitching staffs really steps up. Based on experience, the Dodgers should prevail against who ever they play, but as we all know, that does not happen all the time. I would like to see the Dodgers get this over quick. But the Braves have weapons and are not going to just roll over. Our pitching is going to have to limit opportunity’s. They took pretty good care of Freeman the first time around.

  10. Hey guys. What’s new?

    Got some interesting emails today and thought I might stop by and say hey.

    True Blue sounds like my old friend OD, and if that’s the case I’m not surprised. OD was an asshat on several different boards and just can’t help himself. It doesn’t bother me. And not OD? …… well….. if the hat fits ………

    As for everyone else here, I have no problem with any of you. We have had different opinions, but that’s to be expected. The “stick a fork in them, they’re done” and “Dummy” stuff became redundant for me, and I got a lot going on personally so I needed a break from some of it.

    But things are back on track for the Dodgers. I never doubted their talent, and neither did the baseball experts, nor did the bettors. Even in the times of trouble the Dodgers were never counted out by any of them. And now we are favored to win the pennant and Roberts and the Dodgers are talking extension. I don’t care about the latter as I still maintain it’s ALWAYS about the talent on the field and we got plenty of that.

    It’s all good guys.

    Dodgers favored -190. 7 runs. I got the Blue – 5-3.

    1. Glad to have a true Dodger fan back on board…..Hope all is well at home old friend and I hope the wife gets better…

  11. Machado not having a memorable playoff debut, has struck out 3 times and made an error. But Hernandez, Muncy and Pederson have gone deep. 5-0 in the 8th.

  12. Can’t really knock Roberts after tonight.

    Ryu great. Pederson started the team off right.

    I’m not a huge fan of the quick hook with Wood, but if that’s the biggest quibble life is good.

    The depth of this team is pretty outstanding. Kemp, Dozier and Taylor all on the bench and still win six nil.

    1. He gave up two hits, and Roberts did not want to chance a HR ball and give the Braves any kind of hope. It was the right move.

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