Dear Clayton Kershaw,
I am not a pitching coach, nor am I a scout or a sabermetrician or an analyst. But I have identified the solution to your struggles. In the spirit of goodwill, I will share the solution with you now, free of charge (although I wouldn’t turn down a tip).
The solution: time.
Give it time. Relax. Just keep doing what you’re doing, big guy.
Because what you’re doing is, in almost every respect, right in line with what you’ve been doing the past four seasons when you’ve been the best pitcher on the planet. Take a look at these stats:[table “” not found /]
You are striking out more hitters than ever. You are walking a few more than the past two seasons, but the rate is right between 2011 and 2012, when you finished first and second in the Cy Young voting. You are striking out five times as many as you are walking, which is the second-best rate of your career. You are inducing more ground balls than ever before, especially compared to fly balls allowed. Add all those things together, and your Fielding Independent Pitching score (FIP) is 2.91, while your Expected FIP (xFIP) is just 2.18.
Simply put, based on everything except the number of runs you’ve allowed, you have been as good in 2015 as we expected you to be based on 2011-14.
So what is the difference? Let’s look at your home run per fly ball percentage and your batting average on balls in play (BABIP):[table “” not found /]
In the rare instances when you don’t strike out the opposing hitter, you have been unlucky. When they hit the ball in the air, it is going out of the park 20 percent of the time, instead of the 6-7 percent we would expect based on your career. And when they hit it and it stays in the park, it is falling in for a hit 35.7 percent of the time instead of 26 or 27 percent.
In summary, a drastic increase in both home run percentage and BABIP is responsible for pretty much all of the difference between your expected results and your actual results.
Sometimes increases in those rates are due to an actual mechanical flaw or fundamental change in the pitcher. But your peripheral stats are all right in line with what you’ve done over your outstanding career. So if you’ve hung a couple curveballs or missed your spots on a couple fastballs, it is not because of a fundamental problem — it’s just been bad luck.
The wonderful thing about bad luck is that it doesn’t last. Bad luck is no match for the relentless march of time. As the great American philosopher Donnie Wahlberg once said, “Time is on our side, [Clayton] / Let’s show the whole world / [Your curveball] is the answer / And time is our closest friend.”
So give it time. The Dodgers have been blessed with a great offense and an excellent start from Zack Greinke. Just keep going out there every fifth day and doing what you’ve been doing. Bad luck will be drummed out by neutrality, and every once in a while you will even get a bit of good luck on your side, like you did on June 18, 2014.
I will just keep watching, knowing that every time you pick up the baseball, there’s a chance that I will see something special. Perhaps this Friday at Dodger Stadium against the Rockies, just like June 18, 2014. Hmmmmmm….
Jeff J. Snider (@snidog on Twitter)