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Entries in Clayton Kershaw (14)


Pitcher of the Day: Kershaw Declaws Tigers

Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw continued his Cy Young-caliber 2011 campaign last night, tossing a complete-game shutout against the Detroit Tigers. Manager Jim Leyland sent out an all-right-handed lineup against Kershaw, and the 23-year-old responded by allowing two hits and one walk while tying a season high with 11 strikeouts.

Kershaw registered nine of his 11 K's with his slider. He located that wicked low-80s breaking ball at hitters' knees or handcuffed them on the inside corner:

 Kershaw's slider location against the Tigers on June 20, 2011

Detroit swung and missed at 10 of the 21 sliders that Kershaw broke off.

While he was once known for a knee-buckling curveball that Dodgers announcer Vin Scully dubbed "Public Enemy Number One," Kershaw has essentially scrapped his curve while going to his slider more and more frequently. Kershaw has thrown his slider a little more than 23 percent of the time this season, compared to about five percent for the curve.

Opponents are hitting .106/.140/.163 against Kershaw's slider this season. Batters have swung and missed at the pitch nearly 42 percent of the time, the sixth-highest rate among MLB starting pitchers.

The slider is a pitch that tends to have a large platoon split. But, as Kershaw showed against the Tigers, he isn't afraid to use the slider against righties. Kershaw has used his slider at a nearly equal rate against lefties and righties, and right-hander hitters are actually faring worse against the offering (.088/.116/.132 in 2011). Maybe it's time to start calling Kershaw's slider "Public Enemy Number One."



Which Pitchers are Really Getting Squeezed?

Earlier in the week we took a look at which pitchers have been squeezed the most based on total pitches called balls within the PitchFX established strike zone.  While it appeared that pitchers like C.J. Wilson (TEX) and Jon Niese (NYM) have been getting a tight strike zone, the truth is that these pitchers tend to stay around the strikezone with the majority of their pitches.  In fact, C.J. Wilson leads the league in called strikes within the strike zone:

(Data from all 2011 games through May 10th)

So in reality, while pitchers like Wilson do lose a lot of called strikes on the borders, it's mostly a product of the volume of pitches they locate there.  In fact, through Tuesday, Wilson was leading all pitchers in total called strikes, regardless of location, with 194.

If we really want to see which pitchers have had a tough time getting calls from umps, we need to look at the percentage of called strikes out of all taken pitches within the strike zone.

 (Data from all 2011 games through May 10th - Min. 40 taken pitches in the strike zone)

Wilson still cracks the top 50, but he's far from the most squeezed pitcher in the league.  Mariners' closer Brandon League is not getting the majority of close calls so far this season.  The league average for called strikes in the PitchFX defined strike zone has been around 77%, meaning umpires have called 23% of pitches in the zone balls.  Of course, the majority of these are borderline pitches as the following graphic shows:

All MLB Called Balls in Strike Zone
(Click to enlarge)

League's missed strikes consist of 18 pitches, the majority of which were thrown to the bottom of the zone.  Batters have taken only 42 total strike zone pitches against him, so his "squeeze rate" is mostly a product of small sample size.  However, when we filter the list down to starters....

(Data from all 2011 games through May 10th)

Among starters, Wilson and Niese still near the top of the list of pitchers getting squeezed. And perhaps Nelson Figueroa would still be pitching in Houston if we had robot umpires.

So we've seen which pitchers have not gotten the majority of close calls so far this season.  In an upcoming post, we'll look at pitchers that have benefited most from expanded strike zones.


Young and Old Dodgers

Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw are two Dodgers pitchers off to good starts in 2011.   Kershaw plays 2011 as a 23-year-old fireballer.  Kuroda, at 36 can still strike out batters, but he depends much more on working the count.

Look at Kershaw's pitch location by count (click graphic for a larger image):

Clayton Kershaw pitch location by count, 2008-2011.Clayton always goes after batters in the strike zone.  Even on 0-2, when most pitchers waste one, Kershaw hits the strike zone quite often.  His wOBA goes way up with three balls on the batter, but that's where the walks happen.

Now look how the mature Kuroda approaches each count:

Hiroki Kuroda pitch location by count, 2008-2011Notice how Kuroda moves away from the middle of the plate as he gets closer to two strikes, and into the plate as he approaches three balls.  Unlike Kershaw, Hiroki can't over power a batter on any count.  He wants them to chase balls when he's ahead, and hit the plate when he's behind.  The pitchers use different approaches that play to their strength and weakness, but both are effective in getting batters out.