How Did Clayton Kershaw Get Bombed?

The last time Clayton Kershaw allowed a run, his team was trailing the Giants in the National League West by seven and a half games. The Dodgers have since caught up, in part because of the whole thing where Clayton Kershaw hasn’t allowed any runs, and for as much as this is a particularly pitcher-friendly era for the game, Kershaw these days has achieved a basically impossible level, standing out from the group of pitchers standing out from the rest of the pitchers. If the best pitchers get strikeouts while limiting walks and homers, 2014 Kershaw has been just about perfect, improving from a Cy Young campaign that was his second in three years.

It is absolute silliness that Clayton Kershaw owns a 1.85 ERA. I’ll note also, for good measure, he hasn’t allowed a single unearned run. It is additional absolute silliness that Kershaw is one start away from possessing a 1.16 ERA. Through 13 starts, he’s allowed 18 runs, but in 12 of those starts, he’s allowed a combined 11 runs. On May 17, Kershaw allowed 39% of his runs in 8% of his appearances, getting yanked in the second inning. Kershaw entered that game with a 1.74 ERA. Since that game, he’s posted a 0.97 ERA. That was a start that didn’t at all fit the greater pattern, so it makes you wonder: how did it happen? How did Clayton Kershaw get bombed by the Diamondbacks in the middle of May?

Let’s take a look. If nothing else, this post reveals what an actually mortal Clayton Kershaw can look like. It is an increasingly unfamiliar image.

Something to point out right away: the game was a mystery to Kershaw himself. Though he’d earlier had a DL stint, he’d shaken off any rust, so the pain was a distant memory. He made his next start and spun six shutout innings, so this wouldn’t have been anything physical. Kershaw wasn’t sick, and he didn’t make any excuses, at the time or after the fact. His velocity readings were normal. The roof in Arizona was closed, so there weren’t any environmental considerations.

In 1.2 innings, Kershaw allowed seven runs. Another way to put that: in 0.2 innings, Kershaw allowed seven runs, because his first inning was spotless. In the early going, there was no indication that Kershaw was about to go through a ten-batter nightmare. He got an out on his first pitch, and then he did this to Chris Owings:

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Then Paul Goldschmidt struck out, so, in all, Kershaw threw a 1-2-3 first with a pair of whiffs. That looked like ordinary Kershaw. The next Kershaw people would see in the game would be about four standard deviations below ordinary Kershaw. It all started with Cody Ross.

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That was Kershaw’s first pitch of the second inning, and though no one would’ve known at the time, this was a bit of foreshadowing. Kershaw flew open and badly missed with a fastball. Three pitches later, Kershaw missed again, and Ross took his base:

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Not good, but not dreadful. The same would’ve gone for Kershaw’s next matchup, facing Martin Prado. In a 2-and-2 count, Prado bounced a high fastball over the first baseman for a single to put runners on the corners:

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There’s a lot going on here. Kershaw, again, missed up and a little away with a fastball. That part of the process was bad. But Prado made fairly weak contact, so that part of the equation was good. But the contact was enough to get the ball into right field, so that part of the equation was bad. For Kershaw, this was both a lousy pitch and a lousy, unlucky result, with worse pitches yet to come.

You can say this: the Diamondbacks didn’t hit every mistake. The next batter was Alfredo Marte, and in a 1-and-2 count, Kershaw missed up with a curveball. He came back with another curve, and though it was elevated, Marte swung right through it, because Marte isn’t very good. Not every hung pitch got hammered.

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After Marte, Cliff Pennington quickly fell behind 0-and-2 after taking a pair of good low, inside fastballs. But hitters swing at most pitches in two-strike counts, and Kershaw’s pitch was a bad pitch, a curveball that stayed up at the belt. Pennington drilled a triple.

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Tuffy Gosewisch subsequently swung at a first-pitch fastball, which Kershaw had thrown to everyone. He made good enough contact to knock the ball past all the area infielders.

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The pitch was higher than Kershaw wanted. Unsurprisingly, that happened over and over again. The easiest thing to say would be that Kershaw wasn’t adequately finishing his pitches. After Gosewisch, the opposing pitcher bunted, bringing up A.J. Pollock. In another two-strike count, Kershaw tried to come with a breaking ball — this time, a slider — but the slider never snapped and it stayed in the wheelhouse, and Pollock had himself three bases.

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With the curveball and slider both hanging, Kershaw came after Owings with six consecutive fastballs. All of them were in similar spots, somewhat allowing Owings to time the pitch and focus on a zone. Owings came through with Arizona’s third triple in the span of five batters, one of whom put down a sacrifice bunt. Kershaw is the only pitcher in baseball this year to allow three triples in one appearance, and it took him only a fraction of said appearance. Though the pitch Owings drilled wasn’t necessarily in a bad spot, Kershaw hadn’t mixed things up, and he put the fastball where he likes to put two-strike sliders. An inning earlier, Kershaw got Owings to swing at a slider down and in, off the plate. Owings swung, thinking it was a fastball. Here he had to protect against that same pitch, but this pitch never broke.

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Up came Goldschmidt, and for four pitches, Kershaw was good enough, getting two balls and two strikes. Goldschmidt took a low fastball, and he took a slider down and in, but he also whiffed at a slider down and in, and he fouled off an inside heater. The fifth pitch was the mistake — the fifth pitch was a hung curve, on the inner third. Goldschmidt clobbered it.

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By that point there was activity in the bullpen and it was obvious that Kershaw was just about done. But the last showdown, against Ross, included its own humiliations, beginning with three consecutive balls and this gesture from Don Mattingly, urging A.J. Ellis to go have a chat.

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Almost immediately, that was followed by a balk, with Kershaw showing some frustration and carelessness.

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And then, finally, Ross saw his eighth ball out of eight pitches in one inning. Kershaw would be removed, his ERA having climbed into the mid-4s.

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Clayton Kershaw, that night, made an uncharacteristic amount of mistakes, and he was perhaps disproportionately punished for them. It’s hard to believe now, but there was some concern about him, and here’s an example post from Mark Saxon:

Kershaw’s best put-away pitch is in a slump. Remember when Vin Scully, while watching Kershaw pitch a spring training game as a 19-year old, wearing uniform No. 96, called his curveball “public enemy No. 1?” Well, right now, it’s its own worst enemy.

But here’s something Buster Olney just wrote the other day:

A.J. Ellis, Kershaw’s catcher, traces the left-hander’s current performance back to a start he made against the Diamondbacks on May 17, when he allowed seven runs in 1 2/3 innings. Most of the damage done in that game, Ellis noted, was against breaking pitches, and Kershaw came out of that performance angry and determined to throw his curveball and slider better.

With the way he’s throwing his slider and curve now, Ellis said, “they look like they’re strikes forever, and then bottom out.”

It almost sounds like non-information: pitcher who got hit attempted to throw better pitches. But, obviously, Kershaw has been sharper since. The reason is as simple as improved mechanical consistency, as everything is always about improved mechanical consistency, and perhaps Kershaw came a bit out of whack given that his particular mechanics are unusually complicated and unusually timed. Since that inning in Arizona, Kershaw has seen seven runners cross the plate. Instead of scoring in one inning, those seven have scored over 65.

In a sense, in that game against Arizona, Kershaw wasn’t himself. Obviously, he wasn’t himself. In another sense, you notice that Prado’s hit came in a two-strike count. Pennington’s hit came in a two-strike count. Pollock’s hit came in a two-strike count, and so did Owings’ hit, and so did Goldschmidt’s hit. Even without his command, Kershaw was coming one pitch away from sitting these hitters down. Not every pitch in a bad game is a bad pitch. Not every pitch in a good game is a good pitch. Everything turns on a smaller handful of mistakes or great deliveries.

To get hit, to get beat around, Clayton Kershaw had to make mistakes. He had to make some of the worst possible mistakes — leaving breaking pitches up in counts where the hitters would be aggressive. The inning happened without warning, and just as there were no signs before, there were no signs after. As evidenced by the events of May 17, Clayton Kershaw isn’t immune to ugly big innings, and if Kershaw isn’t immune, no one’s immune. Such an inning could happen to anybody. But Kershaw came away determined to never let anything of the sort happen to him again, and the only reasonable conclusion we can draw is, mission accomplished, to date. It’s nuts that Kershaw was charged with seven runs in one frame against the Diamondbacks, but that frame might in part have led to the frames we’ve seen more recently. That’s what one might refer to as winning the war.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Jacob Jackson
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1 year 11 months ago

Terrific piece. It’s obvious from the stats you include, and the gifs, that you put a tremendous amount of time into your writing. Reading your work teaches me new things, like what Zach Lowe does for NBA writing and Barnwell does for the NFL.

PWR
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PWR
1 year 11 months ago

yea he Jeff akin to Lowe…just more long winded

PWR
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PWR
1 year 11 months ago

yea Jeff is akin to Lowe…just more long winded. but that’s his thing so i don’t complain.

Bill Simmons
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Bill Simmons
1 year 11 months ago

(twiddles fingers)

‘Excellent…’

Boris Chinchilla
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Boris Chinchilla
1 year 11 months ago

AND unlike the stupid fucking nba, Jeff likes the NW!

Chris K
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Chris K
1 year 11 months ago

“Kershaw, again, missed up and a little away with a fastball. That part of the process was bad. But Prado made fairly weak contact, so that part of the equation was good. But the contact was enough to get the ball into right field, so that part of the equation was bad.” The frogurt is also cursed. That’s bad. But you get your choice of toppings. That’s good. The toppings contain potassium benzoate.

Homer Simpson says
Guest
Homer Simpson says
1 year 11 months ago

Woo Hoo!

King Buzzo's Fro
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King Buzzo's Fro
1 year 11 months ago

THAT’S BAD

Semi Pro
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Semi Pro
1 year 11 months ago

Can I go now?

MikeS
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MikeS
1 year 11 months ago

He is “only” 23 IP away from Hershiser’s 59 consecutive scoreless. That’s kind of amazing.

Brandon Webb
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Brandon Webb
1 year 11 months ago

When he gets to 42 scoreless innings, he can start to brag. And then be reminded at how quick the mighty fall in this game.

Stan Gable
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Stan Gable
1 year 11 months ago

Hey, I remember you. I think we might’ve had Geography together.

Ben
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Ben
1 year 11 months ago

In case anyone’s wondering how I got bombed last night, the answer is Founders Devil Dancer.

olethros
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olethros
1 year 11 months ago

Excellent choice, though I prefer Double Trouble.

King Buzzo's Fro
Guest
King Buzzo's Fro
1 year 11 months ago

Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout, in the off-season, hiyo!

Law office of Beckett, Lackey & Lester
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Law office of Beckett, Lackey & Lester
1 year 11 months ago

We got bombed on Budweiser and fried chicken

SassyApples
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SassyApples
1 year 11 months ago

He also got bombed in one inning in the NLCS vs. the Cardinals. Similar issues I assume?

What Short Rest says
Guest
What Short Rest says
1 year 11 months ago

Those dirty redbirds. My arm was tired.

Sandy Koufax
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Sandy Koufax
1 year 11 months ago

Pitch a three-hit shutout in Game 7 of the World Series on two-days of rest, after throwing 100 innings in the previous six weeks, and you can tell me how tired your arm is, Son.

Walter
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Walter
1 year 11 months ago

And how’d that work out for you?

Nolan Ryan
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Nolan Ryan
1 year 11 months ago

The problem with that line of thinking is me.

I threw 254 pitches one night against Boston. Struck out 19 in 13 innings. Walked 10. Next morning before going to the ballpark I wrastled two feisty steers who didn’t want to get branded. Two days later I shut out the Yankees.

Fifteen years later, when I was 42, I averaged only 127 pitches per start. So maybe you have a point.

But to say that Sandy Koufax, my idol and the pitcher whose mechanics I emulated, had his elbow break down from overuse after a mere 2,300 innings is no more or less credible than saying the reason I threw 5,300 innings is due to working even more than Koufax.

Cardinal Fan
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Cardinal Fan
1 year 11 months ago

No, the Cardinals are just the greatest lineup of all time and they were able to expose Kershaw for the average pitcher he is.

Sports Media
Guest
Sports Media
1 year 11 months ago

Classiest comment ever.

Chris
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Chris
1 year 11 months ago

It seems to me that Kershaw is very good as long as he’s very good (which is most of the time). That said, when he gets frustrated, he can go down hill pretty fast (a la the start in the post) if he doesn’t right the ship quickly enough.

My analysis of that start against the Cardinals is that the whole thing hinged on that eleven pitch at bat against Matt Carpenter (in the fourth I think?). Carp ripped a double, and Kershaw was out of sync from there on out.

Again, great pitcher when he doesn’t get upset, but that battle was one he wanted to win and he let it get under his skin. The psychology of such things is hard to substantiate, but is undeniably in play.

Elliot
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Elliot
1 year 11 months ago

I like how you just made up everything in this post

GMH
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GMH
1 year 11 months ago

I would have settled for Chase Field. Granted, it’s only 9 career starts spread out over his entire career. But he’s struggled there, especially with his control, even when facing less than stellar lineups. Chase Field is a ridiculously good hitter’s park with the best hitter’s eye in all of baseball. Perhaps Kershaw’s ability to hide the ball during his motion makes his breaking pitches much more difficult to pick up, but that deception is offset by Chase Field’s hitter’s eye. Or maybe the mound at Chase Field isn’t to Kershaw’s liking.

Mr Scout
Guest
1 year 11 months ago

REGRESSION!!!

Mike
Member
Mike
1 year 11 months ago

“Not every pitch in a bad game is a bad pitch. Not every pitch in a good game is a good pitch.” Here we see baseball as an analogy for life itself. Thanks Jeff for the great piece.

Matt
Guest
Matt
1 year 11 months ago

I admit, as a Kershaw owner, I was terrified after that game. I worried that his arm was busted, that he was next in line for TJS, that he never recovered from the injury and was going back on the DL, etc…

I guess by now I should feel comfortable about his performance the rest of the year, right?

WasESPNdown
Guest
WasESPNdown
1 year 11 months ago

And here’s That Guy to make a nuanced, insightful piece all about his fantasy team.

Bill
Guest
Bill
1 year 11 months ago

You own him? Did the president add the 13th Amendment to the ones he’s now ignoring when I wasn’t paying attention?

rusty
Guest
rusty
1 year 11 months ago

Today ends in a “Y”. Must be Clayton Kershaw day.

dtpollitt
Member
Member
dtpollitt
1 year 11 months ago

Wonderful piece, thanks Jeff, always informative and enjoyable to read your work.

thebamoor
Member
thebamoor
1 year 11 months ago

“It is additional absolute silliness that Kershaw is one start away from possessing a 1.16 ERA.”

So? Plenty of pitchers had gone off on hotter starts than this. Quit huffin’ on the Kershaw glue.

thebamoor
Member
thebamoor
1 year 11 months ago

In addition, that 1.16 ERA was based on only 70-some innings.

Anon
Guest
Anon
1 year 11 months ago

Wainwright in 10 of his last 11 starts (May 7 through July 7 without the May 30 start) had an ERA below 1 in 76+ IP. He also had another 50 IP with a 2.16 ERA to start the season.

Elliot
Guest
Elliot
1 year 11 months ago

Kershaw has an ERA under 2.00 in 90+ starts. Your turn.

Clueless Moron
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Clueless Moron
1 year 11 months ago

I did not like this piece because it had absolutely nothing to do with my fantasy baseball team!

joser
Guest
joser
1 year 11 months ago

I have to say Jeff’s best writing often brings out the best (or at least the funniest) from the commenters. Well done, everyone (or at least most of you)!

Visnovsky
Member
Visnovsky
1 year 11 months ago

When I read the title of this article, I assumed it was going to be a breakdown of Kershaw downing shot after shot, Manziel Style.

Pete Carroll
Guest
1 year 11 months ago

I wonder if CK will start doing that thing with his fingers too?

Tim
Guest
Tim
1 year 11 months ago

Looks to me like there’s something minor wrong with his landing leg. His balance is much worse in the later gifs than in the first one.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
1 year 11 months ago

His landing leg being his right? I don’t think that’s the issue anyway, I think his balance probably has more to do with how he shifts his weight over his leg during delivery. I think that he also will tend to fall to his right after the delivery even when everything is working.

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