Clayton Kershaw is a really good pitcher. He won the Cy Young award in 2011, judged to be the best pitcher in the National League thanks to his gaudy line of 233 innings pitched, 21 wins, a strikeout-to-walk ratio near 5 and a 2.28/2.47/2.84 ERA/FIP/xFIP line. Terrific.

Kershaw posted nearly identical numbers in 2012, only falling short in the win department. He still managed 227 innings, a 3.63 K/BB rate and his “line” looks like 2.53/2.89/3.25. Still awesome. He finished second in Cy Young voting to R.A. Dickey, whose season was terrific (as is his backstory.)

The 2011 Cy Young race was close (though the voting suggests otherwise), as Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee posted incredible seasons for the Phillies. My personal pick for top pitcher that year was Halladay, as Kershaw has the advantage in home ballpark and quality of opponents.

Clayton Kershaw is a dominant pitcher both in spacious Dodger Stadium and on the road, too. In 2012, he allowed just a .250 wOBA on the road, second best in baseball. A terrific demonstration of that he is no one-trick pony – he can bring it in any environment.

Well, let’s be real for a second: even when he ventures from the Scullied confines of Dodger Stadium, Clayton Kershaw has an uncanny knack for taking the mound in friendly ballparks. In 2012, Clayton Kershaw started in 13 different stadia.

Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR SO/BB OPS BAbip
CIN-GreatAmer BP 1 24 1 5 0 0 0 1.00 .772 .417
COL-Coors Fld 1 30 5 7 0 0 3 6.00 .878 .222
HOU-MinuteMaidPk 1 25 0 3 1 0 0 4.50 .374 .214
LAD-Dodger Stad 19 537 36 101 25 1 8 3.58 .585 .274
MIA-Marlins Pk 1 25 2 3 0 0 1 7.00 .421 .125
OAK-Coliseum 1 27 1 3 1 0 0 3.50 .352 .167
PHI-CitizensBank 1 30 3 8 1 1 1 .759 .304
ARI-Chase Field 2 47 6 8 2 1 0 2.40 .562 .267
PIT-PNC Pk 1 29 3 6 3 0 1 .635 .250
SDP-PetCo Pk 1 12 0 2 0 0 0 3.00 .432 .250
SEA-Safeco Fld 1 27 3 4 1 0 1 6.00 .593 .273
SFG-AT&T Pk 2 60 2 13 2 0 1 5.00 .582 .293
STL-Busch Stad 3 1 28 8 7 2 0 0 1.33 .799 .368
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/22/2012.

ESPN’s Park Factor information indicates that of the 10 most pitcher friendly parks in baseball, Kershaw toed the rubber in seven of them, compared to only two of the top ten homer domes.

This isn’t to suggest Clayton Kershaw is some sort of fluke or unworthy of his status of one of the game few True Aces. But when 85% of the work you do comes in below-average offensive ballparks, it is at least worth squinting to see if smoke lives behind the fire.

Expected FIP (xFIP) is the go-to stat when looking to neutralize the impact of ballparks, as it pegs home run per fly ball rate to the league-average number and works from there. So, that’s that then. Kershaw is one of the best in the game. Pay no attention to tinfoil hatted gentleman ranting on the street corner.

ESPN Stats & Info tracks the average distance of home runs allowed as well as well hit average for pitchers. While Kershaw had the second-lowest WHA in baseball last year, his average home run length was among the highest – meaning his surrendered some of the biggest shots among qualified starters.

There are three possible reasons for this phenomenon. Random variation (the most likely and most boring cause we therefore ignore), Kershaw’s stuff is good but when hitter’s get him, they get him good…or the vast wastelands in which he operates allow only the big shots to get out. Is the lack of shorter home runs — just enough as Home Run Tracker classifies them ‐ indication of bigger ballparks swallowing whole any Kershaw wall scrapers?

In all honesty, probably not. Just watching Clayton Kershaw pitch is enough to realize he is indeed a rare talent, one that looks terrific in Dodger Blue and safely absconded with Dodger Stadium. Kershaw could potentially test free agency at the end of the 2014 season. While Kershaw would not look out of place in any stadium, the boost he gets from plying his trade in the NL West isn’t lost on both sides when discussing any long-term extension – a deal surely in the best interests of both parties.

Comments (3)

  1. The sample size is too small to make anything of it, but it’s still interesting that three of the worst four games (by OPS) on that chart took place in noted bandboxes (the other was vs. a ridiculous St. Louis lineup). I’d still take Kershaw over pretty much any other pitcher given the choice, though.

    • That said, if I was a pitcher, I’d also choose to play in the NL West over any other division given THAT chioce. So I guess Kershaw is kind of the perfect storm of talent and good fortune.

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