Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Kershaw is still NL's top arm
By Buster Olney
I heard a great description of Matt Harvey’s curveball the other day from a longtime evaluator, and it really would apply to Clayton Kershaw’s curveball as well: Even when a hitter is looking for it, even when he plans to swing at it, even when he knows it’s coming, it really doesn’t matter -- he still can’t hit it.
Over and over again, this is what happened to the Nationals’ hitters Tuesday night, because over and over again, Kershaw pitched with the same pattern and there was nothing Washington was able to do to stop him. He’d get ahead in the count and then finish them off with a curveball; check out Tyler Moore 25 seconds into this video, and it goes from there.
Kershaw threw a career-high 132 pitches in shutting out the Nationals over 8 2/3 innings in a 2-0 Dodgers win.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Kershaw’s pattern Tuesday was to get ahead in the count 0-2 and then finish off hitters with a curveball at the bottom of the strike zone. He used this exact pattern six times. Nats hitters went 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts against Kershaw's curveball. The seven strikeouts on curveballs are the most Kershaw has had in a start in the past five seasons.
He went to 0-2 counts on nine hitters. That is also the most he has had in a start in the past five seasons.
But hitters could never wait on his curveball even if they wanted to, because of how well-rounded Kershaw’s stuff is. Consider the range of velocity that hitters must cope with when facing Kershaw.
According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph
Average slider velocity: 84.5 mph
Average curveball velocity: 73.6 mph.
That’s almost 20 mph in velocity range, which is like a musician who kills it on guitar, piano and drums and can be the lead vocals, too.
Harvey presents a similar challenge, although he doesn’t yet have the velocity range. He throws harder than Kershaw, sometimes finishing off hitters at 97-98 mph, while throwing a curveball at an average of 82.4 mph.
We’re just about a quarter of the way into the season, and two great races are beginning to take shape -- for the National League starter in the All-Star Game, and for the NL Cy Young Award.
Look at Kershaw’s numbers as of this morning: a 1.40 ERA, 67 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings, an opponents’ OPS of .493
Now consider Harvey’s numbers: a 1.44 ERA, 62 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings, an opponents’ OPS of .416.
Think about this: Right now, Kershaw has an ERA+ of 263 for the 2013 season. If he held this pace through this season, this would rank fifth all time, behind Tim Keefe, who posted a 293 mark in 1880; Pedro Martinez, 291 in 2000; Dutch Leonard, 282 in 1914; and Greg Maddux, 271 in the strike-shortened season of 1994.
Harvey’s ERA+ of 256 would rank eighth all time, if he carried it through a full season.
There will inevitably be questions about Harvey’s innings count, given that he has never thrown more than 166 in any season, whereas Kershaw -- only a year older than Harvey -- already has had seasons of more than 230 innings.
Of course, those aren't the only two candidates to start the All-Star Game or win the Cy Young.
There’s the sleeper, Arizona’s Pat Corbin, who shut down the Braves Tuesday night: A 1.52 ERA, 41 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings, an opponents’ OPS of .593.
Shelby Miller, Jordan Zimmermann and Adam Wainwright are in the early conversation, as well, with a long way to go.
Meanwhile, Matt Moore is the first pitcher in Rays’ history to start his season with a 7-0 record, as Marc Topkin writes.
• The Dodgers are getting Zack Greinke back today.
Around the league
• Davey Johnson was annoyed by the question, about whether Bryce Harper needs to do more to protect himself on the field, like avoiding outfield walls.
“This is ridiculous,” Johnson said over the phone Tuesday afternoon. “Like the first-base and third-base coach wearing helmets, you just learn to pay attention.”
In sports these days, Johnson said, “everybody has to control things. Like Doc [Gooden] switch-hitting. I don’t agree with any of that crap.”
Gooden was a switch-hitter, but the Mets didn’t want him hitting left-handed because it exposed his right arm in a hit-by-pitch situation.
"[Harper] has got a lot of energy, and regardless of any injury, that’s the way he plays. You learn by experience, and he’s a quick learner."
This is what Johnson stressed, that Harper has relatively little experience in the outfield, having spent his time in amateur baseball mostly as a pitcher and catcher. "He hasn’t learned warning tracks. He goes through fundamental drills all the time -- with [former Washington coach] Bo Porter, and with Tony Tarasco."
Something that’s interesting about this: Last year, the Nationals took a big-picture approach with Stephen Strasburg and worked to protect him from possible heightened injury risk by shutting him down late in the season. With Harper, however, they do not want to alter the passion with which he plays -- so Johnson does not seem inclined to tell Harper to be more conservative playing around outfield walls.
Harper has an aggressive style, writes Adam Kilgore. From Amanda Comak’s story:
On if he thinks playing the outfield more and learning the stadiums could more through experience could’ve helped prevent what happened: “It’s just something that throughout my career I’ll learn, I guess. But that’s how I play. I’ve always played like that. Even in college. I’d run into walls and get back up and go ‘Holy crap. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.’ But that’s the way I play. If I catch a ball and make a great play for my pitcher, we’re ahead 6-0. It’s something that I pride myself on and I’m going to keep playing like that for the rest of my career.”
On if he has anything to say to those who think he needs to tone down the way he plays, for his own safety: “I’m going to play this game for the rest of my life and try to play as hard as I can every single day. That’s my life being on the line. I’m trying to kill myself out there on the field for my team, trying to win a World Series. People can laugh at that all they want but at the end of the day I’m going to look myself in the mirror and say I played this game as hard as I could and tried to help my team win a World Series every day.”
• Michael Pineda is making progress, throwing 92-93 mph in his work in extended spring training, and the Yankees are hopeful that he could begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment by June 1. Recovery from shoulder operations is unpredictable, so there’s no way to know if Pineda can come back and be a factor for the Yankees this year, or if he’ll need to remain in the minors for an extended period to rebuild his velocity and command.
• Kevin Gausman is not a candidate to step into the Orioles’ rotation right now, but he could skip Triple-A, says GM Dan Duquette.
• The Mets told reporters Tuesday evening of their intention to summon Zack Wheeler to New York to have his sore clavicle checked out, but didn’t actually communicate that to their Las Vegas affiliate until after informing the media -- so this probably isn’t a front-burner medical issue. By night’s end, however, Wheeler was on his way to New York, and if this situation delays the pitcher’s climb to the big leagues by even a couple of weeks, he wouldn’t become eligible for salary arbitration, in all likelihood, until 2017, rather than 2016.
• Andrew McCutchen walked it off.
• Henry Schulman thinks Melky Cabrera told a whopper of a lie. It was all a little weird, writes Alex Pavlovic.
• Justin Morneau was tagged twice before touching home and was safe. Jake Peavy took a deep breath and moved on.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Chase Utley got a night off.
2. The Marlins are likely to take a college position player with their first pick.
3. Mark Kiszla wonders if it’s time for the Rockies to pull the plug on a veteran starter.
Dings and dents
1. Russell Martin was back in the starting lineup.
2. Travis Hafner has some tendinitis, writes Roger Rubin.
3. David Ortiz is dealing with an oblique issue.
4. A.J. Pierzynski says he’s ready to come back.
5. Jeff Mathis is back.
6. David Price’s vision has been affected by allergies.
7. Brandon Morrow isn’t going to make his next scheduled start.
8. Sergio Santos is going to have surgery.
9. Josh Hamilton is having allergy issues.
10. Johnny Cueto was impressive in a rehab start.
1. The Phillies had a good night.
2. The Yankees pulled together another comeback victory and survived Felix Hernandez, writes Jorge Arangure.
3. Jim Johnson blew a save chance for the first time in 10 months.
4. Joe Nathan was The Man in the 10th inning for Texas.
5. The Braves’ offense has been all or nothing, and on Tuesday, it was nothing.
6. The Padres pulled together a really nice win.
7. Carlos Gonzalez had a huge night, as Troy Renck writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Gonzalez put up his first career five-hit game Tuesday. Four of those hits came on pitches down in the strike zone.
From Elias: Gonzalez is the fourth player in Rockies history to have at least 12 total bases in a road game, joining Larry Walker (who did it three times), Jason Giambi and Andres Galarraga. He's the first to do it without hitting three homers.
8. The Cardinals put up a whole bunch of runs for a rookie, writes Derrick Goold.
• The Astros are 10-30.
• Oakland’s bullpen had a tough night.
• The bottom of the order got it done for the Tigers.
• Detroit’s rotation has been outstanding, as Rod Beard writes.
• Jeremy Guthrie’s streak came to an end.
• You can’t stop the Blue Jays, you can only hope to contain them: That’s three straight wins, and counting.
• The Padres want steroids out of the game, not Yasmani Grandal.
• Matt Carpenter is getting on base a whole lot.
• Ricky Nolasco lost command.
• Brian McCann has shown again why he is so important, as David O’Brien writes.
• Royals broadcaster Fred White has retired.
• Jose Altuve was placed on bereavement leave.
• The Astros explained why they ended their affiliation with a charity event after 23 years. This caused an uproar in Houston.
• John Smoltz is trying the senior tour thing, as Jeff Schultz writes.
• Vanderbilt is No. 1, and beat Belmont.
And today will be better than yesterday.