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Entries in Los Angeles Dodgers (49)


The Three Strikeouts of Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw started the season with 17 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched.  He's maintain a high strikeout rate throughout his career, as he uses three main pitches to knock out batters:



Clayton Kershaw with two strikes, career.
Pitches 1549 494 383
Plate Appearances 734 194 198
Strikeouts 273 110 126
K Pct. 37.2 56.7 63.6


While Kershaw's fastball results in a high number of Ks, his curve ball and slider are much more efficient at delivering the punch out.  Part of that comes from the change in movement.  Kershaw's fastball does not drop as much as expected:

Clayton Kershaw, career fastball movement with two strikes.His curve and slider both drop quite a bit:

Clayton Kershaw, career movement on the curve and slider.The curve drops a little more and stays show less lateral movement.  The three pitches show a great separation in speed as well.  In the following graph, you can see the speed, as well as why each of the pitches is effective (click graph for a larger image):

Clayton Kershaw, batters swinging with two strikes.The fastball doesn't fool batters.  When they swing at Clayton's fastball, they can see it's a strike, and they make contact often.  Often enough, however, they don't make contact and go down swinging.

The slider comes in around 81 miles per hour.  Like the fastball, batter do a good job of recognizing the pitch as a strike, but with the good movement, they make contact much less often.  The slider is his swing and miss pitch.

The curve ball is the pitch that fools batters in multiple dimensions.  They swing a lot less at the curve, and when they do it's less likely to be a strike in the first place.  With fewer swings, the curve can be dropped over for a called strike three.  While batters make more contact against the curve than against the slider, they make less contact than against the fastball.  When batter are swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, even making contact will often result in something good for the defense.

With three pitches capable of getting a batter, Kershaw keeps hitters guessing.  Three different speeds and three different movements means lots of strikeouts, and less pressure on the Dodgers defense.


Furcal's Power

Over the last three-plus seasons, switch-hitter Rafael Furcal showed much more power against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers, especially when it comes to home runs.  A lot of the difference comes on two pitches, the fastball and the change up:


2008-April 4, 2011Vs. LHPVs. RHP
Plate appearances 378 981
Home runs 12 11
Fastball home runs 6 7
Change-up home runs 3 0


Looking at hit charts, not only does Rafael hit home runs at a higer rate from the right side, he hits those home run farther.  On the surface, there doesn't seem an explanation for the difference.  Left-handers and right handers fastball and change ups are mirror images of each other.  Furcal likes to hit home runs on pitches in side, and pitchers work him away on both sides of the plate.

The big difference appears to be pitch velocity.  The right-handers Furcal sees throw harder than the left-handers he sees:

Rafael Furcal, RHP fastball velocity.Rafael Furcal, LHP fastball velocity.So Furcal sees ton of right-handed pitchers throwing heat.  He turns around and gets fastballs that are about 3 to five miles an hour slower, and he has that extra split second to square up the ball.  The same thing happens with the change:

Rafael Furcal, RHP change-up velocity.Rafael Furcal, LHP change-up velocity.Again, there's a big drop in velocity from righties to lefties, and and Furcal just has more time to get his swing right.


Ethier Slugging Home and Away

Over the last three season, Andre Ethier recorded a much higher slugging percentage at home than on the road.  His .547 mark at Dodger Stadium drops to .464 away, mostly on a drop in home runs.  While he's hit 17 fewer home runs on the road, his combined doubles and triples goes up by seven.  Is Andre doing something different away from Chavez Ravine?

On both sides of the split, Andre's power comes mostly in the lower inside quadrant of the strike zone:

Andre Ethier slugging at home, 2008-2010.Andre Ethier slugging on the road, 2008-2010.Looking at a chart of Ethier's hits, what becomes clear is that his extra base hits are more spread out around the park away.  He tends to pull the ball more at home.  Do pitchers work him in more at Dodger Stadium?

Andre Ethier, pitch frequency at home, 2008-2010.Andre Ethier, pitch frequency on the road, 2008-2010.There's very little difference in how pitchers approach Andre.  They know his power is down and in, and they try to avoid that park of the strike zone.  Pitchers might work away more on the road, but they don't work more inside in LA.

The hits going the other way have to do with Andre himself:

Andre Ethier, swings at home, 2008-2010.Andre Ethier, swings on the road, 2008-2010.Andre is more likely to swing at pitches off the plate away from home.  Those tend to be lower value pitches for Andre to hit, hence, fewer home runs, and more doubles and triples the other way.

If the strategy is conscious, I'm not sure it's a bad one.  He plays 18 games a year in San Diego and San Francisco, tough home run parks.  He's probably better off going for a double to left than a home run to right in those locations.  He did show less of a power split in 2010, so maybe he's adjusting in other ways as well.