People are talking about even years and Madison Bumgarner threw a shutout last night, so you know what that means: It’s October! Light ’em up, it’s written in the stars that there’s only one October.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will begin their postseason journey tomorrow against the Washington Nationals, with Clayton Kershaw taking the mound against Max Scherzer. Of course, there was no question about who the Dodgers would send to the mound in Game 1, because Kershaw is the best pitcher on the Dodgers or any other team.
Every once in a while, someone will tweet something positive about Kershaw — something like, “Clayton Kershaw is a really good pitcher.” You know, controversial stuff like that. Almost without fail, some genius will reply with, “HE SUX IN TEH POSTSEASON THO!!!”
Here are just a couple examples:
On May 7, Dodgers announcer Joe Davis tweeted this:
Clayton Kershaw is now 80-0 when the Dodgers get him 4 runs. That is absurd.
— Joe Davis (@Joe_Davis) May 7, 2016
A Twitter user with the phrase “cardsfan” in his handle replied. Now, you can guess that it was a reasoned, logical reply, because Cardinals fans are nothing if not educated, respectful, and unbiased. This particular fan’s response (using screenshots with handles removed because I don’t want these people getting attention):
Another tweeter with no apparent rooting interest said this:
Just a couple weeks ago, I was at a game where Kershaw hit a line drive single with two outs to drive in a run, and I tweeted this:
Clayton Kershaw is the best ever at everything.
— Jeff J. Snider (@snidog) September 25, 2016
This one prompted a reply from someone in Los Angeles. He appears to be one of those self-loathing fans that every team has, the kind who insulates himself from the potential pain of disappointment by just being an a-hole about his “favorite” team all the time. He tweeted at me:
It took me a couple weeks to write about this because I’ve been in the burn unit recovering from getting pwned by Angry Dodgers Twitter.
But now that I am over the burn, I would like to present a clear, passionate case for why you would want Clayton Kershaw pitching as often as possible for you in the postseason. I think I can sum it up in nine words:
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the universe.
That’s it. Why would you want Kershaw in the postseason? Because he’s really freaking good at pitching. Pick a really good active pitcher. Got one? Cool, who did you pick? Nevermind, I don’t care — Kershaw is better.
“But he chokes in the postseason!” you scream at your computer. (Do you kids these days even have computers, or do you read on your phone? I’m old, and I’m still insecure about whether I used “pwned” correctly four paragraphs back.) Anyway, if you think there is something mystical about the postseason that causes Kershaw to choke, the burden is on you to prove it. But just to make the case abundantly clear to the jury, let’s look at some evidence that your theory is worthless.
First, let’s look at May 17, 2014. You remember that game, right? Kershaw got lit up by the Diamondbacks, allowing seven runs in 1.2 innings. His game score was 16, which is really bad. It was a terrible performance, and we were all shocked and dismayed.
Obviously, what we learned that day is that Kershaw can’t handle the pressure of pitching on the road in mid-May against a last-place team. Well, until his next start, when he pitched six shutout innings in Philadelphia against the last-place Phillies.
“But there’s no pressure in those games!”
Well, I think no pressure is a bit of an overstatement. Pitching in a major-league game against major-league hitters is something that you and I could not do very well, and pretty much anything you get paid millions of dollars to do, you are going to feel some pressure to do it well. But no, on the How Much Pressure Was on the Pitcher meter, mid-May games against the DBacks and Phillies are not as high as some other games.
How about a September game against your team’s biggest rival with the division title on the line? Is there some pressure there? Kershaw pitched (and won) the division-clinching games against the San Francisco Giants in both 2014 and 2015. Here are his numbers in those games:
“But that’s not the postseason!”
Of course not. So let’s look at the 2013 postseason, shall we? Of course, we all remember that Kershaw pitched poorly in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Cardinals. Cardinals must own him, right? Well, six days earlier, he had allowed two hits and zero earned runs in six innings against that same Cardinals team. In fact, in the 2013 postseason before that NLCS Game 6, Kershaw had allowed one earned run and eight hits in 19 innings. In the clincher against the Braves in the NLDS, he pitched six innings and allowed three hits and zero earned runs.
I am not going to pretend that Kershaw didn’t have two bad starts. They came in consecutive games and both happened to come against the Cardinals, but that is meaningless. He also had two very good starts against the Cards in that same time period. So he had two bad starts. I wonder if we can find any other examples of really good pitchers having back-to-back bad starts in the postseason.
Would you look at that? Who could that be? Oh, just Postseason Legend Madison Bumgarner, losing Game 2 of the NLDS in 2012 to put his team in an 0-2 hole that they climbed out of without him, and following it up by getting destroyed by the (who else?) Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Just for fun, let’s look at Kershaw’s postseason stats since he became Clayton Kershaw, Master of the Universe with those to bad games removed. Without those two starts, his postseason numbers look like this:
Now let’s look at Kershaw’s overall regular season numbers during that same time period:
As it turns out, if you treat those two bad games as the anomalies they are, his postseason performance is almost exactly the same as his historically good regular-season performance.
“But you can’t just take out bad performances! They really happened!”
Wow, you’re really passionate about this. And yes, you are right, they really happened. And when we’re discussing the Official Historical Record of What Really Happened, we will definitely have to leave those games in there.
But what we’re talking about here is what we think is likely to happen the next time Kershaw pitches in the postseason, and the time after that. And when it comes to that, we have 38.2 innings of absolute dominance in the postseason that matches up perfectly with 816 innings of absolute dominance in the regular season. That’s on one side of the scale. On the other side, we have two bad starts, with 10.2 total innings pitched.
So we’ve proven that he can pitch under pressure. We’ve proven that he can succeed in the postseason. We’ve proven that he is ridiculously good. And we’re two years removed from his last bad postseason game. The case seems pretty open and shut to me.
Don’t be simpleminded. Don’t be a self-loathing member of Angry Dodgers Twitter. Be smart, and recognize that, whether it’s April or July or October, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and there’s no one you’d rather have on the mound than him.
I rest my case.