Allow me to start this article by stating that we are watching a truly special career, courtesy of Clayton Kershaw.
By now, everyone knows how dominant Clayton Kershaw is. Four out of his last five seasons have included at least 14 wins, 200+ strikeouts, and a sub-2.50 ERA in at least 195 innings pitched. Sandwiched somewhere in those seasons, Kershaw had a historic season, winning the 2014 NL MVP and Cy Young awards behind a 21-3 campaign. In that year, Kershaw finished with a 1.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts, and a career-low 39 walks(!). Only 39 walks! That’s just mind-blowing, right there.
This season, Kershaw is once again off to a red-hot start. The month of April proved to make the seemingly invincible Kershaw look human, as he posted a 2-1 record with a 2.43 ERA. His final outing in April was one that inflated his ERA, as he surrendered five runs to the Miami Marlins on seven hits, over seven innings of work. By Kershaw’s standards, this was a clunker, that raised his 1.50 ERA to a much more human 2.43.
That look of mortality would be short-lived for Kershaw, as he came out firing in the month of May. Through five outings in May, the southpaw has gone 5-0 with a 0.64 ERA, 55 strikeouts, only two walks(!), and a jaw-dropping three(!) complete game shutouts. To truly appreciate his brilliance though, let’s dive a little deeper into the stats of Clayton Kershaw.
We’re going to start with his Home Run/Fly Ball ratio. This is the stat that calculates the ratio of home runs given up by a pitcher, for every fly ball they allow. The league average is around 10 percent, which is a solid number. In Kershaw’s case though, he currently owns an HR/FB ratio of 6.3 percent. Amazingly enough, this is actually around the normal seasonal average for Kershaw. He’s only twice surpassed a ratio that was greater than 8.1, and that was during his rookie year in 2008, and last season. As you can tell, he’s not one to give up many in the home run department.
Next up, we’ll look at his LOB%, which stands for the percentage of baserunners that he leaves stranded. In most seasons, the league average hovers between 70-72 percent. This year, Kershaw’s LOB% clocks in at 79.9 percent. Once again, this is far from abnormal for Clayton, as his career LOB% sits at 78.3 percent. That includes seven seasons of his LOB% being above 75 percent, and twice it surpassed 80 percent.
The final stat that we’re going to look at is BABIP, which stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. This stat (according to FanGraphs) “measures how often a ball in play goes for a hit.” For reference purposes FanGraphs goes on to explain that, “A ball is “in play” when the plate appearance ends in something other than a strikeout, walk, hit batter, catcher’s interference, sacrifice bunt, or home run.” A big part of this stat though focuses on luck and defense. If a pitcher has a good defense behind him, or if he’s benefiting from some luck on his side, he’s likely to have a lower BABIP than normal. The opposite can be said if the pitcher has a poor defense behind him, or has encountered some bad luck.
Typically, pitchers hold an average BABIP of .300. Usually, pitchers hover between the .290 to .310 range for BABIP. As I previously stated, defense and luck can have a big effect on a BABIP, sometimes serving as the difference between a number that is below-average, above-average, or just average. Pitchers can also have an effect on this statistic, although most believe that it’s out of their control. For example, as we look at Kershaw, his BABIP is consistently below the league average. Prior to this year, it has ranged from .251 to .320 (his rookie season), with the .320 serving as the only time his number has surpassed .280. Clayton is known mostly as a pitcher that induces a lot of fly balls, while owning a high strikeout rate. That serves as a good recipe for a low BABIP, which is what is the norm for Kershaw. His career BABIP clocks in nearly 30 points below the league average (.300) at .271. This speaks to his ability to generally avoid hard contact and keep hitters off balance.
In his almost nine years in the Major Leagues, Clayton Kershaw has established his dominance, and terrorized team after team with his pitching. He’s managed to hold career numbers that easily surpass the league average, in multiple categories, including both counting stats and analytical stats. His career ERA is a staggering 2.39, and at the age of 28, he’s primed to join the 2,000 strikeout club. While it’s true that he’s missing the single most important thing for a player, a World Series ring, there’s no denying that Kershaw is one of the best pitchers that we’ve ever seen toe the rubber.
I think I can speak for most baseball fans when I say, Clayton Kershaw, you are truly ridiculous!
All statistics mentioned in this article are accredited to Fangraphs. Additional information on the stats mentioned above can be found at FanGraphs.com, or by following this link: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/pitching/complete-list-pitching/