One of my favorite things about baseball is how Clayton Kershaw has never been able to master a changeup. There’s absolutely no one in baseball who needs a changeup less than Clayton Kershaw, but, drive is drive. He’s been frustrated by his own lack of progress, because as far as he’s concerned, he’ll forever see room for improvement. He still has an ERA. Runs are mistakes.
Kershaw wants to be better. It doesn’t matter to him how silly that sounds. He’s willing to try different things, and that brings us to this past weekend, when Kershaw and the Dodgers blew out the Rockies. We’re going to fast-forward to the seventh inning, when the Dodgers were up by eight runs. Actually, no, before we do that, here’s an image from Texas Leaguers. Kershaw’s estimated 2016 release points:
Three pitches stand out. Here’s the high one, from April:
You might’ve forgotten about that. The baseball season is long. Anyway, now, seventh inning, facing the Rockies. Here’s Kershaw throwing a pretty ordinary Kershaw-y pitch to Nolan Arenado:
Real good pitch. Here’s the following delivery:
You see that? So, Arenado singled. He was shortly eliminated. With two outs, up came Gerardo Parra. A typical Kershaw pitch:
And, the very next pitch:
You see Parra look out at the mound. Arenado did the same thing. That’s presumably because Kershaw gave them both a sudden, weird, different look. I’ll use screenshots now. The first of the two shown Parra pitches:
The second of the two shown Parra pitches:
Look at the arm. Look at the release point. Two times in the seventh inning, with the leverage about as low as it can get, Clayton Kershaw dropped down. He threw one ball, and he threw one strike, which earned a strikeout. Here’s a one-image comparison, with the ordinary release point shown by the yellow dot:
Just as Clayton Kershaw doesn’t need a changeup, he doesn’t need a second slot. He’s already the best at what he does in the game. But, I mean, what’s the harm? Especially at 8-0? I’m going to guess he’s tried this a few times in the bullpen. Might as well see if it plays in a game, with the playoffs coming up. Anything for an edge. I suppose even the best players have to work hard to remain the best.
I will say, Kershaw’s low-slot delivery doesn’t look so smooth. It doesn’t quite seem comfortable, and maybe you shouldn’t expect it to. That’s not how he’s thrown, but that second fastball was perfectly located, and you don’t need to be flawless if you’re offering a second look, for the surprise of it. The ball gets to the catcher in less than half a second. That doesn’t give hitters much time to process. I wonder if this was Kershaw’s idea, or if he’s been having conversations with Rich Hill. Hill loves his unpredictability. Imagine Hill’s deception with Kershaw’s stuff.
Or, don’t. The result would be terrifying. And besides, there’s not yet any indication this is going to keep up. For the time being, all we know is that Clayton Kershaw tried an experiment two times in a low-leverage inning. Maybe that’s all we’ll ever see. Or maybe, you know, it’s not. What am I, God?