Clayton Kershaw and the 7th Inning Threshold

Tonight, Clayton Kershaw starts game 5 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley. With the Dodgers up 3-1 in the series, Kershaw has a chance to send the Dodgers to the World Series for the first time since the 1988 season, and exorcise many demons for not only himself, but Dodger fans everywhere.

The spotlight will be brighter than ever on Kershaw and time will only tell which Kershaw we will see. Will it be the three time NL Cy Young-winning Kershaw who can pitch deep into the game and put the team on his back? Or will it be the playoff narrative Kershaw who will pitch well enough most of the game and then have one big imploding inning?

To get a better idea of how Kershaw should be managed in this game tonight, below are his 14 postseason games started since 2013, excluding anything from 2008 and 2009 before Kershaw was the pitcher he is today.

2013

10/3/2013 – NLDS vs Atlanta Braves

First 6 innings: 6 IP 9 K 2 BB 0 HR 3 H 1 R 1 ER

Remainder: 1 IP 3 K 1 BB 0 HR 0 H 0 R 0 ER

Overall: 7 IP 12 K 3 BB 0 HR 3 H 1 R 1 ER

10/7/2013 – NLDS vs Atlanta Braves

First 6 innings: 6 IP 6 K 1 BB 0 HR 3 H 2 R 0 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 6 IP 6 K 1 BB 0 HR 3 H 2 R 0 ER

10/12/2013 – NLCS vs St Louis Cardinals

First 6 innings: 6 IP 5 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 1 R 0 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 6 IP 5 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 1 R 0 ER

10/18/2013 – NLCS vs St Louis Cardinals

First 6 innings: 4 IP 5 K 2 BB 0 HR 10 H 7 R 7 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 4 IP 5 K 2 BB 0 HR 10 H 7 R 7 ER

2014

10/3/2014 – NLDS vs St Louis Cardinals

First 6 innings: 6 IP 8 K 0 BB 2 HR 2 H 2 R 2 ER

Remainder: 0.2 IP 2 K 0 BB 0 HR 6 H 6 R 6 ER

Overall: 6.2 IP 10 K 0 BB 2 HR 8 H 8 R 8 ER

10/7/2014 – NLDS vs St Louis Cardinals

First 6 innings: 6 IP 9 K 2 BB 0 HR 1 H 0 R 0 ER

Remainder: 0.0 IP 0 K 0 BB 1 HR 3 H 3 R 3 ER

Overall: 6 IP 9 K 2 BB 1 HR 4 H 3 R 3 ER

2015

10/9/2015 – NLDS vs New York Mets

First 6 innings: 6 IP 11 K 1 BB 1 HR 4 H 1 R 1 ER

Remainder: 0.2 IP 0 K 3 BB 0 HR 0 H 2 R 2 ER

Overall: 6.2 IP 11 K 4 BB 1 HR 4 H 3 R 3 ER

10/13/2015 – NLDS vs New York Mets

First 6 innings: 6 IP 8 K 1 BB 1 HR 2 H 1 R 1 ER

Remainder: 1 IP 0 K 0 BB 0 HR 1 H 0 R 0 ER

Overall: 7 IP 8 K 1 BB 1 HR 3 H 1 R 1 ER

2016

10/7/2016 – NLDS vs Washington Nationals

First 6 innings: 5 IP 7 K 1 BB 0 HR 8 H 3 R 3 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 5 IP 7 K 1 BB 0 HR 8 H 3 R 3 ER

10/11/2016 – NLDS vs Washington Nationals

First 6 innings: 6 IP 10 K 1 BB 0 HR 5 H 2 R 2 ER

Remainder: 0.2 IP 1 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 3 R 3 ER

Overall: 6.2 IP 11 K 2 BB 0 HR 7 H 5 R 5 ER

10/16/2016 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

First 6 innings: 7 IP 5 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 0 R 0 ER

Remainder: 1 IP 1 K 0 BB 0 HR 0 H 0 R 0 ER

Overall: 7 IP 6 K 1 BB 0 HR 2 H 0 R 0 ER

10/22/2016 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

First 6 innings: 5 IP 4 K 0 BB 2 HR 7 H 5 R 4 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 5 IP 4 K 0 BB 2 HR 7 H 5 R 4 ER

2017

10/6/2017 – NLDS vs Arizona Dbacks

First 6 innings: 6 IP 7 K 3 BB 2 HR 3 H 2 R 2 ER

Remainder: 0.1 IP 0 K 0 BB 2 HR 2 H 2 R 2 ER

Overall: 6.1 IP 7 K 3 BB 4 HR 5 H 4 R 4 ER

10/14/2017 – NLCS vs Chicago Cubs

First 6 innings: 5 IP 4 K 1 BB 1 HR 4 H 2 R 2 ER

Remainder: NA

Overall: 5 IP 4 K 1 BB 1 HR 4 H 2 R 2 ER

Kershaw and 6 Innings

 

Specifically here I have focused on Kershaw’s results through 6 innings pitched, and then his results beyond 6 innings. Firstly, of his 14 postseason starts since 2013, 10 of those starts Kershaw has reached at least 6 innings pitched. Of those 10, eight times has Kershaw been brought back out for the 7th inning to continue his start.

The chart below shows Kershaw’s six starts 2013-2017 that went no longer than 6 innings pitched:

Starts at 6 IP or less
Date IP K BB HR H R ER
10/7/2013 6 6 1 0 3 2 0
10/12/2013 6 5 1 0 2 1 0
10/18/2013 4 5 2 0 10 7 7
10/7/2016 5 7 1 0 8 3 3
10/22/2016 5 4 0 2 7 5 4
10/14/2017 5 4 1 1 4 2 2
31 31 6 3 34 20 16

 

It is obvious that Kershaw has had some struggles in games going 6 innings pitched or less, but a lot of that can be attributed to his 10/18/2013 NLCS blowup against the Cardinals where he gave up 7 runs overall. With all six games combined, Kershaw’s ERA sits at 4.64 with a WHIP of 1.29. He does sit at 9 K/9 with just 1.74 BB/9 and 0.87 HR/9, which is still pretty special.

When taking out the 10/18/2013 start, that changes to a flat 3.00 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. Of course, this game DID happen and cannot just be removed, but this goes to show just how much one terrible game can influence a pitcher’s numbers.

Starts for Kershaw Extending Beyond 6 Innings Pitched

First 6 Innings
Date IP K BB HR H R ER
10/3/2013 6 9 2 0 3 1 1
10/3/2014 6 8 0 2 2 2 2
10/7/2014 6 9 2 0 1 0 0
10/9/2015 6 11 1 1 4 1 1
10/13/2015 6 8 1 1 2 1 1
10/11/2016 6 10 1 0 5 2 2
10/16/2016 6 5 1 0 2 0 0
10/6/2017 6 7 3 2 3 2 2
48 67 11 6 22 9 9

Looking at Kershaw through 6 innings pitched in these starts, he looks exactly how you would expect Clayton Kershaw to pitch. Here is how he fared in those 48 innings pitched:

1.69 ERA 0.69 WHIP 12.56 K/9 2.06 BB/9 1.13 HR/9

In the first 6 innings pitched of these starts, Clayton Kershaw is the Hall of Famer we know.

Going Out After 6 Innings
Date IP K BB HR H R ER
10/3/2013 1 3 1 0 0 0 0
10/3/2014 0.2 2 0 0 6 6 6
10/7/2014 0 0 0 1 3 3 3
10/9/2015 0.2 0 3 0 0 2 2
10/13/2015 1 0 0 0 1 0 0
10/11/2016 0.2 1 1 0 2 3 3
10/16/2016 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
10/6/2017 0.1 0 0 2 2 2 2
5.1 7 5 3 14 16 16

Now we look at what happened in those same games once he passed into the 7th inning threshold. Something to note here as well is that Kershaw has never pitched past the 7th inning in any postseason start in his career. In the chart just above, all of these numbers occured in the 7th inning of the respective games.

28.24 ERA 3.73 WHIP 12.35 K/9 8.82 BB/9 5.29 HR/9

What a different one inning makes for Kershaw’s last 5 postseasons. If Don Mattingley and Dave Roberts had decided to take him out earlier in these games, not only was there a chance the Dodgers could have won some of those three losses (The Dodgers lost 10/3/2014, 10/7/2014, and 10/9/2015) and changed the dynamic of those series, but Kershaw’s playoff legacy could be entirely different.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is that changes Kershaw from a pitcher able to go 7-8 strong innings on any given day to someone who can fall apart after 6 innings pitched. It could be that he gets so amped and uses his energy much quicker than in a regular season start. It could be that the competition is obviously tougher going against playoff teams rather than any old MLB team. It could be that nerves may get the best of him at some point. Maybe it’s all of these things.

What I do know is that if Kershaw gives the Dodgers 5 or 6 strong innings, Dave Roberts should not hesitate to lean on the strongest bullpen the Dodgers have had in over a decade and take him out if necessary. Taking Kershaw out in the 5th or 6th inning is not saying that Roberts does not have faith in Kershaw, but it would be showing that he pays attention to trends and doesn’t just rely on the reputation of Kershaw as the best pitcher baseball.

If the Dodgers want to make it to the World Series for the first time in 29 years, everyone is going to have to be a team player, including the best pitcher of our generation.