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January 16, 2014

Hot Stove Scouting Report

Clayton Kershaw

by Ryan Parker and Steffan Segui

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Filed by: Steffan Segui

Player Name: Clayton Kershaw

Date Filed: 1/15/14

Throws

Role

Arm Angle

Wind Up

Rubber

L

Starter

High 3/4

Rhythmic

Right

Delivery/Mechanics

About as ideal as can be. Stays incredibly linear throughout delivery from both windup and stretch. Very rhythmic pitcher who repeats very well and adds deception by staying closed, showing ball late with a bit of a stab and having a bit of a controlled herky-jerkyness about him. From the stretch, very good at mixing his looks between slide step, leaning start and a full leg lift. Has a strong finish out front and puts himself in good fielding position.

Breakdown of Pitches

Fastball

Velocity

Description

92-96

7; Has special late life and can command to all quadrants vs. LHH and RHH. Elevates late in counts and has top end velocity to blow by hitters when he needs it.

Curveball

Velocity

Description

72-75

8; Absolute hammer, doesn’t throw as much as he used but still has great hump and depth. Unhittable to both RHH and LHH.

Slider

Velocity

Description

82-85

8; Added in 2009, really took him to the level he has been at last several seasons. Sharp with good shape. Somewhat a harder version of the curve, especially arm side where it has more late up-down than horizontal movement.

Change-up/Split

Velocity

Description

83-86

5; Used as a chase/change of pace vs. RHH only. Typical lefty change with a tick of cut but not much dive on it. Doesn’t throw within zone too much.

Pitch Usage

Date Range: 2013 Season

Splits

vs. LHH

vs. RHH

Total Usage

Total Usage

FB

CB

SL

CH

CU

FB

CB

SL

CH

CU

66%

11%

23%

59%

13%

25%

3%

Percentage of Strikes

Percentage of Strikes

FB

CB

SL

CH

CU

FB

CB

SL

CH

CU

69.5%

72.25%

60%

68%

55%

68.4%

41%

Swing/Miss Percentage

Swing/Miss Percentage

FB

CB

SL

CH

CU

FB

CB

SL

CH

CU

15%

18.6%

28.2%

5%

16%

23%

9.5%

Approach

Gets ahead right away with the fastball, throwing it 80 percent of the time first pitch. Mixes in first pitch sliders vs. middle order hitters and as game progresses. Generally saves curve to expand zone for out pitch vs. either handedness and uses slider as main secondary throughout game. Change is only used before 2 strikes vs. RHH. Uses fastball to get back into counts and mixes FB and SL equally throughout early in counts. Becomes more effective as game goes on.

Makeup

Perhaps the best makeup of any person in baseball history? Intense competitor on the mound, perfectionist type. Is 25, married, and has charity, Kershaw’s Challenge which helps kids in Africa, LA and Dallas. Won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2012. On a personal note, last year in spring training I was sitting in the video room and Kershaw walks in and starts talking to me, doesn’t know me from Adam, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.

Grades and Projections

Role

Present

Future

8; Ace of all Aces

If you look at recent top aces with no major injury history (Maddux, Clemens, Johnson) they were able to keep their dominance through 3,000 career IP. Kershaw is just over 1,100. Nine more years at 220-240 puts him at that threshold when he becomes a more human no. 2-3 starter in his mid 30s.

Years expected to perform at current level:

4-5 as a top pitcher, 9-10 as a #1.

Strengths

Fastball: Scott Elbert told me playing catch with Kershaw is one of the hardest things to do, has an indescribable late life that could only be shown with a strange arm movement. Having the ability to get it up to 96 makes it downright special.

Control: Grades out as a 7 on the pro scouting scale per BB/9. Routinely top 10 in K/BB ratio and BB/9.

Stuff: Both breaking pitches are of the plus-plus variety. Doesn’t allow base runners, led league in WHIP three seasons in a row, which is why he is also the best at not allowing runs.

Weaknesses

Offspeed: Only throws CH to RHH and they hit .273 off it, but in reality it’s a show/change of pace pitch that he doesn’t use often.

NLCS: Career 7.23 ERA in the NLCS, not due to being a bad pitcher. Believe it to be more to due with small sample size and perhaps wearing out in those respective seasons.

Means of Exploitation

Pray? Naturally righties hit a tick better off him but that was only to the tune of .202/.249/.283 in 2013. While Kershaw is very difficult to hit, it is still possible. There are only 3 counts in which Kershaw “struggles”. They are 2-0, 1-1 and 2-1. 2-1 and 2-0 are naturally fastball hitters counts that they are taking advantage of. On 1-1, Kershaw throws the FB and SL equally. Hitters, mainly right-handed, that are able to sit on one of those pitches in that count and guess right can have some success.

Conclusion

Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and has been paid handsomely for that. The fact that he is only going into his age 26 season raises the question for how long he can be dominant? I have heard the comparisons to other young hard throwing lefties that have been good early in their careers and then suffered injuries (i.e. Steve Avery, Frank Tanana). Of course Kershaw will lose velocity and stuff as he ages and he could suffer an injury at any time, as could any pitcher. However, I do not buy into those comparisons. Avery was never the dynamic swing-and-miss pitcher that Kershaw is, so any loss of stuff proved to be more drastic for him. Tanana pitched in the 70s before modern medicine and strength and conditioning. Kershaw should be more compared to the recent top of the line, well built ace pitchers with no injury history. Guys like that (Maddux, Glavine, Clemens, Shilling, Johnson) have proven to be able to pitch effectively into their mid 30s and at or over 3,000 innings before they lose some stuff and their top tier pitching status and become mortal. I believe Kershaw, with his work ethic, sound mechanics and stuff should be able to last through this seven year deal and a few more past that as an ace of the rotation. He may not be the best pitcher in the game that whole time but that changes from year to years anyway. He’s going to learn to exploit hitters more and sharpen his command as well so even if there is a loss in some of his stuff, he should still be able to remain elite.

***

Filed by: Ryan Parker

‚Äč

Player Name: Clayton Kershaw

Date Filed: 1/16/2014

Throws

Role

Arm Angle

Wind Up

Rubber

L

ST

High 3/4

1st

Delivery/Mechanics

Extremely unique set of mechanics. Rather than one fluid motion, Kershaw deliberately proceeds through series of checkpoints. These include a high leg lift, a pause as he brings his foot down, an exaggerated reach with his glove hand all before he fires the ball to home plate. Uses lower body to create a late burst of momentum. Ends up throwing from an elevated arm slot due to a late tilt of his spine. Though it may be complex, Kershaw is able to repeat his delivery extremely well. No glaring mechanical red flags. Out of the stretch Kershaw will exclusively use a quick slide step. Hides the ball well. Keeps release same release point for all pitches.

For a more in depth analysis look at Doug Thorburn’s breakdown of Kershaw from 2012.

Breakdown of Pitches

Fastball

Velocity

Description

92-95

Grade: 60

Sitting at 93 mph, Kershaw’s fastball seems to jump on hitters and stay away from barrels even without insane movement. Kershaw can pound his fastball low in the zone to generate ground balls or elevate the pitch enticing hitters to chase. Kershaw sticks with a four-seam fastball and mixes locations rather than mess around with multiple types of heaters.

The utility of Kershaw’s fastball lies in his ability to throw it to any spot, at any time in the count. He can pound the inside corner with 95 for three straight pitches in one at bat and the next at bat he can work 90-92 in all quadrants of the zone. Kershaw’s intelligent use of his fastball is the biggest piece of evidence to his overall maturation as a pitcher.

Kershaw will continue to throw his fastball even when he is ahead in the count. Once he gets ahead to lefties they are fed a heavy dose of fastballs on the outer third. Righties will continue to see the ball at any location in the zone.

Kershaw has incredible command to his arm side with his fastball. His command is still well above average when throwing to his glove side but at times he will miss over the plate.

Some pitchers get by on pure velocity. Some get by on the surgical ability to hit their spots. Kershaw has both and will continue to dominate hitters with his fastball.

Curveball

Velocity

Description

73-76

Grade: 80

This curveball is the stuff of legends. Extreme vertical movement that can leave even the best hitters shaking their heads. This pitch crests out of Kershaw’s hand before violently breaking down and away from left handed hitters. Kershaw can get strikes both in and out of the zone against lefties and righties. Even with runners on base Kershaw won’t shy away from dropping the hammer. Once he gets head in the count is when he tends to bust out the big curveball.

It would be easy to assume that such an elite pitch would be heavily relied upon but this is not the case. Kershaw will use his bigger curveball about 12 percent of the time. Pitches who have a comparable breaking ball (Jose Fernandez, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg) throw them nearly twice as often. There may come a day when Kershaw relies more on his curveball due to declining fastball velocity but don’t expect his results to suffer any appreciable amount.

Slider

Velocity

Description

83-85

Grade: 65

Possibly the most underrated breaking ball in the game. What it lacks in the aesthetics and mythos it makes up with effectiveness. The curveball is the high-society breaking ball and the slider is the more blue collar breaking ball. Kershaw’s slider comes in with hard late break both down and to his glove side. At this point he is only throwing it to his glove side. Righties tend to see the slider more often than lefties because Kershaw will snap off a slider when he is behind in the count against righties but not to lefties. When he does fall behind, the slider ends up helping Kershaw get back into the count and keeps hitters from sitting on his fastball.

Change-up/Split

Velocity

Description

87-88

Grade 50

Kershaw’s changeup has been the biggest wildcard in his repertoire. The 50 grade on his cambio reflects his 2013 and career average. In 2009 it was a 35 offering. In 2011 it was a 55. Then 2012-2013 saw Kershaw seemingly lose the feel for the pitch. Often it would come in flat and too firm. Kershaw’s arsenal is deep enough so there is no need for him to force changeups into his sequence if he can’t get the right feel for it. Many pitchers have seen their changeups develop late in their career and this could very well be the case for Kershaw. Even if his changeup ends up being more of an afterthought Kershaw will continue to be a highly effective pitcher.

Pitch Usage

Date Range: 2013 Season

Splits

vs. LHH

vs. RHH

Total Usage

Total Usage

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

586

97

209

1817

401

767

95

Percentage Out of Strike Zone

Percentage Out of Strike Zone

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

52.73

68.04

60.29

55.04

68.58

64.8

64.21

Swing/Miss Percentage

Swing/Miss Percentage

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

FB

CB

SL

CH

OTH

15.02

17.56

28.23

4.95

15.96

23.34

9.47

Approach

Fastballs to the glove side early in the count the first time through the order. Sliders can show up at any time to a batter. Tends to save the bigger curveball until later in the count. Extremely tough to square up his fastball even in fastball counts as he can challenge the hitter to any quadrant of the zone.

Makeup

Incredible make up both on and off the field. Turned himself from a two-pitch high school phenom into a real pitcher. Learned his preferred breaking ball as a big leaguer and was willing to save his best pitch (curveball) until he really needs it. Off the field he is involved lots of charities and is always aware of his role in the community. No newsworthy clubhouse incidents.

Grades and Projections

Role

Present

Future

Top 5 Cy Young Candidate.

Realistic shot to retain “ace” status throughout length of contract.

Years expected to perform at current level: 4-5

Strengths

Checks nearly every box possible in the build an ace hobby kit.

  • Texan
  • Left Handed
  • Big Fastball
  • Killer Breaking Ball(s)
  • Great Makeup

He will give the Dodgers 200-plus quality innings every year with remarkable consistency from start to start. He is also just entering his physical prime.

Weaknesses

Complex mechanics may need to be simplified as Kershaw ages and loses the athleticism that comes with youth. Not necessarily a weakness but it will be worth keeping an eye on how Kershaw reacts to having to “live up” to his new contract.

Means of Exploitation

Hitters need to stay aggressive. Kershaw can occasionally lay a fastball or slider down the middle to try and get strike one. Watching this pitch go by is pretty much a death sentence for hitters, as Kershaw won’t make multiple mistakes inside the same at bat.

Conclusion

Kershaw is worth every penny of his new contract. He is an elite pitcher who will remain elite. He is on a Hall of Fame trajectory and Dodger Nation can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Ryan Parker is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ryan's other articles. You can contact Ryan by clicking here
Steffan Segui is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steffan's other articles. You can contact Steffan by clicking here

Related Content:  Los Angeles Dodgers,  Scouting

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