Clayton Kershaw is the best in the business.
There is no shortage of accolades for Kershaw, a seven-time All-Star who has a 2014 NL MVP award, three Cy Young trophies, and three other top-five finishes. He has accrued 58.1 fWAR before his 30th birthday. He has pitched to a 1.95 ERA and nifty 2.21 FIP, and posted a 26.0 K-BB% since the start of 2013 – all of which rank as the best among starting pitchers in baseball. Only seven other starters have thrown more innings during that time span, and only Max Scherzer has more wins.
Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher of his generation and is on pace to make a case to be the best of all time.
But let it be known that, so far, Kershaw’s postseason results remain a different animal.
Things change for Kershaw when the calendar flips to the postseason. His strand rate dips from 79 percent to 63.9 percent. The percentage of fly balls jumps from 34.1 percent to 40.1 percent, while the ground ball rate drops from 46.1 percent to 40 percent. And since fly balls leave the yard at an infinitely higher percentage than grounders (and since Kershaw’s postseason HR/FB% leaps from 7.8 percent to 14.3 percent), his home run rate more than doubles from 0.6 in the regular season to 1.3 in the playoffs.
The combination of baserunners who aren’t left stranded and an elevated home run rate adds up to Kershaw’s postseason ERA sitting at a whopping 4.63 (with a 3.60 FIP) compared to the 2.36 ERA (and 2.60) he owns in his career in the regular season. To be fair, anything that didn’t resemble the otherworldly regular season numbers was going to look like a disappointment.
But it isn’t the case that Kershaw is *always* bad in the postseason, despite what you may hear every year. Instead, the lefty has fired off eight quality starts in 15 chances – including five which have come in his last seven postseason starts.
Let’s dive into those quality starts:
|10-8-09||STL||ND (LAD 3-2)||6.2||9||2||4-1||1||106|
|10-3-13||@ ATL||W 1-0||7||3||1||12-3||0||123|
|10-7-13||ATL||ND (LAD 4-3)||6||3||2||6-1||0||91|
|10-12-13||@ STL||L 1-0||6||2||1||5-1||0||72|
|10-7-14||@ STL||L 3-2||6||4||3||9-2||1||102|
|10-13-15||@ NYM||W 3-1||7||3||1||8-1||1||94|
|10-16-16||@ CUBS||W 1-0||7||2||0||6-1||0||84|
It should go without saying, but when Kershaw is on, he’s on. He owns a 2.25 ERA in those eight starts to go along with a 4.4 K/BB ratio.
On the other side of the ledger, Kershaw also has six starts where he has given up at least four runs and worked fewer than seven innings. Let’s take a look at those:
|10-11-16||WASH||ND (LAD 6-5)||6.2||7||5||11-2||0||110|
|10-22-16||@ CUBS||L 5-0||5.0||7||4||4-0||2||93|
So, we’ve got some epic blowups here.
Five runs in 4.2 innings against a Phillies team that would win their second straight pennant. Seven runs in four innings against a Cardinals team that would go on to win the pennant, but fall to the Red Sox in the World Series. Eight runs in 6.2 innings against the Cardinals the next year (despite striking out 10 without issuing a walk). And nine homers in those six starts.
While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about those home runs. Because nine home runs in 33.1 innings and a 2.4 HR/9 ratio is eye-popping for anyone. And frankly, it’s hard not to notice the six home runs allowed in the last 11.1 innings of postseason work.
Here is a list of the players who have homered off Clayton Kershaw in the postseason: A.J. Pollock, J.D. Martinez, Ketel Marte, Jeff Mathis, Randal Grichuk, Matt Carpenter, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Daniel Murphy (twice), Matt Adams, Matt Holliday, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino.
All things considered, there is no shame in giving up homers to guys like Martinez, Rizzo, Holliday, or even (cringes) Murphy. But it’s the home runs to unexpected bats that raise eyebrows. Particularly, against those pesky Cardinals.
Does this mean Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason? No. But the numbers should serve as a reminder that even the best can be beaten on any given day, especially if you can send the ball out of the park.