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Let's jump right into the notes this week.

Clayton Kershaw

I know, we all expect this guy to be the best pitcher in all the land, so when he does so it's simply meeting expectations. In a sense, there's no way for Kershaw to impress us anymore, now that he has a 300-strikeout season under his belt and multiple campaigns with a sub-2.00 ERA. He had one of those dominant starts in the past week that serves to remind why he's the best pitcher on the planet, but the start prior did not go as well.

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 26

7.0

5

7

1

0

10

104

May 1

9.0

0

3

0

0

14

101

Kersh currently leads the majors with 46.0 innings pitched, which comes out to an average of 7.7 frames for his six starts. and his 54 strikeouts lead as well. He gone at least six innings in each turn and has three games in a row of double-digit strikeouts. His last start was as dominant as they come, with Kershaw throwing a three-hit shutout against the Padres with 14 strikeouts. Dominating the Pads is the thing right now, and Vincent Velasquez showed that you don't need hardware to do it, and in that sense I am more intrigued by Kershaw's start on April 26, in which the Marlins gave him a run for his money and sent the southpaw home with the loss.

His velocity was fine that game, averaging the same 93 mph on his fastballs that he brought to his other five starts, and though his fastball average is down a tick from last season, it's still well in line with he has done over the past couple of years. His command seemed to be on as well, and for the first five innings of the game it seemed that nothing was wrong. Kershaw retired 16 of the first 17 batters that he faced, but everything unraveled in the sixth inning, beginning with pinch-hitter Miguel Rojas. Rojas doubled, followed by three consecutive singles by the top of the Marlins order, with hits bequeathed to the no-suspended Dee Gordon, Martin Prado and Christian Yelich, the final two of which scored runs. The last hit of the inning was also the biggest, courtesy of slugger Giancarlo Stanton:

There's no need to show te second half of that clip, as Kershaw's body language says it all, He was already frustrated after the single by Yelich, as Kershaw witnessed the lead disappear despite coasting through the first five innings, and this was the Jenga piece that made the whole tower come crashing down.

It was a mistake pitch, with an inside target that Kershaw left over the middle of the plate, the type of pitch that you just can't make available to a hitter of Stanton's caliber. The Marlins cleanup hitter did what one might expect with such a pitch, driving it deep into the centerfield stands for a big lead that Miami would not relinquish. The lesson: windows to score runs off of Kershaw are open for a very small moment, and a team needs to string together some base runners and make the big blow when that rare opportunity presents itself.

Marcus Stroman

The early-going has not been too kind to Stroman, which is more a testament to the whims of small samples tan it is an indictment of his performance. I root for Stroman, as a pitcher with a strong delivery, elite stuff and one who stands as a shining example that pitcher size is overrated. That said, he has statistical limitations, particularly a K rate that registered at 10.8 K/9 in the minors but has limped along at 7.0 K/9 during his 200 innings in the majors.

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 25

6.2

4

6

0

2

4

95

May 1

8.0

1

3

1

2

9

103

The Blue Jays have leaned on Stroman in the early part of the year, as another pitcher who has made six starts and is tied with Kershaw for the major-league lead with 169 batters faced this year. He had struck out five or fewer batters in each of his first five turns, but he broke out in the K department against the Rays, setting a new career-high with nine strikeouts over 8.0 innings of work. The only run given up by Stroman on the game was a solo homer by Evan Longoria, which was one of just five plate appearances that resulted in a runner on base (or clearing them) against Stroman in the contest.

The keys to Stroman's K count that day were his secondary pitches, with four punchouts registered via the slider, two on the curve and two more on the cutter. Nothing that Stroman throws is straight, as the vast majority of his fastballs are of the two-seam variety and carry plenty of arm-side run, but he uses the pitch to generate weak contact early in the count rather than swings-and-misses when the count gets deep, and of the 55 heaters that he threw that day just one finished off a strikeout.

Such has been the case for Stroman throughout this season, with secondaries accounting for 79 percent of his Ks thus far this season, but that frequency stands out when looking at a career rate that involved just 55 percent of his strikeouts coming via secondary pitches prior to this season. The big instigator of change is the slider, particularly against left-handed batters, as Stroman has used the pitch 42 percent of the time in two-strike situations against lefty bats this season compared to just 10 percent in that situation in his career prior to the 2016 season.

A changed approach that leans more heavily on the secondaries in two-strike situations could help Stroman—and his fantasy managers—to benefit from a generally higher strikeout rate, though one has to wonder if his pitch-count efficiency will diminish as a result. It took just 103 pitches to clear 24 outs in his last turn, so the early results are encouraging.

Rick Porcello

Porcello has become somewhat of a running joke, as a pitcher from whom we keep expecting a massive jump forward (due to age, the defense behind him, what have you), and the Red Sox believe in Porcello enough to hand him a four-year deal worth $82 million, a deal that was largely lauded at the time. The right-hander has rewarded the Sox for their faith in him, compiling a 5-0 record this season while going 6.0 or more frames in each turn, and he has been particularly tough to battle over the past week.

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 25

6.1

0

4

0

2

6

98

April 30

7.0

0

5

0

1

6

102

Any start against the Braves comes with pre-packaged grains of salt, so that first start deserves a small asterisk in the same sense that his first two starts—both of which were against the Blue Jays—deserve special recognition. Hit K counts were higher in each of his first three turns than it was in his two zero-run starts of last week, but he still pulled a half-dozen strikeouts out of his hat in the low-K games and has now whiffed 36 batters across 32.7 innings, this for a guy whose career strikeout rate is just 5.9 K/9. He's a groundball machine and strikeouts aren't Porcello's game, but when looking for that one thing that stands out when contrasting this season to years past, it's the K rate that stands out most.

The change may have begun at the end of last season. Consider that Porcello had just one game above six strikeouts in his first 21 starts of the year, including a month out of action due to a strained triceps. But then he started September with an epic 13-K performance against the rival Yankees, and posting more than a half-dozen strikeouts in four of his next six ballgames.

Oddly enough, it's the fastball that has made all the difference in the strikeout department for Porcello, putting him in the opposite camp as Marcus Stroman. Since the start of September of 2015, Porcello has used the fastball (either the four-seam or the two-seam) to finish off more than 60 percent of his strikeouts. He's not throwing the pitch any harder, but he has shaken up his usage pattern a bit, though he still maintains an unpredictable pattern that would consider any pitch as a finishing move with two strikes. The fastball variations have only experienced a ten-percent bump in two-strike usage over this time, but the end-game results have been astonishing.