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The Main Reasons Dodgers Clayton Kershaw Struggles in the Playoffs

Clayton Kershaw is bad enough in the postseason to be able to call it a pattern.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 09: Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts as he leaves the game after giving up back to back home runs in the eighth inning of game five of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium on October 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Clayton Kershaw is the best regular season pitcher of this generation. There is an argument that he could be the best pitcher of all-time — in the regular season. However, every October, Dodger fans see the same thing. It’s a pattern. Clayton Kershaw is not good in the postseason.

In the 2019 NLDS against the Washington Nationals, this disheartening pattern continued. Kershaw came on with a two-run lead and struck out Adam Eaton in a key spot. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided to leave him in the game and it proved to be a fatal mistake. He surrendered back to back home runs to both of the Nationals’ biggest stars, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto.

In a recent column by Eno Sarris of The Athletic, Sarris takes a deeper look into the statistical reasoning behind why Clayton Kershaw tends to falter in October.

Kershaw On the Surface

Clayton Kershaw holds a 2.44 ERA lifetime in the regular season, but a 4.43 ERA in the postseason. He also seems to get progressively worse as the lights get brighter with a 3.99 ERA in the NLDS, 4.61 ERA in the NLCS, and a 5.40 ERA in the World Series.

Kershaw has also provided negative Win Probability Added (WPA) marks the deeper it gets into October — 0.41 WPA in the NLDS, -0.25 WPA in the NLCS, and a -0.21 WPA in the World Series.

We now have a 158 1/3 inning sample size of Clayton Kershaw being this way in October and there is definitely enough evidence to say that it is not a fluke. It is a pattern.

Home Run Rate

Clayton Kershaw’s home runs allowed per nine innings (HR/9) rate: 0.7. Clayton Kershaw’s home runs allowed per nine innings (HR/9) rate: 1.4. Big difference and not a good one.

Short Rest

Clayton Kershaw has been forced to make starts in the postseason on short rest a grand total of ten times. That’s amongst the most in MLB history. He hasn’t been the same in those starts. The Dodgers overusing him and having him pitch past the seventh inning in games was a huge part of the reason for awhile.

Mentality

Clayton Kershaw has always been a gamer. He brings it to the table every time. But does he in the postseason? We know he wants to win a World Series as much as anyone, but why has he not been a part of delivering one to the city of Los Angeles. We will never know, but there is something there.

Managing

From Don Mattingly to Dave Roberts, Clayton Kershaw has consistently been put in spots that he has had no business being in. The Dodgers have no issue trotting Kershaw out to the mound in key spots despite a heavy amount of evidence to prove why they shouldn’t.

Overall

We all hope and pray Kershaw figures it out soon, for the sake of the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles. It’s now 32 years without a World Series title and the time is now for him to figure it out. The Dodgers need him to be who he is from April to September.

Written by Daniel Preciado

My name is Daniel Preciado and I am 18 years old. I am a sophomore Sport Analytics major and Cognitive Science and Economics dual minor at Syracuse University. When I am not in New York, I live in Whittier, California --- not too far from Chavez Ravine. I am pretty old-school for being an analytics guy and I will always embrace debate. Also, Chase Utley did absolutely nothing wrong.

21 Comments

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  1. Torre ruined him in his rookie year in 2009 by continuing to put him out there as a reliever against the Phillies in the nlcs who torched him each time, and in the Guggenheim years failing to have 4 playoff caliber starters and competent relief pitching caused them to have to rely on him too much which like you said has never worked out using him on short rest. At this point he’s been abused and sadly if he ever wants a ring he needs to be a very small part of it

  2. Blind faith in past successes will kill a man. DR has demonstrated time again this tendency and doggedly refuses to admit it. Why cant we have a strong baseball man running our team?

    I worry about Gavin Lux. Kid looks like a ballplayer to me, but if JTurn flips to first, then Moonshot may have to take second, which puts the kid in the worrisome neighborhood of being a ‘tradable asset.’ I dont want to see this kid traded.

  3. No Analytics Necessary! Simple Human Nature says that when your Future HOFer/Leader/Highest Paid Player by far/Face of your team CONSTANTLY FAILS YOU in the Post Season you MUST CONCLUDE YOU WILL NOT WIN THE WORLD SERIES with him on YOUR ROSTER!!

      • Oh boy. Conveniently forget the losses and high era and timing of said losses why don’t you Eric

    • No, it probably means you are using him incorrectly as was pointed out in the argument, Great, one time he pitched lights out in relief, a couple of years ago. He’s not the #1 anymore, Buehler is.

      He needs to pitch every 4 or five days and none in between for any reason. He doesn’t have the stuff anymore for high leverage, fastball needing, situations so teams let the curve go by Something this year we didn’t figure out against Washington) and sit on the slow cheese. No relief pitcher could get by doing that unless your control is pin-point perfect. And pushing a starter, who builds his control over several innings, is a recipe for disaster in the playoffs and WS.

      For Kershaw to be Kershaw, the Dodgers need a bullpen that consists of more than 2 reliable starters (at least three or four) and a couple of reliable relievers. The teams that win the Playoffs and the WS have lights out, dominating starting pitching that goes deep into games and high heat/ high pitch variety bullpens that can get you out more than one way which is why the three headed monster of the Nationals is in it against the 3 headed monster of the Astros.

      Its not rocket science! Its baseball. And its time the Dodgers do something concrete about it and quit trying to just get by!

  4. Justin Verlander…10.2 innings-12 hits, 8 runs, 3 BB, 4 hr, 2 losses this postseason in 2 potential series clinching games against Rays and Yanks. What’s his narrative?

    The devil is in the details. For me that translates to CK having some really outstanding games and clunkers often in the same series. In many games he’s been snake bit by poor defense, soft contact, lack of run support and overuse…all this and more is available to mine in the garden variety stats that many of us grew up with and from watching the games. He has been really good on short rest but when stretched into the 7th inning he has given up 3 runs at least twice. Lost to Stl 3-2 in 2014, and won against the Nats in 2016 in spite of Louis Avilan allowing 3 inherited runners to score. Two charged to Kershaw. Following the game a tv analyst pointed out that since 2013, 8 of 9 Kershaw runners inherited by the pen have scored. That stat speaks volumes. Game 5 2017 is viewed as the reason the dodgers lost as Kershaw blew a 5 run lead in Houston. But seriously, all pitchers sucked in that game for both teams. It was a 13-12 loss. I would’ve loved a different outcome, but that game was bad all around and yet somehow only Kershaw is the goat. CK bounces back to pitch 4 scoreless in game 7, only it’s too late to save management from poor decision making (Darvish!). This year CK had a 3.03 era good for 10th best era in the majors, 16 wins and a whole lot of ND’s. In game 2 against the Nats he gave up 3 runs. He was not better or worse than his season avg. That is a winnable game unless you have this…Pollock, Belli, Seager, Lux go 0-15 with 11 k’s. The “Narrative” on Clayton has always been selective and individualized. When has he not been blamed for the Dodgers failures in the Postseason? Verlander’s loss to the Rays forced a game 5 and Houston wins. But if the Rays had won that series would we be hearing about Verlander’s collapse? In 5 of 8 postseasons Verlander has these era’s-5.82, 5.31, 5.40, 4.15, 3.70…yet all I hear is how he is an all time great in the postseason. To be clear, Verlander is just an example. I don’t hate the guy. He is a very good pitcher. However mainstream sports journalists are what they are. Too often that is lazy, selective and blinded in the pursuit of drama. I would love to read the linked article but requires a subscription. Honestly it all seems more of the same since the game 5 debacle. Buehler is clearly the Ace now. Ryu should have pitched game two and management needs to come to terms with who Kershaw is now. Otherwise he will never find himself “in the best position to succeed” as Dave Roberts professes to pursue for his players.

  5. There is no way to put the weight of the loss on Kershaw. Most of the Dodger bats were asleep. An MVP batting just over .200 in the post season? No way. If Bellinger is MVP for his regular season stats, then we must therefore weigh Kershaw’s value on his regular season stats too. They both were good in the regular season and both were bad in the post season.

  6. Kersh may just have a case of the yips when it comes to the postseason, you cannot put the postseason woes on Kershaw, there are 8 other players that have to back him up and provide him the run support. Regardless of his postseason problems i will always love and be thankful to Kersh, and appreciate being able to have him and watch him his entire career as a Dodger.

  7. The lack of a consistent bullpen and, more importantly, clutch hitting has doomed the Dodgers in the post season for the past seven years. How many times has a Dodger hitter come through with a big hit with two outs in the playoffs or World Series when it really meant something? Kirk Gibson? I think we’re all pretty sick of hearing about that one.

    Have you seen any of the championship teams in the last twenty years with one of their main hitters (Bellinger, Seager, Pollock, etc.) striking out 2/3 of their at-bats in the postseason, especially the last three years? It rarely happens, if ever.

  8. It was not Kersh’s fault as much as it was Roberts putting him in that position. He is not a reliever and especially now with no power out pitch. The first out was great vs a lefty and that’s all that was needed. They only had to be careful with Rendon using maybe Maeda or May, and had Kolorek for Soto. It’s tough to think what the heck Roberts was thinking other than he was trying to be “Players Manager”. Seemed like he was trying to save the Kershaw playoff legacy therefore making him Roberts, the hero as much as Kershaw. He should have NEVER !!!!! put Kersh in that position. Seen Alston with the tough job weak hitting teams around sound pitching and Lasorda good and bad. Although every manager has had moments Roberts has been beyond bad. The guy has made some in season moves with one of the strongest hitting lineups in the history of the Dodgers. It’s natural to win the division and get a boatload of wins with superior hitting in a weak division. If Tommy or Walt had this team they would steam roll through the WS. This manager should be gone. Never seen a worse manager do so little with so much for the Dodgers.

  9. With all due respect this article fails to really emphasize the real problem pre-2017 which was a lack of a bullpen. He had like 15+ playoff starts prior to 2017 and he only really had like 3 or 4 bad starts and some of those were because the dodgers had no bullpen. In 2017 Kershaw was 3-0 in the playoffs with a horrendous game 5 in Houston but game 1 he was dominant, and other games as well. He has like one terrible moment in the playoffs each year and maybe 1 of those was actually all on him. The rest was bad management/leaving him in to long. The past few years he’s been worse, just because his stuff has declined a bit that’s all. If 2014 Kershaw was pitching right now, he doesn’t give up back to back home runs to Soto and Rendon in the DS, he doesn’t give up near as many home runs period. All I’m saying is that pre-2018, aside from game 5 of the 2017 WS, I can prove the Kershaw was dominant in the playoffs save only 2 or 3 starts. Which is normal. Since 2018 it has just been due to a lack of stuff and lower velocity.

  10. Pitchers only have so many pitches in their arms…. Kershaw is running low on ammo. To succeed in the future, he needs to add 1-2 more pitches to his arsenal. If he could master the knuckleball, it would make his fastball and slider appear 5-7mph faster. Ex-Dodger Tom Candiotti would be anexcellent instructor for this. Or ask Fernando Valenzuela (no a Dodger broadcaster) how to throw his wipeout screwball. That would really mess the minds of opposing hitters….

    • A Straight Change would be easier to learn than a knuckleball. And kuckleballers almost always have to throw just a knuckleball. The mitt the catcher has to use to corral it is not used for other pitches for obvious reasons, it is a “butterfly-net” type, more of an oversized or modified first baseman’s mitt than a catchers mitt. He might could learn a knuckle-curve from Burt Hooton or someone could teach him a slider curve (Slurve) but there is too much required to be a knuckleballer and like I said it almost always has to be THE pitch so the defense can plan for it. I think even the Candi-man (Candiotti) would agree with this assessment.

  11. I think Kershaw have to throw it matters batters back to them off the plate he is such a control freak but he is always around the strike zone hitters Crowd the plate and are not afraid of being hit because of Kershaw is awesome control. He needs to take control of Homeplate like Randy Johnson Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens did

  12. Dodger fan since 1956, so I have seen a lot of ball players. Let me simply say this… I am so sick of Clayton Kershaw and in particular, his propensity for giving up the longball. Best thing to do is to trade him, get him out of Dodger Blue. Let him implode/choke/fail for some other team. I don’t care what his teammates say to the press to give the impression that they support him. I am certain when Kershaw takes the hill, the team acquires a collective fear of failing, much like when Kenley Jansen comes out of the pen. Ship the chokers out.

  13. Why do people say such stupid things? “There is an argument that he could be the best pitcher of all-time — in the regular season.” Let’s get real. “His generation”, I get that… “all-time”… ridiculous.

  14. KERSHAW WAS 1 OF THE BEST PITCHERS , BUT IT IS OVER AS FAR AS BEING CLOSE TO PERFECT SOME OLD PLAYERS ARE JUST RIDING DODGERS, CLEAN UP CRAZY CONTRACTS, PLENTY OF MONEY TO THE BEST OUT THERE. IF THIS IS NOT DONE FANS WILL NOT PAY SO MUCH,OR WILL NOT GO TO GAMES. NOW WHERE ARE YOU AT ? W / D.R. THAT MAY HAPPEN NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO. BETTER CLEAN IT UP BEFORE IT IS TO LATE.

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