- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
If you're too young to know what Sandy Koufax's excellence looked like in 1965, watch Clayton Kershaw now.
If you need a reminder about how dominant Orel Hershiser was in September and October of 1988, watch Kershaw now.
Or if you're looking for a refresher on how Pedro Martinez controlled games in 1999, when a future Hall of Famer was at his absolute zenith, watch Kershaw now.
Kershaw is a historically great pitcher throwing better than he has at any stage of his career. He carries a streak of 28 consecutive scoreless innings into his start Friday against the Rockies, and he's coming off one of the best months of pitching ever. Kershaw faced 162 hitters in June, and he struck out 61 of them, with only four bases on balls. Of the remaining 97, 65 percent of them (63 batters) hit the ball on the ground, the highest rate for any pitcher in the majors. In other words, in Kershaw's six June starts, 34 plate appearances resulted in a batter hitting a ball in the air.
A.J. Ellis, Kershaw's catcher, traces the left-hander's current performance back to a start he made against the Diamondbacks on May 17, when he allowed seven runs in 1 2/3 innings. Most of the damage done in that game, Ellis noted, was against breaking pitches, and Kershaw came out of that performance angry and determined to throw his curveball and slider better.
With the way he's throwing his slider and curve now, Ellis said, "they look like they're strikes forever, and then bottom out."
Hitters cannot cover every possibility, so they work to reduce the ways in which a pitcher can beat them. They look for a fastball and ignore a pitcher's inconsistent breaking ball, for example. Or maybe they look on the inner half of the plate because the pitcher lacks command on the outer half. They try to corner the pitcher.
But these days, Kershaw is commanding three pitches brilliantly, meaning that the hitters' quandary grows exponentially against Kershaw, as Ellis explained.