Click the chart below to enlarge.
I created the Clayton Kershaw Postseason Chart two years ago to communicate how Kershaw has been both great and terrible and everywhere in between during the postseason.
The Dodgers’ brief window in the 2019 playoffs didn’t change the narrative. In his first start, he pitched well enough to win but didn’t. Then he had a disastrous relief outing, his first such nightmare out of the bullpen in a decade.
Kershaw has made 25 career playoff starts. Here’s how they break down:
- In green, the 11 games in which Kershaw has indisputably pitched at the level of an ace. (In those 11 starts: 72 2/3 innings, 73 strikeouts, 1.11 ERA.)
- In orange, five additional games in which Kershaw has allowed at most two runs through his first six innings, more than giving the Dodgers a chance to win, but for any kind of support from the bullpen, offense or the fates.
- In yellow, four games that are a mixed bag, somewhere in between good and terrible. Like the 2018 World Series finale, Kershaw was tagged early in his 2019 playoff debut but ended up with a quality start through six innings.
- In red, five starts that are the unmitigated disasters on the Kershaw postseason ledger. Game 5 of the 2017 World Series — when he was so good for the first three innings, before he let things get away — of course has a much different feel based on what we learned about the Astros over the winter. (In fact, all five of the red games took place away from Dodger Stadium.)
- In light gold (I think — my color-blindness isn’t helping here), Kershaw’s seven relief appearances, including last year’s nightmare but also his two series-clinching saves. Before 2019, Kershaw had thrown 5 2/3 innings straight innings of scoreless postseason relief.
It’s up to you how to interpret these results. If you think any start that isn’t in the green is horrible, so be it. If you think the orange and yellow categories aren’t all bad, that’s fine as well. Maybe you even think I put certain games in the wrong category. Where I drew the lines is subjective.
My only purpose with this chart is to make it easy for people to see that Kershaw isn’t an automatic zero in the playoffs. In 16 of his starts, he has allowed no more than two earned runs over his first six innings. In 11 of those, he has been aces. That’s not something to dismiss.
Kershaw’s 2020 numbers are an across-the-board improvement over the previous regular season, including ERA, fielding-independent ERA, WHIP and homer, walk and strikeout rates. He will be backed by a bullpen that is (with small-season caveats) the best in National League history and certainly in competition with the best he’s had in his career. There’s no reason to expect Kershaw will carry the Dodgers to a World Series title flawlessly. But between the Dodger offense, defense and relievers, the dream of a title that will top off his career remains very much alive.