Clayton Kershaw is without a doubt one of the finest left-handed pitchers I have ever seen. I’ve had the priledge to see him pitch in-person, and even though he destroyed the Diamondbacks that day, I get to tell the future children I may or may not ever have that I got to see Kershaw pitch.
He has put up some of the most outrageous numbers over the course of his career and his numerous Cy Young awards have gone uncontested. No one else active in the MLB has even come close to deserving the accolades he has racked up in his seven year career with the Dodgers. His career ERA is 2.43 and his career WHIP is 1.03. That’s ridiculous.
However, Kershaw is a totally different pitcher when the calendar flips to October.
Last night, he actually pitched a very good game against the Mets, but got out-dueled by Jacob de Grom, a kid with epic hair who is making the MLB minimum salary. Kershaw, unfortunately, did not have his team’s offense behind him, but he still still pitched a great game. He gave up 4 hits, 3 runs, and one homer, but he also struck out 11 batters. Eleven. That’s nuts! The problem is that Kershaw really struggled against the left-handed hitters in the Mets’ line-up. As everyone knows, Southpaw pitchers are typically brutal on left-handed hitters, but for some reason, Kershaw actually has better numbers against right-handed hitters. In 2015, RHBs had a .192 BA/.239 OBP/.272 SLG and LHBs had a .203 BA/.231 OBP/.323 SLG. In other words, Kershaw owned everyone, but he had just a smidge more success with right-handed batters.
His postseason struggles are reflected in his stats:
2008: 2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO – 1.5 WHIP, 4.50 ERA
2009: 13.1 IP, 14 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 7 BB, 10 SO – 1.58 WHIP, 6.08 ERA
2013: 23 IP, 18 H, 11 R, 8 ER, 7 BB, 28 SO – 1.09 WHIP, 3.13 ERA
2014: 12.2 IP, 12 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 2 BB, 19 SO – 1.11 WHIP, 7.82 ERA
So what gives? How could a pitcher as prolific as Kershaw completely crap the bed come October?
To be honest, I’m not quite sure. It is possible it’s fatigue. After all, he’s been a beast all year, so something has to give, right? It’s well proven that some players just do not do well come October. My boo A-Rod, for example. In his magnificent career he’s averaged out to be a .297 hitter. In the postseason? His BA goes down to .259 and his strikeouts shoot up. Not everyone can be a Carlos Betran or Derek Jeter. I mean, they didn’t call them Senor Octobre and Mr. November for nothing. Not everyone can be a Panda Pablo Sandoval.
Can he handle the big stage and all the pressure? I am sure he can, after all, he plays for the team with the highest payroll in baseball. And, he plays in Los Angeles, the second-harshest media market (but I love the New York teams, so I could be a bit biased). He has nothing but pressure with every start, so I find the idea of him not responding well to the pressure a bit silly.
He has also had the misfortune of being out-dueled by other great pitchers. See, the thing about the postseason is that almost every team has a very good pitching staff. Kershaw has a lot of talent behind him defensively, too, and has had a very good offense supporting him. However, every single team in the postseason is going to challenge you and opponents are always better-than-average.
So what trips up Clayton Kershaw in October? I think it’s a combination of things. I don’t know that we can find one singular cause of his October woes. If we could, he would have corrected it by now. Perhaps it’s a combination of exhaustion, body wear and tear, good opposing pitching, and a touch of bad luck. I have a sneaky suspicion his time will come. Kershaw shines so much during the regular season that there is no way he won’t shine at some point in the postseason.
A HUGE thanks to ESPN for giving me all the stats I needed!