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Kershaw Has a Problem That Isn’t Really a Problem

As one of the greatest pitchers of our generation, one might think that it is extremely unlikely that Clayton Kershaw would have what we would consider a ‘problem.’ As a seven-time All-Star, a three-time (potentially four-time) Cy Young winner, and an NL MVP, Kershaw has been the model of consistency over the past number of seasons, and as his career progressive ERA would dictate, he gets better each and every season. But if there were one knock on Kershaw, especially over the last season, he has been extremely prone to the long ball. His HR/9 rate in 2017 was 1.18, significantly higher than his previous high, which rang in at 0.92 in 2008. Between 2008 and 2017, the highest HR/9 during that span was 0.63 in 2012.

Also at a career high this season was his HR/FB rate. This season, he came in at 15.9%, compared to his previous career high, which also came in 2008, at 11.8%. So it wasn’t just an increased number of fly balls that led to his inflated HR/9, but as we can see with the high HR/FB rate, more of the fly balls hit left the yard.

Expanding on that even further, in his regular-season career, Kershaw has given up 128 home runs. Of those 128, 75 of them have been solo home runs (58.6%). This season, of the 23 home runs Kershaw surrendered, 15 of them were solo shots (65.2%). League-wide this season, of the 6105 home runs that were hit, 3495 were of the solo variety. This is 57.2%. Kershaw’s career average is on par with the major-league average, but this year, there is a significant spike in the percent of solo home runs that Kershaw gave up. Is this because Kershaw took it easy with the bases empty? Or because hitters have finally realized that stringing together three hits in an inning off of Kershaw can seem about as impossible as licking your elbow? (Real question is how many of you just tried to lick your elbow.)

Whether or not 2017 will turn out to be an outlier for Kershaw in terms of the home-run ball remains to be seen. Will hitters continue on the same trend, thinking that the long ball is the only way to beat Kershaw? Only time will tell. As for things we do know, while giving up the most home runs of his career, Kershaw still remained near the top of the list of best pitchers in the game. And while he missed six starts in July/August, he will still receive numerous Cy Young votes, although I predict he will come up short.

Kershaw, as proven last Thursday night in the Dodgers’ 11-1 rout of the Cubs to clinch the NL Pennant, remains terrific. The home run that Kershaw gave up to Kris Bryant was a cheap one. The ball was hit at 94mph, at a 32 degree launch angle. The expected average given that combination is an abysmal .136, and is a home run just 6% of the time (via Mike Petriello). Granted, not all home runs that Kershaw gives up are like that, but maybe Kershaw just ran into some bad luck this past season.

So given Kershaw’s resume, and the fact that he somehow finds a way to lower his career ERA each and every season, just how good could Kershaw be next year if he fixes his “problem?” The sky’s the limit, and if anyone could reach the sky, it would be Kershaw.

Jerry Layne May Have Cost the Nationals Their Season

Let’s set the scene here. Top of the fifth inning, two out, two on. Your ace has come into the game, and given up the lead. All you’re looking to do is to minimize the damage. Just when it looks like you’re out of the jam with a big strikeout from Scherzer, the ball scoots between Wieters’ legs, and heads to the backstop. The one wrinkle, you might ask? Oh yeah, Wieters gets hit on the backswing by Baez. Now, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Baez hit Wieters, or so we think. The average casual baseball fan might be wondering if something could be called.

Some more experienced baseball fans may be inclined to say that was unintentional backswing interference, but in this scenario, that is wrong. Some may think that since Baez didn’t hit him intentionally, there should be no penalty.

Now for the good stuff. In the Official 2017 MLB Rulebook, the comment under rule 6,01 a) states:

“If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire‚Äôs judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.”

and the PBUC manual even goes slightly further to elaborate on this. On top of the official MLB ruling, it adds, “If this infraction should occur in a situation where the batter would normally become a runner because of a third strike not caught, the ball should be dead and the batter declared out.”

So was Wieters right to be frustrated with the non-call? Absolutely. Should Dusty have tried his case a bit further? Probably. Jerry Layne and his crew missed a call that ended up costing the Nationals two runs in a game that they ended up losing by a single run. If Layne gets this call right, does Scherzer get another inning? Does getting out of a jam wake up the Nationals’ bats for a big inning to propel them to the NLCS? I guess we’ll never know.