As Dave Cameron wrote earlier today, Clayton Kershaw dominated last night’s Opening Day pitching matchup with Tim Lincecum. Over seven innings he struck out nine while giving up just four hits, one walk and no runs. Dave noted that in the broadcast Orel Hershiser mentioned that the Dodgers were looking for Kershaw to throw his slider with more velocity this season. Plus, during the game, the slider looked great to me, so I wanted to turn to the trusty PITCHf/x data to see what was going on.
It does look like those sliders were faster than the ones he threw last year on average. Last night’s sliders average 84.0 mph compared with just 81.4 mph last year. On top of that a third of them last night were faster than 85mph, compared with only a handful of last year’s slider over 85 mph. None of Kershaw’s sliders last night was under 80mph compared to a fair fraction last year. On the other hand Kershaw did have three games last year when he average at least 84mph on his slider: April 13th, April 24th and May 4th.
So compared to his average slider last year he was throwing quite a bit harder, though not outside of the realm of what he did during some extreme games last year. As Dave noted maybe this hard slider (almost cut fastball) could be more effective against right-handed batters than a big sweeping slider. Last night that was certainly the case; Kershaw threw 12 sliders to right-handed batters and got three swinging strikes, three fouls, two called strikes, two outs in play and two balls.
Obviously, that is a tiny sample size. But this potential hard slider is definitely a thing to keep on eye on with Kershaw in the 2011 season, because if he does develop an effective secondary pitch against right-hand batters (his changeup isn’t great) he could erase part of his huge platoon split.