Clayton Kershaw’s Better Days

Yesterday, in Game One of the Major League Baseball’s 2013 National League Division Series (NLDS), Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw held the Atlanta Braves to one run over seven innings, fanning 12 and walking three. [Ed. Note: Forgive the abuse of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) keywords. We are trying to get this website off the ground.]

It was vintage Kershaw. What’s amazing is that you accept that statement, knowing exactly what I meant, even though Kershaw is only 25 years old. No one says, “That’s vintage Dustin Ackley,” unless they are talking about a called strike taken a few inches off the outside corner. And the only reason they say that is because they are Seattle fans and early on they developed snark to deal with their bitterness. I’m getting off topic. The point is, Kershaw’s been in the majors for six years and it’s a sign of how good he is that we can use “vintage” to describe his best games, or his best curveballs, without batting an eye. Here’s a relevant curveball!

My weekly gif-ercise, for your pleasure. Click to embiggen.

My weekly gif-ercise, for your pleasure. Click to embiggen.

Things this curveball did:

  1. Make B.J. Upton’s knees buckle.
  2. Make the blonde woman in the front row, behind the lefty batter’s box, flinch.
  3. Cross the plate at the heart of the strike zone, according to PitchTrax.

Bejesus. I don’t understand how that umpire didn’t give a more enthused strikeout punch. Were I lucky enough to be behind the dish for that pitch, I’d probably react like this guy. Anyway, if you didn’t think Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game before last night, maybe you do now. These playoffs ought to give the Dodgers ace a great deal of national exposure. Good for him, and good for the casual fans who will soon acquaint themselves with his off-speed delights.

The thing is, as well as Kershaw pitched last night, he’s had plenty of better performances this season. Nine, to be exact. By better, I mean according to Bill James’ Game Score, an easy and elegant way to briefly evaluate a pitcher’s start. Here’s how you calculate it:

  1. A pitcher starts the game with 50 points
  2. Add 1 point for each out recorded
  3. Add 2 points for each inning completed after the fourth
  4. Add 1 point for each strikeout
  5. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
  6. Subtract 4 points for each earned run
  7. Subtract 2 for each unearned run
  8. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

It’s an elegant measure because the very best performances will flirt with 100 points, which, I think we can all agree, is a really fun number. Kershaw’s game last night scored a 76, and he hasn’t gotten 100 yet in his career, but here I’ll run through the starts from this season which Game Scores greater than 76.

July 31 vs. New York Yankees, 8.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K, 97 pitches, 9 SwStr, GSc: 77

Sept. 21 @ San Diego, 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K, 99 pitches, 12 SwStr, GSc: 79

April 6 vs. Pittsburgh, 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K, 97 pitches, 17 SwStr, GSc: 81

May 20 @ Milwaukee, 9.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 5 K, 107 pitches, 8 SwStr, GSc: 81

Aug. 17 @ Philadelphia, 8.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 100 pitches, 9 SwStr, GSc: 83

May 14 vs. Washington, 8.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K, 132 pitches, 17 SwStr, GSc: 84

April 1 vs. San Francisco, 9.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 94 pitches, 12 SwStr, GSc: 86

April 28 vs. Milwaukee, 8.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K, 117 pitches, 15 SwStr, GSc: 86

July 2 @ Colorado, 9.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K, 108 pitches, 18 SwStr, GSc: 87

Here’s video documentation of that Colorado start. Kershaw pulled out all the stops, even though he didn’t have to.

Well, I didn’t really break any new ground here. Clayton Kershaw is great. Here’s another piece of evidence toward that. Let’s not turn this postseason into a half-baked narrative about whether he can “make the leap” or “carry a team to the title” or “come through in the pressure of October.” For those of us who aren’t from Atlanta, let’s just enjoy him.

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