Click the chart below to enlarge.
Please welcome back the Clayton Kershaw Postseason Chart, which I introduced a year ago to illustrate how Kershaw has been both great and terrible in the postseason.
Not only terrible. Great and terrible.
We have nearly reached the end of the ’10s, and though selections of the Dodgers’ all-decade team should probably wait until after the 2019 World Series, these few days of relative calm before the storm of the postseason seemed like a good time to reveal them. Nothing is likely to affect these choices between now and then (although I’m fascinated by the idea that something could).
Most challenging was having to deal with five legitimate candidates for the four openings at outfield/first base. Catcher was nearly a toss-up, and second base yielded its own surprise.
Here we go …
I was 40 years old when Clayton Kershaw first pitched for the Dodgers. He was 20. Brand, spanking new. Back then, he was a perfect toy for my midlife Dodger fan crisis.
Now, there are newer, flashier cars, and he doesn’t run quite like he used to, but he’ll always be my favorite. Classic.
We’re a generation apart, but I feel like we’re growing old together. And I think there’s going to come a day when I look back and think of him as the greatest pitcher of my youth.
Clayton Kershaw is by far the most dominant pitcher for the Dodgers — if not all of Major League Baseball — in the 21st century. Not surprisingly, he has pitched the game of the year for the Dodgers more times than anyone else.
But using the tried and true Game Score formula as a barometer, Kershaw has topped the charts in only four of his 11 big-league seasons. During the Kershaw era, some unexpected names have stolen the spotlight from Kershaw, if only for a moment.
In fact, in the 13 seasons from 2001 through 2013, 13 different pitchers had the top Game Score for the Dodgers.
Here’s a year-by-year rundown of the Dodgers’ best Game Score performances each year, dating back to 2000.
This post has been updated below.
Clayton Kershaw, who will be starting Game 2, not Game 1, of the National League Division Series this week, has been both great and terrible in the playoffs.
Some people have trouble holding these two thoughts simultaneously. It shouldn’t be that hard.
I’ve written countless words over the years about Kershaw’s postseason record, not to excuse his failings, but simply to argue that his successes should be acknowledged as well. There’s no doubt that he has had opportunities to completely silence the naysayers — Game 5 of the 2017 World Series the most recent, painful example — but regardless, he has been far better than he is given credit for.
This time around, I’m kind of giving up on words. Here’s a chart of Kershaw’s 19 playoff starts (leaving out such relief appearances as his four shutout innings in Game 7 of the World Series or his save in Game 5 of the 2016 National League Division Series). Click to enlarge.
Basically, that means in 11 of the 19 postseason starts Kershaw has made, he has done the job. It’s less than you’d hope for from a Hall of Fame pitcher, but it certainly doesn’t match up with those who say he always chokes.
* * *
Update: When I posted the chart late Tuesday on Twitter, it generated quite a bit of feedback. Some of it I completely expected, but some caught me off guard — though perhaps it shouldn’t have. Anyway, I wanted to respond to a few points.
The small but vital message
I want to reiterate that I’m making a very specific point here. Sometimes Kershaw is great in the playoffs. I am not trying to rewrite history and claim that the devastating moments haven’t been devastating. I am trying to rescue the many great moments he has had from obscurity.
“Great then terrible”
Quite a few people quibbled with my comments on the individual games — for example, the idea that Game 5 of the 2017 World Series wasn’t just completely terrible. I was being pretty literal — Kershaw retired the first nine batters (great), then gave up six runs (terrible). Basically, any game in which Kershaw started strong but then more or less imploded got the “great then terrible” designation.
In the “great” category, I got some questions about the five-inning 2017 NLCS Game 1 outing. While that’s maybe borderline, I didn’t want to penalize Kershaw because he went out for a pinch-hitter in a close game. He held a strong opponent to two runs over five innings. Call it “good” instead of “great” if it makes you happy. It was still what the Dodgers needed.
I think we can agree to disagree on those evaluations, because again, I’m not trying to split hairs about Kershaw’s disappointing outings here. I’m trying to call out the successes amid the failures. That’s why the Matt Adams game, in which Kershaw was great all the way until giving up the two soft singles and the home run, is in the same broad (yellow) category, even though arguably, Kershaw did not deserve to lose that game. That’s why the games in which a better bullpen would have saved Kershaw are also in the yellow category.
The yellow games are the ones that had mitigating circumstances, but ultimately didn’t deliver. There are eight of those games — counting the one truly outing I felt was truly mixed. Add in the two outings where Kershaw was basically off his game from the beginning, and you have almost an even split between successful and unsuccessful outings.
Does great + terrible = mediocre?
I said he’s been great and terrible. Mediocre is the average of those two things.
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) October 3, 2018
I had this civil exchange on Twitter, in which I said (agreed) that because Kershaw has been both great and terrible, that makes him mediocre. To some extent, I regret conceding that point, not so much because it’s wrong, but because I think it confuses what I’m trying to make plain.
What is it I’m trying to fight? I’m fighting the people who hear the words “Kershaw” and “playoffs” and immediately think “choker.” I’m fighting the people who see Kershaw falter in a big playoff game, and then say “just like always.”
It’s important to me (we’ll psychoanalyze why someday) that people understand that “always” is a falsehood, that Kershaw has had many brilliant playoff outings. He certainly hasn’t had enough of them. The failures have been, at times, horrific. But there is nothing automatic about Kershaw and the postseason — in either direction.
So yes, while “mediocre” does sum up the Kershaw playoff ledger to this point, and is certainly better than branding him a complete failure, I just think it can’t be emphasized enough the importance of the great games that he has had. It’s the reason I italicized the “and” in the headline at the top of this post. Kershaw in the postseason has been both great and terrible. Everyone remembers the terrible. Few remember the great. Until the baseball world fully digests this, I think Kershaw is being sold short.
Based on his poor final start of the regular season in San Francisco and his overall velocity decline in 2018, this is the least promising Kershaw postseason we’ve had since his rookie year, 10 years ago. (Special slap on the wrist, however, to the guy on Twitter who said “typical Kershaw” after last weekend’s Giants game — as if Kershaw hasn’t been uniformly superb in big September contests.) Many might have wondered after the ’17 Series if Kershaw had used up his last chance for playoff redemption, and many are probably still wondering that now.
Some people complained about Hyun-Jin Ryu getting Thursday’s NLDS Game 1 start instead of Kershaw, but I think those people are currently in the minority. If Kershaw could benefit from an extra day of rest, after all those Octobers starting on short rest, so be it. (Of course, one easily overlooked point is that Kershaw has a career 1.10 postseason ERA for his five starts on short rest.)
Based on the evidence we have, it’s hard to expect anything other than both good and bad starts from Kershaw in the playoffs (depending how long the Dodgers last). But in a sense, if Kershaw could end his 2018 playoff run on a good start — and, of course, if the Dodgers finally win the World Series — there is every chance that redemption will be at hand.
Once more, with feeling
Kershaw has been terrible in the postseason, but he has also been great.
I’m writing about an event that likely won’t come to pass, an event that most Dodger fans hope doesn’t come to pass.
But as their three-game series at San Francisco begins tonight, the Dodgers could soon be facing as many as four consecutive do-or-die games to reach the National League Division Series.
Whether it happens on the first or last day of October, the 2018 Dodger season will end in a matter of weeks, and the legendary Clayton Kershaw, if healthy, will likely exercise his option to tear up his current contract and seek a new one.
It’s not that the $65 million Kershaw is promised from 2019-2020 isn’t a lovely sum. But at this moment, Kershaw is better positioned to go for his next big contract this winter, rather than taking the chance of having a better profile two years down the road.
It’s been six months since I last brought up this topic, and my opinion hasn’t changed. While other teams might engage in serious talks with Kershaw as a free agent, I still think the odds strongly favor him returning to Chavez Ravine on a new or extended deal. I explained why in great detail in the previous post, but to boil things down to a single thought: There is no franchise for whom Kershaw means more than the Los Angeles Dodgers, and it makes sense that their contract offer will reflect that.
It’s that point I wish to expand upon here.
Understandably, there will be no shortage of opinion out there that the Dodgers would be better off allocating their future resources somewhere besides Kershaw’s wallet. Sentiment be damned, the 30-year-old lefty is no longer at his peak, and the forthcoming decline could be anything from disheartening to downright ugly. That’s before considering that, although he has already missed parts of four of the past five seasons with injuries, Kershaw hasn’t had the single knockout blow that has sidelined him for an entire year. How long can he keep dodging that freight train?
I hear that. And I want to state, for everyone to see, that I don’t care.
Sometime around 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, Clayton Kershaw will throw his first pitch in St. Louis since … that one.
It has been 47 months since Kershaw’s last pitch at Busch Stadium, 47 months since the curveball that Matt Adams pulverized for a three-run home run that cost the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the fourth and ultimately final game of the 2014 National League Division Series.
Pitcher wins are a nuisance as a measure of success and basically only qualify as trivia, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be interesting or deeply weird trivia.
And it’s interesting and deeply weird that for the first time in franchise history, the Dodgers might not have a single pitcher win 10 games this season.
All summer long, the big question for the Dodger pitching staff has been which relievers would serve as the bridge to Kenley Jansen.
But with the distressing news that Jansen will be sidelined at least into September with an irregular heartbeat, we now have to ponder not only the bridge, but the destination.
You can read all the options the Dodgers have available in my recent review of the Dodger pitching staff, and Dustin Nosler of Dodgers Digest has a post up today looking specifically at who might close in Jansen’s absence.
My focus today is on the fact that it’s obvious that the Dodgers, who will soon have seven starting pitchers available with the impending returns of Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu from the disabled list, will need to move at least one starting pitcher to the bullpen — two if they don’t go with a six-man rotation.
A year after they sent six players to the MLB All-Star Game, it’s more likely than not that the Dodgers will rely on the “every team gets a guy” rule simply to get one player to Washington D.C.
We still have nearly two months before the game is played (so you can question why I’m even writing about this right now), but if I were to make a prediction about who the 2018 Dodger All-Star will be, I might just pick a guy who has played in only seven games so far this year: Clayton Kershaw.
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Dodgers at home: 1,028-812 (.558695)
When Jon attended: 338-267 (.558677)*
When Jon didn’t: 695-554 (.556)
* includes road games attended
Dodgers at home: 51-35 (.593)
When Jon attended: 5-2 (.714)
When Jon didn’t: 46-33 (.582)
Note: I got so busy working for the Dodgers that in 2014, I stopped keeping track, much to my regret.